Retaining Crew

The Islander – December 2019

< Back individual will rarely leave for a single reason

Crew are at the heart of any vessel’s success. However beautifully designed a vessel, however comprehensive the safety equipment; it is down to the crew’s attitudes, behaviours and integrity as to how it all works in practice. An owner or charter guest’s experience is so much more than the nuts and bolts of the vessel, it is the crew that will make or break their trip.

What are the secrets to having a great crew, 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 one that many yachts experience.

Focussing on recruitment 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 which will be ideal for the right candidate to have. Yet all too often crew are recruited based on qualifications and experience alone. This process typically increases the chances of success and the placement of an individual who will fit in well with the rest of the crew.

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 benefits of getting it right far outstrip the time invested at the outset.

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 farer approach would be to keep clear lines in the sand.

As we saw in the 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. It’s probably not intentional and is most likely caused by an inability or lack of motivation to deal with the issues. Managing crew is tough. You need to be brave, honest and competent all at the same time. 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 either, from developing crew on board and upskilling them, to the unexpected afternoon off, or the 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.

Crew turnover remains a challenge for the industry. Giving senior crew the tools and confidence to effectively manage crew is key. 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 to deal with crew, the more effective you become.

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.