“There is a serious lack of mentoring in safety, seamanship and the operation of tenders for new, or relatively inexperienced deck crew”, says senior lecturer at Warsash Superyacht Academy, Ben Benson. Benson, who teaches Seamanship and Meteorology (Master, Yachts), General Ship Knowledge (OOW, Yachts), fire fighting and other safety related courses, and is the course leader for the MCA approved superyacht deck training modules, believes this is a cultural crisis that is causing the superyacht industry great harm, and something that should be addressed urgently.

“A new deck crewmember arriving in Antibes or Antigua with next to no superyacht experience suddenly finds themselves part of a team operating a vessel”, Benson continues, “and although they’ve done their basic safety training it’s nowhere near what they meet on board in the real world.” This means that vast swathes of the superyacht fleet are being operated with knowledge vacuums among junior crewmembers whose understanding and experience is not being adequately enhanced by their seniors, potentially compromising the safety of those on board.

Benson acknowledges that there are plenty of reputable management companies whose budgets encompass additional training to circumvent the aforementioned issues, but there are also “plenty of private yachts that are slipping through the net”, feeding the superyacht crew pool with inexperienced individuals. Far from being the fault of the crewmembers, as is often alleged by the industry, it is a lack of willingness on the part of owners, or a lack of preparedness to tell owners, of the need to allocate funds for developmental training.

Because of the demands of the job, training and development has to take part on board the vessel, and captains have to take a vested interest in their crew. But instead, Benson finds that significant portions of his enrolees have had to resign their positions in order to pursue further training. “Would [land based employees] be expected to resign their position in order to be allowed the time off to do additional training?” Benson asks. As the old maxim goes, a ‘tight ship’ is run on efficiency and safety, and yet crewmembers are encountering pressure not to go ashore to further their learning. “It’s completely counter-intuitive”, Benson says. Those who do, and leave their positions on a yacht, are replaced by inexperienced crew, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle. “This would simply not happen ashore”, Benson believes.

Junior crewmembers could benefit from switching from motor to sail. Image courtesy of Claire Matches.

One practical solution Benson does propose is rotating junior crewmembers among active yachts within the same management fleet, to give them as much front-line action as possible. If management companies could facilitate moves, upwards in size or from sail to motor, for their crewmembers it could offer invaluable insight into how other crews work. “At the end of 12 months, which is better?” Benson asks, “the guy who has done six months on two different vessels with distinctly different systems, or the guy who has done 12 months on the same boat continuously; Who is the more valuable asset?”

For Benson the industry is too quick to bemoan the quality of crewing, but too slow to examine its own mechanisms for developing crewmembers. The onus is on those who have the owner’s ear – captains and managers – to change this. 

Ben Benson.

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