At the American Superyacht Forum 2013, discussion between attending captains turned to the issue of a high rate of crew moving from smaller, or older boats to join newer and larger ones offfering higher salaries. Not only is this causing a high rate of crew turnover in the lower-sized yachts, the captains believe, but is also producing an imbalance of quality crew across the fleet. The discussion focused on the reasons for this and possible solutions that could be used to remedy the problem.

Captain David Clarke motoryacht Laurel initiated the debate by first outlining the main issue; “The industry has grown so fast with the amount of boats that are coming into the industry,” Captain Clarke began. “The old ones don’t go away; they just get crewed with lower quality crew. Everyone wants to work on the newest, flashiest and greatest, that’s just the nature of it. However, the old ones don’t go away, they just need to be manned by other crewmembers.”

Credit: Stuart Pearce

Agreeing with that theory was Captain Mike Hein of motoryacht Mea Culpa. “Our boat has six crew, and what tends to happen with the crew on our boat is they stay two years or so,” Captain Hein said. “Us being a small boat competing against the 50, 60, 70-metre boats; we’re not in the same pay salary. Our chief engineer left this year after eight years, and he left for a 70 per cent increase in salary. The owner understood just like that why he left; he left for way more money and way more time off.”

If larger boats are able to offer higher salaries to crew that the smaller yachts cannot match, the situation seems inevitable. “I think captains need to get together more and discuss these things and cooperate with each other a little more,” suggested Captain Glen Allen of motoryacht Harle. Which raises the question; should captains create a set of salary standards across the industry so that problems like this do not arise? After all, issues with high crew turnover on the smaller yachts will affect owner experience., and this could have a negative impact on the whole industry.

“The industry has grown so fast with the amount of boats that are coming into the industry. The old ones don’t go away, they just get crewed with lower quality crew."

Captain Allen, however, believes that differences in salary are not the root of the problem. “I don’t think that salaries drive people,” he explained. “If they’re interested in being yacht crew and that’s their passion, I think that you can find an awful lot of people out there. I’ve hired a number of people lately that have only asked how much money they were going to get after they took the job, because they were passionate about the job and they cared about working under quality conditions. That’s what we bring to the table with our crew and that’s one of the reasons why we retain crew. Not enough people do that.”

Perhaps the main problem lies with the attitude of some in the industry, driven by the larger yachts paying increasingly high salaries in order to retain crew. This is not a solution for maintaining an industry of high-quality crew. What many don’t consider is that in the majority of cases the smaller yachts can offer their crew a lot more in terms of training, education and experience and that can sometimes far outweigh the benefits of a higher salary in the long run. The general attitude needs to change; crew should be focusing on where they can get the best experience for their future career, not on the salaries that won’t necessarily give them the progression they need.

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