- Opinion - Where’s my crew at?

By Conor Feasey

Where’s my crew at?

Yachting is proud of its maritime and navy heritage, so why isn’t there a similar approach when it comes to quality recruitment?

As a relative newcomer to the industry, it seems obvious to me that there needs to be a greater push to recruit and train young people from low-income backgrounds. It’s no secret that there is a lack of quality crew available for the fleet, and you’d have to have been living under a rock to not have heard about the low retention and mental health rates of crew.

With more boats than ever on the water and the new build boom rolling on, why aren’t there more initiatives aimed at diversifying the pool of talent?

I’m not talking about recruiting those who binge-watch episodes of Below Deck and then, drink in hand, assume they’re fit to be a Chief Stew. I’m referring to educating ambitious young individuals from low-income backgrounds about the plethora of opportunities in yachting. The industry needs to prepare the next generation of chief engineers, officers, and captains. And it should expand its horizons beyond the traditional recruitment pools of coastal towns and sailing enthusiasts.

Poverty rates are climbing, and the cost of living has skyrocketed. For many, attending university is a daunting financial endeavour, making vocational training often a more feasible avenue for a stable career and income. Where I hail from in sunny south London, many of my peers felt constrained by the opportunities their environment presented. The notion of embarking on a journey aboard a 100m yacht for a season wasn’t viewed as a viable job but a fantasy, something to do only after winning the lottery. We might have pursued our STCW, but we were oblivious to its existence.

Whether people like to admit it or not, there is an arrogance in the superyacht industry that expects people to know that it’s here and thriving. The same snobbery expects crew to work immensely hard and be grateful just to be there. Perhaps there are other reasons the industry chooses to fly under the radar, but if it aims to systematically address the shortage of quality crew, it must diversify where it scouts for talent.

In the working-class areas where I grew up, adverts for the military are everywhere. They are strategically placed in sporting events and TV shows that predominantly cater to a low-income demographic. These ads paint a vivid picture of adventurous explorations, a steady paycheck, and the prospect of a fulfilling career progression. These are all things that the superyacht industry offers crew (just swap dodging bullets with cleaning wine stains out of zebra skin rugs.)

Jack Hogan’s latest piece on the BBC Series Blue Planet is a perfect example of the highs of working on a superyacht. For young people that grew up in a city like mine, wildlife is somewhat limited to tired foxes,  pigeons and mice, so some would chew their arm off to get a chance to get a glimpse of the creatures of the Galapagos, let alone get paid to do it.

And the pay, against the current economic backdrop, is good. Really good. According to YPI Crew’s 2022 salary survey, entry-level jobs, such as junior deckhands, get monthly salaries of around €2,700 per month. Captains on 100-metre-plus yachts were paid an average monthly salary of around €18,000. That is an obscene amount of money, especially considering the average annual salary in the UK is £39,452. 

There has been some movement in the space. Two boys from Tottenham (a working-class area in north London) made headlines on the BBC, having been awarded Best Young Skipper and Youth Trophy accolades at Cowes week. The pair’s training had been funded by Quay Crew and Tim Clarke, the company's CEO says he is actively encouraging them to pursue a career in superyachting. 

Isle of Wight-based charity UKSA do incredible things too. The company had a record number of 10,590 beneficiaries for its 2022/2023 training programmes, with around 33% receiving financial support from the charity and its partners.

More needs to be done, however. It amazes me that crew recruitment is such an issue when there is such immense wealth in superyachting and a lack of employment among young people worldwide, particularly in working-class areas. It is on the industry to source its employees, train them and work incredibly hard to keep them. Not the other way around. 

Yachting is emblematic of affluence and opulence, but perhaps it's time it also became a beacon of opportunity for all.


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Where’s my crew at?


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User photoChris Andreason - 30 Aug 2023 19:57

'More needs to be done' on. I came to yachting from the RN but that was because of a lucky spot of an article in the news concerning a yacht owner who had fallen overboard.

(Yes - it was that long ago!)

With the forecast shortfalls in crew then it shouldn't be down to luck or happening to know a friend that brings young people into yachting.

I totally agree that perhaps once upon a time being crew on a superyacht was perceived as being a 'gap yah' or 'get rich quick scheme' sort of hiatus job to fill a couple of years, but nowadays there are well defined career paths in all departments, and again in total agreement concerning the cost of living and student debt etc, then why aren't more young people aware of the opportunities.

I've been back to my old school and presented regarding a career at sea...with a focus on yachts. Maybe others could do the same as even a very basic start to help recruitment.

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