On the first day of The Superyacht Forum, a group of panellists from within the operations sector discussed how the industry should build a more stable and healthier arena for the next generation of crew. The workshop considered who will operate the ever-changing and growing fleet and how to deliver a clear career path that promotes longevity and wellbeing.

Various issues regarding the next generation of crew were raised by the panellists. Jo Assael of Döhle Yachts spoke about the growing challenge of overseeing build projects on behalf of the owner, which places undue pressure on captains and engineers. Yves Damette and Gunther Alvarado of Al Seer Marine also raised concerns regarding a shortage of professional and well-trained crew and a need to update the systems used on board to be more interactive and in line with what the technology that the next generation of crew will be used to.

The lack of a structured career pathway to bring professional young people into the superyacht sector was recognised as a clear issue for the industry. John Wyborn of Bluewater explained that this has led to many “lifestyle tourists” entering the industry in the form of seasonal and transient crew. During the discussion, he described the need for more apprenticeship-style programmes to help bring in more professional candidates.

“The luxury cruise industry has a number of ships in build, and will likely be competing for the same pool of crew as the superyacht industry but with better employment packages,” added moderator Ken Hickling. “We might be heading for a recruitment crisis and the industry needs to make sure we are attracting the best of those candidates.”

The best way to attract professional candidates to the industry, it was unanimously agreed, is to present the sector as a professional  and long-term career pathway. It was pointed out that the average length of a career at sea is as little as seven years, and the industry needs to ensure that lifetime career paths are on offer to crew so that it attracts the most professional candidates, thus giving its clients the best experience possible.

One of the key points made in answer to this was that removing the 3,000gt limitation on yacht certification would help – with yacht officers topping out the industry at 3,000gt, it closes the door to a number of qualified and professional deck crew. “However, the 3,000gt cap is institutional within the STCW, so it is not something that can be changed overnight, and the consequences of removing it would need to be carefully considered,” cautioned Assael.

Another solution presented was for the industry to allow crew an easier transition to shoreside roles, so that crew would not see their time in the industry as a waste. “For example, the level of service for interior crew is unrecognised,” said Wyborn. “GUEST training needs to be better supported by the industry so that there is a recognised level of attainment for interior crew to easily transition to shoreside hospitality.” 

A comment from the audience also pointed out that, in order to attract professional and career-minded crew, superyachts need to be professional as employers. “We need to offer more rotation and actually deliver on the rosters – we cannot just keep using the excuse ‘it’s yachting’ all the time,” a captain asserted. “Furthermore, hours of rest is another huge issue that is not being taken seriously by owners, managers and builders.”

This brought up the other big issue of crew welfare, with the MCA’s Julie Carlton highlighting the deficiencies they find in the superyacht sector not just in regard to employment contracts and payment of wages, but also crew mental health and wellbeing. “The MCA and Red Ensign Group are looking more widely at the wellbeing of crew and the owner’s duty of care – it is about more than just complying with regulations,” she explained. 

A number of conclusions were drawn from the workshop as to what the industry should be doing in order to better prepare, cater for and look after the next generation of crew:

·      Create clear pathways to entry through apprenticeship schemes;

·      Request for GUEST training from interior crew;

·      Shift to a culture of on-board learning and continuous professional development;

·      Adapt on-board operating systems to better integrate the latest interactive technology;

·      Offer better employment packages to encourage crew to have longer careers in the industry;

·      Clearly define the duty of care that owners and managers have to crew.


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