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By SuperyachtNews

What captains think... and what they need

Captain Mike Conquest discusses bolstering the standard of professionalism among crew…

One of the biggest concerns I have about the industry concerns the professional standard of the crew – and the crew agents who purport to represent them.

When looking at potential crew, especially new entries into the profession, it seems they have very high expectations, particularly with regards to wages and what they personally can get out of it. They always appear to be in a rush to advance, with little commitment on their side. For instance, they can give up jobs at will, for better wages elsewhere or to be with friends, with little thought for the captains and owners who are employing them. 

Within each SEA contract there are plenty of safeguards for crewmembers, especially once they have completed their probationary period, yet there’s nothing to protect the owner should a crewmember suddenly decide to leave, often without serving their notice period, and there’s little one can do except start looking for a replacement – and, as we know, this can be expensive.

Not only do you have to repatriate the departing crewmember, they may also have holidays outstanding. Then you have to fly in a new crewmember, possibly with the help of an agency to find them at short notice, and hope they will fit in and work out OK. 

Don’t get me wrong here, there are some very good agents, but it seems that anyone wanting to get out of the industry and move landside starts a crew agency. It’s sad that the days of person-to-person interviews are receding with the advent of the social media and the digital age, as well as the fast movement of today’s hyperactive expectations.

I can categorically say that I am constantly surprised by how few crew agencies actually contact me for a full reference for former crew...

I can categorically say that I am constantly surprised by how few crew agencies actually contact me for a full reference for former crew. Many of my ex-crew who are still in the industry have never had a verbal reference from me. There are online sites that ask for proof of employment by email and embedded links, but little else, and I have to say also that this is not just about the crew agencies. There are also very few captains or chief officers who contact me when thinking of taking on any of my past crewmembers.

Personally, I’m always happy to talk to a prospective employer and give a verbal reference, and this also applies to crew agencies, although I do believe that after a period of three to maybe five years my reference would become slightly irrelevant and out of date for some positions.

To this end, I am stopping giving reference letters to crew who leave and instead I’m putting the onus on others to ask for it. Yes, it may add some extra work down the line but a letter just giving dates of employment is as far as I will go currently.

Am I the only one with concerns on this issue? I don’t think so, yet I have to say I don’t have all the answers; maybe in a professional industry perhaps it’s down to individual captains, chief officers and crew agents to act professionally.

I’ve been a captain for many years now and also had previous experience managing people in other situations outside the superyacht industry. It’s certainly one of the hardest parts of the job, which leads me to another aspect related to this that I find unacceptable.

The captain should have complete control (to hire and fire) over who is employed on board. I’ve been lucky with my employers to have this control when I take on crew. After all, the captain is the one who has to work with them and ensure the teams on board live and work in harmony. I understand that owners may want to have an input, and getting to know the owner’s preferences is part of the captain’s role, but why would management believe they can do this better? Sure, put some names forward but then leave it to the captains. They are the ones who have to work with them.

This is an article originally published in issue 202 of The Superyacht Report. To access the full library, please click here.

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