Yacht crew 'can make or break a trip'
The boat is just the start of the logistics and cost of a yachting lifestyle.
But the boat is just the start of the logistics and cost of a yachting lifestyle.
For those who have purchased these luxury boats, there are significant human resource (HR) requirements to consider, particularly on larger pleasure crafts and superyachts, which function as floating homesteads. Experts say personalities, expectations, salary, experience and workload are all things to consider – from both the owner and crew member perspective – when cultivating or deciding to become part of a yachting ecosystem.
Picking a crew
“It takes a village to have a successful yacht,” says Rupert Connor, founder and president of Luxury Yacht Group, adding that the crew can make or break a trip. “We’ll put a B boat with an A crew and they will have the best time, but an A boat with a C crew is miserable.”
Connor has been in the yacht business for almost three decades, taking on almost every job on a variety of superyachts, including nine years as a captain. Now he helps yacht owners staff their pleasure crafts and says there are three attributes that are a top HR priority: Experience; personality and licencing.
“Between these three attributes you’ve got a blend that different stakeholders have an interest in because different stakeholders come at it from a slightly different perspective.”
For owners, they look at experience and personality. While fellow crew members “really only care about personality,” explains Connor, “because you can really only get 170 feet away from someone you don’t like.”
It’s also important to take care of staff with good pay and adequate time off because the work hours can be long and burnout among crew is a challenge in the yachting world. But if you treat your crew well, the payout is “magic”, says Connor.
Careers in yachting aren’t usually long, as people who do this are taken away from their homes and family, so it is often a job for the more unattached. “But when they are performing at that peak level, it’s magic,” explains Connor.
“There is no other vacation like yachting, which is why billionaires choose to do it,” he adds. “They have houses all over, but they still choose to buy a yacht because the experience is unmatched.”
And sometimes there is someone, maybe a friend or local hard-working bartender that an owner will want on board their boat, which can be a great opportunity, but does require the right education and licensing depending on the position.
“If you go that route, then there are definitely courses you’d want people to have,” explains Steve Jackman, business development and marketing manager for Executive Yacht Canada, a yacht brokerage based in Toronto that also can help clients recruit crew members.
Jackman says he has seen the transition from hospitality to yacht crew member occur throughout his own time in the hospitality industry.
“I’ve had bartenders that have worked for me that wanted to be deckhands, so they took a few months and got a couple of courses and, [in one case] 15 years later they’re now a captain of a 110-footer, so there’s lots of opportunity there, but there is definitely education needed to get on many of these boats.”
There are many job opportunities on board a yacht, from deckhand to steward to engineer. But both experts say that loyalty and work ethic are a large part of any good crew member, and these are traits to be valued by owners.
Seeking a life on the water
A life at sea can be full of adventure and fun, but it is also a lot of work and there are many aspects to consider before jumping in, explains Connor.
“The reality,” explains Connor, “is more like 70 hours a week, which is why people with a good work ethic are required for these positions.”
So who is the right person for a crew?
“It certainly suits people who have a sense of adventure and like to travel, but even once that wears off a little bit, there’s a fairly good professional career,” explains Connor. “It does pay incredibly well. Because we are taking people away from their homes … we get very competitive wages and we have relatively low overhead.”
Whether it is more yachts on the water or a hit reality TV show driving the uptick, it is clear that there is more interest among job seekers in coming aboard a yacht.
YPI Crew, an American yacht recruitment agency based in Antibes, France, reports that, in 2019, job requests increased by 18 per cent since 2017 and the majority of these requests were on yachts of more than 71 metres. The company also notes that 93 per cent of yacht jobs are on motor yachts, leaving only 7 per cent on sailing yachts. Lastly, 65 per cent of crew jobs were for private yacht owners, while the remaining jobs were aboard charter vessels.
A Seafarer makes US$30,000 to US$40,000 a year, according to Connor, which he says may not seem like a lot at first glance but that person “has no expenses, so the equivalent land-based salary would need to be five times more than that to put that amount of money in a bank account.”
Captains, on the other hand, can make upwards of $200,000 to $300,000 a year, depending on the size of the yacht and the duties required.
The money is definitely alluring, but this is often a lifestyle for the adventurous person.
To ensure you’re getting the adventure you want, do a little research, says Jackman.
“Your experience is going to be dictated by the captain and the owner,” he says, adding that he encourages those looking to join a crew to do find out the travel habits of the boat to avoid surprises. For instance, maybe you want to see the world, but you end up on a boat where the owner travels to only one specific area or along one specific coastline.
“You have these billionaires that have the world as their oyster, but they keep coming back to B.C. or some other place, which is beautiful, but you need to find out if you have an owner that wants to travel the globe or are they specific and doing the same thing over and over and over again.”