When Reality meets Expectations

This blog is slightly random and has multiple purposes...

1: To educate green crew about how tough yachting is.
2: To give them a couple of ideas to help them cope a little better.
3: Hopefully it is slightly amusing!

I am a big fan of the film 500 Days of Summer. It’s a witty, intelligent rom com. You may or may not be aware of it so I have thoughtfully provided a link to the scene I am referencing. Incidentally it’s a great scene.

 

Tom, the hero of the piece is meeting the girl he loves, Summer, at a party she is hosting. En route he is blissfully imagining the party unfolding and him ending up in the arms of Summer. His unrealistic expectations meet a rather harsh reality unfortunately and it doesn’t go as planned. Why am I referencing this?

Because last year that scene reminded me very much of junior crew joining a yacht and how they leave the yacht too. Tom has some very unrealistic expectations and when he sees the reality of the situation he storms off in a huff without saying goodbye (I realise this is a slight controversial interpretation of the film so I’m happy to discuss it in the comments!). Sadly many yachties new to the industry bail from a yacht in an unprofessional manner when it isn’t all roses, often at an inopportune time eg the day before a charter.

We are about to enter that time of year when hundreds if not thousands of crew flock to Antibes, Palma and various other yachting hubs looking for their first job and bringing with them hugely unrealistic expectations. Hopefully this blog might mean a few more green crew stick it out when the going gets tough.

Working on a yacht isn’t all champagne in the jacuzzi on the sun deck and watersports despite what some crew’s social media accounts portray.  So what should you expect when you join a yacht?

The following are my tips on how to get through the tough times.

 

 

 

 

 

Finally if you really aren’t coping and leaving isn’t an option then the following two options provide support if you are in a bad place mentally.

 

www.bigwhitewall.com

http://seafarerswelfare.org/

Best of luck in your first season guys and hopefully this helps.

Is rotation always a good thing?

Generally I would say rotation is a positive thing, however in this blog I’m going to play devils advocate a little and demonstrate why it isn’t always the best option for someone.

Every day I chat to multiple Officers and Captains and a question I always ask is ‘what are you looking for ideally?’ Inevitably the majority will say rotation at some point in their answer. For some crew rotation will be the first thing they say in the answer. Everything else is negotiable but rotation is the one thing they can’t flex on. I think occasionally people have their priorities in the wrong order and it would benefit them to be in a full time role. This applies more to junior officers than Captains and Chiefs but some of it is relevant to them too.

Obviously if you have children then that puts a different slant on things. However if you aren’t at that stage in your personal life then the following points might provide some food for thought….

If you are time for time rotational Chief then you will have 2 Captains rotating as well. Sounds great? Not really if you have aspirations to become a Captain in the near future. Even if you have your Master ticket in hand and have done for years you are never going to get the opportunity to do a crossing or look after the yacht during a yard period for a couple of months. Which means you can’t legitimately put Relief Captain on your CV. Having recruited a fair few Captain roles over the years which are looking for a ‘1sttime’ Captain it is essential you have this experience if you want to be seriously considered for the position.

Generally being in a rotational role means taking some sort of salary hit as the costs are so much higher for the owner. This isn’t always the case but it often is. A factor many don’t consider in too much detail is how much their overheads rocket up when they have 6 months off a year. That’s 4 months at least of your living costs that the yacht isn’t picking up. Constant travelling, holidays or even just renting somewhere back at home is expensive. Then add in that you now have tax to worry about and all of a sudden you have taken a huge pay cut. The deposit for that first buy to let investment is now a lot further away. If you plan on leaving yachting in x number of years with y amount in your bank account then rotation isn’t the way forward.

Rotation is great when you have your Masters ticket and you’ve been Chief for 5 solid years. When you’ve just got your OOW or stepping up into a Chief role for the first time then you still have a lot to learn. Missing 6 months of the year because you are on leave will mean you won’t get exposure to certain aspects of the job. There are senior crew out there who have been unlucky with timings and therefore have huge gaps in their knowledge and skillset. But that is probably another blog!

2 years served is actually only a year of hands on experience. Depending on your plan of action and the yacht you are on this can really delay you getting where you want to be for years. A yacht which is side to the whole time is stopping you getting as much sea time and means you aren’t getting much guest operational exposure. Neither of those situations are ideal.

If you have a great, out going personality then this probably won’t affect you so much. However if you are a little more reserved then it is harder to bond with the crew. You start to build friendships on board and then you are off on leave again. If there is turnover on board too then you can end up not really building any good relationships on board. For some personalities, you are basically starting again each time.

If you are lucky enough to get a couples position onboard it is extremely rare for both of you to have the same rotation. Much more likely is one of you will be on 5:1 or 45 days of leave. So you still send significant periods of time apart. The side of the partnership which is left on the yacht inevitably is resentful about the situation too.

For the vast majority of crew taking a step up in responsibility means it is very unlikely they retain the rotation they are currently on. It normally means going back to full time work which can be a struggle, especially on a busy, hectic yacht which will be a shock to the system.

If you are both good communicators and work well together it can be great. Sometimes though they will do everything differently / not as well and you come back and your first few weeks on board is spent firefighting all the problems. Sometimes your opposite number is the senior one of you on board and you don’t have any freedom to make your own decisions. Or in other instances, they consistently hire terrible crew for whatever reason. Having an opposite number who doesn’t do a good job can add to your stress and happiness levels hugely.

