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Hiring Crew with The Right Stuff

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Your yacht may be a mega-million-dollar asset, yet equally valuable is your crew. Surrounding yourself with the “right” people can spell the difference between a pleasure cruise and a trip into the watery abyss. The ticket to success is for you, or your captain, to find and retain the crew that meets your wants and needs.
Which begs the natural question: What makes the right crew?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. “Each yacht is different, each owner is different and each captain has different expectations,” said Debbie Blazy, the Antibes-based crew placement division manager for Camper & Nicholsons International. “There are, however, crew who will always be more popular with captains and owners. Those are the ones who are flexible, show confidence, smile when they are exhausted and have a positive attitude even when nothing is going right.”
“The right crew has the correct balance of licensing, experience and personality,” according to Rupert Connor, the Ft. Lauderdale-headquartered president of the Luxury Yacht Group, who gave three reliable options for finding good crew. “One is a referral from a friend in the business, two is online bulletin boards and/or directories, and three is professional recruitment agencies.”
The first decision is typically the captain, who should be hired by the owner or management company. “All other crew should be hired through the captain with the owner’s final approval, if they choose to be involved,” said Sue Price, senior placement coordinator for Crew Unlimited in Ft. Lauderdale.
Captains are ideal to hire the rest of the crew because they know what is best for the seamless running of the yacht. “The bigger the yacht, the more the department heads will hire their own teams,” said Blazy. “We have, however, seen a trend over recent years of owners taking a more proactive view on the hiring of department heads and senior crew.”
Crew agencies are handy for providing a succinct selection of candidates who fit the criteria, saving time, but captains should always strike toward the loyalty being to the owner, “not to a third party that might have gotten the individual his or her job,” said Bob Saxon of Bob Saxon Consultants and chief executive of the Ft. Lauderdale-based Florida Yacht Brokers Association (FYBA).
When investigating candidates, a resume can give a good idea of the crewmember’s attention to detail. “Glaring spelling mistakes, different type-faces and incorrect punctuation are never a good sell,” said Blazy. “A well-presented, well organized resume will be more likely to find itself on the ‘yes’ pile rather than straight in the bin. What a resume does not do is give a true idea of the candidate’s personality.”
Sally Finbow, owner of SAF Recruitment Services in Antibes, agreed. “Even if a personal meeting isn’t possible, there should always be a telephone interview,” she added. “With Skype, webcam interviews are always possible. However, in the ideal world, a face-to-face interview on board is the best all round. This way, other crewmembers can meet the interviewee — and vice versa — and have some input.”
There are no magic questions to ask during the interview, said Conner. “But the one that my staff is trained to ask and take the longest focusing upon is, ‘Why did you leave your last position?’ The reply, when cross-referenced to the feedback given by the employer, should give a great indicator to the moral standing, work ethic and career direction of the candidate.”
Blazy suggested other revealing subjects to ask about, including 1) details of exactly what they did in their last job, 2) what they liked/disliked about their previous jobs, 3) how they would describe their personality and 4) how they think their last captain would describe them. “And ask about their longevity,” added Graeme Lord, the Ft. Lauderdale-based fleet manager for International Yacht Collection (IYC). “The incredible level of crew turnover is very disruptive to ownership.”
When (or if) you get the right crew aboard, it’s critical that you keep them. What’s the best way to accomplish this elusive goal? Start with appreciation. “This can take the form of a few words of praise for a job well done,” said Finbow. “Even a simple ‘thank you’ goes a long way.”
Money doesn’t hurt either, but it isn’t everything. “Years ago, the most oft referenced comment of those trying to find work would have been, ‘I want to be on a large yacht because that’s where the money is,’” said Saxon. “Today, when I am approached by captains seeking work and I ask them, ‘What would be the “perfect” situation for you,’ more often than not the response is, ‘I’d love to work for a great owner.’”
A good owner provides for the yacht, said Ann McHorney, a St. Maarten-based charter specialist for IYC. “If a crew member needs money to operate the owner’s boat, owners must remember that it’s not the crew spending that money, but instead doing them a service. It’s not always about the crew, but about their frustration with trying to keep the program going without the necessary funds.”
Time off and time to spend with family is important, too. One of the most often-told reasons for leaving a yacht is burn out, whether it’s due to a lack of time off between charters or to live-aboard owners, said Blazy. Just as land-based workers need a change of scenery, so do crew. The fact that they may be travelling while on board is irrelevant — everyone needs to recharge their batteries.
If the yacht is a world traveller, then thought should be given to spouses and families of crewmembers, said Finbow. “I know of a few cases where the owner allows a ‘crew week,’ whereby the crew can invite their wives/husbands/parents to join the yacht for a week’s cruise a couple of times a year.”
Benefits such as medical and dental insurance are also among the top requests from crew. Beyond this, said Blazy, “good, long-term prospects on board are always high on any crew’s list of priorities. Offering assistance with upgrading certificates and a career path is important. Most crew don’t like lining-up in the crew agencies to find a new job, so if they’re offered a good career opportunity, they’re more likely to stay.”
Finally, says the Luxury Yacht Group’s Conner, “While some crew may take a job for money, it’s never the reason for leaving unless the agreed salary is not being paid. For longevity, look at team building, working conditions, career development, work schedule and crew’s basic human needs.”
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands-based marine writer and registered dietician.

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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