In 2014 the industry has been focusing on the importance of the captain as an on-board mentor for his or her crew. But what happens when the person who is supposed to be your on-board mentor doesn’t step up to the job or, worse, becomes abusive and their behaviour tyrannical? In this preview of issue 69, a first officer recounts his experience of a captain doing exactly this, and asks if the industry is doing enough to support crew under these captains gone wild.

For years, yacht crew – from dayworkers to officers – have been heard uttering the phrase, “Yachting isn’t like any other industry”. Everything from workplace health and safety to social life has been deemed unique. While so many of these differences are praised as fun and exciting, there are an equal number that are recognised as difficult and even downright ludicrous. Hours of rest, curfews, living arrangements and time away from friends and loved ones are arguably among the most complained about. However one issue now recognised as grossly outdated in most professional industries still remains a taboo topic among yacht crew: what can yachties do if they are faced with an alcoholic, abusive, misogynistic or sexually inappropriate captain? Is it still a case of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ or is it time the industry caught up with the rest of the world and condemned the tyrannical behaviour of those not fit to manage, lead and command a superyacht?

As a qualified first officer I have had the pleasure of working with many excellent captains throughout my 10-year career. It wasn’t until boarding my previous vessel that I began to understand how many crew are at the mercy of unacceptably behaved captains. These same ‘leaders’ in most land-based jobs would find themselves reprimanded or fired for recurrent instances of workplace bullying, sexual harassment or intoxication.

My inability to change the captain’s behaviour and the crew’s unwillingness to come forward led to my decision to walk off the job.

My position was sold to me by the recruiter as a golden opportunity; one in which I would hopefully conclude my chapter as first mate and progress to a possible captaincy under the tutelage of a “charter captain of the year”. Within a month I knew I had been sold a lie but continued my service under the belief that hard work would ultimately be rewarded. What followed for the next eight months were multiple instances of drink-driving crewmembers (both in cars and tenders), inappropriate behaviour at social events and bullying of multiple crewmembers. As the only senior member of the crew, I was the only person who felt able to address these issues. For eight months I heard the arguments, “Yes, but aren’t all captains like this?”, “Better the devil you know” and “But I need this job”. My inability to change the captain’s behaviour and the crew’s unwillingness to come forward led to my decision to walk off the job.

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

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