Captains Brian and Sue Mitchell, also qualified Y3 engineers, have been working permanently as a crew couple since 1984. Their work has taken them on board several superyachts, including 30m Lia Fail, 30m Summer Suite, 37m Argusea and, most recently, 40m Aqualibrium. Here, in a preview of issue 69, we hear from the couple about their individual and collective success in this industry and the conflict that surrounds couples in yachting.

“Our working together started after the purchase and installation of an Onan generator by a family-run business in which Sue held a key position. It soon became clear Sue had a sound knowledge of mechanical and electrical machinery and understood the various problems we had, and was able to offer advice and help to us while we were at sea over an old, crackly double-sideband radio,” recounts Brian. “Our involvement working together on yachts has now grown for over 30 years and is getting better and better.”

After three decades’ experience, and with this 30-year-CV Brian and Sue have no remonstrance about their experience with recruitment, nor have they ever felt their unique position has been a barrier to career progression. But crew couples holding 30 years of experience are a microscopic slice of the pie. More often than not, discussion of crew couples centres around young, green crew who are yet to actually work together. This is when things start to look very different and the industry is met with all sorts of accusations of discrimination and preferential treatment.

“Over many years, yachts’ crews have changed from the earlier Spartan-type yacht crewed only by men, to the very modern superyachts of today that have been built to accommodate a unisex crew. This has comfortably allowed couples to enter the industry without prejudice,” notes Brian. “But to be able to qualify these people is difficult, particularly with green teams who may have only recently become attached. A short time into their life on board, one likes it and the other doesn’t, maybe their own relationship fails or maybe the job or situation changes to cause upset. Unfortunately there is no crystal ball and people do leave, causing loss of time and training costs. This does cause disruption and extra work for others while the couple is replaced, which can create a negative attitude, especially when losing two people from a small crew. Naturally enough, a mindset or attitude begins and is a consideration when employing couples.”

"If you have a proven track record and can back that up with personal accounts from previous owners, brokers and crew, then the perception problems surrounding couples should disappear."

At the helm of their past employments, the Mitchells have often been in charge of employing other crew on board, so how does this crew couple feel about employing couples? “Brian and I have mixed views on employing teams,” explains Sue. “We have a saying that crew start single and end up as couples; employ them as a couple and they end up single. There are many successful teams operating in the industry from the deck and stew level to the captain and chief stewardess level, among other configurations, but equally there are many disaster stories. If you have a proven track record and can back that up with personal accounts from previous owners, brokers and crew, then the perception problems surrounding couples should disappear. It is a very difficult subject to pinpoint what is good and bad about the subject, but one thing is for sure: there are more crew trying to enter the industry as a ‘team’ than ever before.”

Find the full article in issue 69 of The Crew Report – out 24 June, 2014.

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