A strong curriculum vitae that demonstrates committed service and loyalty is always going to be an important factor when taking on new crew. While this train of thought is popular, it would suggest that crew who don’t stay on yachts beyond a season are not as desirable, but is this really the case? We speak to captain Christoph Schaefer, who believes that longevity is overrated and suggests crew rotation as the way forward.

If, during the initial review of a CV, you categorically remove all candidates that only last a single season, the chances are you will miss out on some highly professional and capable crew. We should not fall into the longevity trap. Though, the desire of an owner and captain to retain good crew is all too understandable. However, some of our crew are hanging on in their jobs far too long, just for the sake of showing longevity on their CV. They put up with intolerable situations until they are about to crack (or even crack), to then leave their job with a bang, burning bridges behind them. Soon enough they start looking for work again long before they have sufficiently recovered and find themselves back in the grind far too soon.

So if longevity is such a big issue maybe we should start looking a bit more seriously at crew rotation in our industry. Rotation of crew at all ranks is standard in the commercial world, yet the yachting industry is having a hard time embracing this concept.

Crew rotation is a hard thing to sell to our owners. Most owners of the larger yachts accept rotation of the engineers, but there are not too many rotational positions available for captains and I do not quite understand why. Of course, the captain, more than any other person on board, needs to develop a relationship of trust with the owner, and owners seem to find it difficult to adjust to a different captain every three months, but at the same time it is usually the captains that get bombarded with emails and are saddled with a cellular growth on their ears, and I think it is fair to say that burnout is rather common among us. But it’s not just the captains and the engineers that are expected to perform at peak level at all times; all of our crew work long hours with little time off.

Now, on a rotation things look very different. As captain I have worked three on/three off for the past two years. Before I get a chance to burn out, I am off the boat again. It takes just two weeks instead of four to mentally disengage and therefore recovery time is maximised. There is, however, the financial aspect to consider. While some engineers manage to work a three on/three off rotation at 12 months’ full salary, most rotational captains are happy to achieve 60 per cent of a yearly income; there comes a time in our careers where money is not a very strong motivator any more.

So how do we deal with the junior crew? A formal rotation is, for most owners, not an option, as they perceive it as being too expensive, yet they want to see the same happy faces on their yachts. This simply will not happen; most junior crew are hired on a seasonal contract sometimes as short as three months. On two-season boats that travel extensively, most crew struggle to last more than two or three seasons. Throw in a bad sea boat, slow or no internet access, a tea-slurping captain, an abusive officer or a bitchy chief stew and most will be off after just one season and have that dreaded blemish on their CV.

Christoph Schaefer's crew rotation example

At the end of the day it all comes down to numbers. I have put together an example for a larger yacht, without costing the owner much more while retaining junior crew. In this example the deck is covered by three crew for a period of three months – this should be workable on most boats and can also be applied to interior crew. Crew usually have a four-week paid vacation, in which case the boat would be down to three crew on deck for four months anyway. While the cost might appear higher, effectively the yacht is better manned and more work will get done by a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed crew.

The yachting industry would do itself a big favour by accepting that for crew to work seasonally is perfectly fine. We should also accept that for crew to leave a less than ideal job is a sensible thing to do and does not necessarily brand them as problematic, but rather as people with character who care more about their mental health than their chequebook.

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