The feedback we’ve been receiving from captains is that too many crew are focused on jumping to the next level without properly identifying what there is to gain out of sea time and experience. Captains’ stories told of crewmembers fudging their sea time, the hiring of crewmembers whose ‘sea time’ had been spent sitting on the boat in the marina and crew resigning as soon as shipyard periods had been announced for fear of not reaching that holy grail of necessary sea time at lightning speed.
The dangers these actions pose are clear, but another way in which the industry is suffering is the loss of the basics. Captain Alistair Bendall of 34.2m motoryacht Revolver is shocked at the forgotten skills of today’s crew. “I worked as a deckhand on various yachts for over ten years learning all the skills such as painting, varnishing and leather and rope work, not forgetting boat handling and wash downs. Today all these skills seem to be forgotten. As long as you have a bunch of tickets and no experience you’ll be fine. In fairness there are a few exceptions but I am constantly amazed at how little deckhands know these days,” he explains.
First mate Siobhan Wood, currently working for a relief period on board 49.8m sailing yacht Silencio, has resisted this philosophy, however, and though she has all the sea time needed to become a captain, is following the principle of longevity and experience over the race to the top. “It’s qualification-based now, but I try to get longevity on boats as I feel it’s important to stay for quite a while to actually learn what you’re doing,” she says. “Anyone that we try to hire, we look at the longevity on their CV as well.”
In fact, tangible experience is so important for Wood that she has actually turned down some captain positions in the search for her next permanent position. “I have had a few offers for small-boat captain positions but I want to stay as a mate for a while,” she explains. “I started in the industry by putting together a yacht, then cleaning it, and then I slowly made my way through all the ranks. You can see all the bits and bobs that you could potentially skip along the way but I would rather study under a really good captain for another year and finish my Master 3,000gt. After that you are your own captain.”
"It’s qualification-based now, but I try to get longevity on boats as I feel it’s important to stay for quite a while to actually learn what you’re doing."
Obvious agendas for racing through the ranks include salary, power and ambition, but this captain has one particular theory as to why crew are ignoring these aspects of what will one day be part of their job. “They want to fast-track to become captain because they think when you are a captain you get paid for nothing. What they forget is that I’ve been in that locker, I’ve been up that mast and I’ve done all the worst jobs for years and years. They get home at night and I’m still here at eleven o’clock at night and I’m getting up at five o’clock in the morning. I’ve been working for three hours before they even arrive.”
Crew reaching captain positions prematurely is a serious issue in the industry and has led to complaints about a growing culture of ‘junior paper-captains’. And with this happening, owner expectations, crew quality development and, most importantly, safety could be at stake. Yes, ambition is the main driving force for a lot of crew and this shouldn’t be discouraged and detracted from. Moreover, the mandatory qualifications for deck crew, while important, suggest to new crew they have picked a career with largely certificate-based progression, and from the offset add pressure to reach the next level. But if crew can professionally channel their ambition, they will understand the significance of gaining a plentiful amount of experience in the lower ranks to fully reach their potential in senior positions.
Find the full feature with further comments in issue 67 of The Crew Report – click here to download.