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The impact of COVID-19 on crew recruitment in 2020

Laurence Lewis, director of YPI Crew, on the effects COVID-19 and her predictions for the year ahead…

In order to ascertain how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the crew recruitment sector, YPI Crew has had a look back over its numbers for 2020. The results reveal those positions that experienced decreased demand, and those that saw more recruitment activity, as well as whether crew salaries were affected.

Laurence Lewis, director of YPI Crew, recalls the initial impact on the sector; “The yacht crew recruitment market was hit fast and violently by the COVID-19 pandemic, with plans to hire crew delayed or cancelled altogether. Overnight, many crew lost part or all of their income. Even if still working, many crew – from captains to junior ranks – had to accept salary cuts and slashed rotations.”

Of course, the initial impact was particularly significant because the start of the pandemic coincided with the beginning of the Mediterranean season. “March, April and May are the busiest months for crew recruiters… so, when we registered an 80 per cent drop in turnover in April 2020 compared to April 2019, we knew it was going to be a tough ride,” Lewis adds.

As such, YPI Crew used the time as an opportunity to build closer relationships with clients and candidates and, as the season progressed, some yachts prepared for a short, intensive cruising season. Because of this, YPI Crew ended up recording its best months of July, August and September ever in its 18-year history. All in all, the company’s turnover dropped by 18 per cent in 2020.

The departments that recorded the biggest drop in new job requests were the engineering and deck officer departments, with a respective drop of 32 per cent and 28 per cent...

In terms of placement activity, YPI Crew ended the year with 21 per cent fewer jobs compared to 2019. The departments that recorded the biggest drop in new job requests were the engineering and deck officer departments, with a respective drop of 32 per cent and 28 per cent. Lewis explains that these departments typically benefit from rotation packages and so, with some yachts cutting down on rotations, the need to hire was reduced.

The busiest departments in terms of job orders were the interior, deck and engineering (Lewis says despite a drop in demand, it remained active). Parallel to this, YPI Crew experienced an overall 13 per cent uptick in crew registrations between 2019 and 2020, with July 2020 peaking at a 62 per cent increase compared to July 2019. This trend has continued in the new year, with the number of new registrations for January 2021 increased by 34 per cent compared to January 2020. 

While there was much speculation about whether the decrease in job vacancies, combined with a surplus of available crew, would impact salaries at the point of hiring, YPI Crew did not find this. Lewis thinks that this could be attributed to international travel restrictions and difficulties in obtaining visas, which have kept the recruitment market tense. 

Looking forward, Lewis is quietly confident that the year ahead will allow yachts to enjoy a longer Mediterranean season again, especially as vaccines are deployed around the world. “The yacht crew job market should recover and certainly, early signs are promising,” she concludes. “We are also waiting to see if in 2021 a further move towards crew rotation will take place as more owners realise that with COVID-19 they can spend more time on board their yachts and actually work on board if necessary.”

To read YPI Crew's entire report, please click here.

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