Crew Sustainability

The Islander – March 2023

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64% of junior crew left as a direct result of the leadership they experienced

Crew are at the heart of any vessel’s success. However beautifully designed a vessel may be, or comprehensive the safety equipment; it is down to the crew’s attitudes, behaviours and performance, that will make or break a guest’s trip.. An owner or charter guest’s experience is so much more than the nuts and bolts of the vessel. Charterers will often rebook a yacht because of the amazing experience they had with a particular crew. You hear stories of a charter guest having such a great experience that they have bought the yacht, and Captain and Crew, as an entire package! The sustainability of the crew is key.

What are the secrets to crew sustainability? What do we need to do in order to attract, manage and retain them? It’s probably not as complicated as it sounds, but it is a challenge and high crew turnover is something many yachts and yacht owners experience.

If we attract the right people in the first instance, we stand a fighting chance. In the business world, it is common practice to use job or role profiling when recruiting, to better understand the skills and most importantly the qualities that the right candidate should have. Yet all too often crew are recruited based on qualifications and experience alone. Through psychometric profiling, a process adopted by the corporate sector, it is believed that this significantly increases the chances of a successful placement.

What is stopping the industry from more frequently using these tools to get it right for the yacht, crew and the owner? Perhaps in part, the reason is the haste with which many positions need to be filled. The speed with which crew leave, or are asked to leave is a factor. Managing burnout is another issue, with some owners or management not valuing crew sustainability.

Next is managing the new crew member into role. Every yacht will induct a new crew member in terms of safety, where the fire extinguishers are located, the exit routes, security of the yacht, etc. However, how often are those ‘unspoken’ rules clarified? So now they’re not following these unwritten rules, such as “on our boat whoever opens the dishwasher when it is full and clean is responsible for emptying it”. What do you do about it when the new 3rd junior engineer chooses to ignore this unspoken rule? Do you talk about it, let it go or hope somebody else says something? Often senior crew turn a blind eye, cutting them some slack, as they are still new, but perhaps the fairer approach would be to keep clear lines in the sand.

As we saw our crew turnover survey, 64% of junior crew left as a direct result of the leadership they experienced on board. Many comments were around a perception of favouritism, differing standards and allowing crew politics to fester. Managing crew is tough. You need to be brave, honest and competent, all at the same time. The quality of the leadership drives the on board culture. Crew will be loyal to a yacht that is falling apart, when they feel valued, appreciated and respected. When the culture is right and crew pull together, working with the dream team feels effortless, there’s an ease and energy, and disagreements are swiftly overcome. Inspiring and motivating crew doesn’t need to cost a fortune, from developing crew on the job, to the unexpected afternoon off, or that genuine ‘thank you’.

Looking at crew retention, an individual will rarely leave for a single reason. The reality is, it’s much easier to stay than to find a new job. But give them a reason to start looking for a new position and they have already made the decision to jump ship – now it’s just a case of when.

Increasing crew sustainability remains a challenge for the industry. Senior crew need the tools and confidence to effectively manage crew. Leadership is an ongoing journey. It’s not just a HELM course – it’s about taking the tips and tools and applying them in everyday life and forming new habits. This takes time and commitment. You never stop learning and developing your leadership skills. People are like the wind – you never quite know what you are going to get tomorrow. The more tools you have in your kit bag, the more effective you become at leading crew.

In John Donahoe’s words:-

“ Leadership is a journey, not a destination. It is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a process, not an outcome.”

Impact Crew offers on board team and leadership development. Contact us to see how we can support you in effective recruitment, management and retention.