Top Interview Question

What have you been in criticised for at work in the past? Do you agree with that criticism? What would you change about how you behaved if you could go back in time?

This is a multi part question, although it isn’t essential to ask all of it. Pick and choose as you see fit! Ask the first part before moving onto the second part. I would always try and avoid asking multiple questions in the same sentence. Inevitably you won’t get such a detailed answer and some candidates will just skip answering the most challenging question.

I like this question as it neatly bypasses any rehearsed answer and cuts straight to the jugular by asking for real life situations. If you have read any of my previous interview questions you will know that I love asking about historic situations. Anytime you don’t ask for specifics, then it makes it much easier for a crew member to conjure up an imaginary scenario. Additionally, the chances of a crew member being asked something so specific previously is slim. So there is less chance you will get a rehearsed answer. I think so you invariably get a truthful answer about something which didn’t go well. This sort of information is very hard to get in an interview situation generally so pay close attention to the answer.

The second question is designed to expose the candidates character a little further. How they reacted to the criticism and how they view it now. I would also suggest a soft friendly approach which builds empathy because the candidate will be more likely to open up.

 

Hopefully that helps with your interviews going forward.

 

Taking the step from commercial to yachting

Taking the step from commercial to yachting...

This should be an interesting blog for many candidates who are looking to make the transition from a commercial maritime background to the super yachting world. I also plan to refer many candidates to this as it is a conversation I have a lot! Specifically this is targeted at crew who have recently passed their OOW Unlimited, not those who have their Chief or Master ticket.

Firstly, what kind of commercial background finds it easiest to step into the yachting world? Well in my experience my clients (over 3000gt)  have generally been keenest on guys who are coming from a cruise ship background. Firstly there is the perception that cruise ship experience has the most cross over with regular guest interaction on board. Secondly, in the bridge at least, there appears to be a significant cross over between the technology and software so it is less of a steep learning curve. However don’t be too downcast if you are coming from another sector, there are still plenty of opportunities and if you follow my advice then the sector you come from is less relevant.

The biggest piece of advice I can give which hopefully everyone reading this will heed is to take some form of deckhand role initially. And when I say initially I mean for at least 1 year, ideally 2. There are multiple reasons for this which I will elaborate on shortly…. As always, there are anomalies to this and I’m generalising but for the majority of recent OOW Unlimited graduates all of this applies.

1: You are ahead of your peers

Assuming you are relatively young and you have your OOW Unlimited in hand you are miles ahead of your competition. So don’t be in a rush to get your first Officer role. Build a solid foundation to your yachting career instead by being patient. Don’t chase 4500 euros and rotation in your first job. All these things will come with time if you take the steps I suggest.

2: You have a lot to learn

When entering yachting your existing skillset (for most of you) revolves around the bridge & navigation. You have a very limited understanding of how to drive a tender, how to do a beach set up, water sports, painting, varnishing, maintenance etc. The list is lengthy unfortunately and your current skills only make up a small portion of the job. There are yachts out there with Officer positions which are purely bridge based however there are many which also have deck responsibilities. Spending 18 months on deck and learning how it operates, getting a good grounding in maintenance and all the essential deck skills is incredibly beneficial. Also its fun working on deck with the rest of the team. Few things are as enjoyable as spraying your unsuspecting mate with a hose of cold water.

3: Respect my authority (authoritah!!!)

Most of you wont get that reference but but for those that do it works perfectly. Having a job title doesn’t automatically command respect. Unfortunately if the deckhand with a year of experience is better at 80% of the job than you are then you will struggle to command his respect.

4: Towing the line…

As a deckhand you will be afforded more leeway to have the odd hangover mid week. You can get away fraternising casually with the interior. Professionally you will also be able to make a few more mistakes than you will as an Officer. So enjoy the first year or two without having all these extra responsibilities. I believe if you are in a position of authority then you have to lead by example and you have to be a little removed from the troops. That means not getting drunk and / or sleeping with the crew.

I’m sure I have forgotten a couple of other reasons but that should be plenty! In terms of what else you can do to help your cause…

I would suggest similar things that I do to other crew looking for to improve their CVs. Don’t go on a course which teaches you to be a ‘deckhand’ in 1 week. It doesn’t and it is expensive. Save your time and money. Useful additional skillsets are carpentry, boat building, water sports, diving etc. All of  those take time so start early.

Regarding boats the only thing I will suggest there is to try and get something 70m plus. Best of luck everyone, I hope this helps a little!

Inducting your new crew member | By Karen Passman & Tim Clarke

Inducting your new crew member

As with some of these earlier articles this has got a lot longer than originally planned. Part 3 is about inducting the crew member and their first 3 months on board, the probation period.

Part 4 will be the actual nuts and bolts of managing a crew member, doing performance reviews etc.

Induction

Having worked with many yachts and crews, it is interesting to hear about the different approaches which are used to induct new crew. Do you give them a welcome pack when they arrive on board, or even before they come aboard? I would suggest prior to them arriving would be a nice touch which will make you stand out further from other yachts, far too many of which struggle to even get a contract to a crew member months after they have started! What goes into it, a copy of the Master’s standing orders, their role and responsibilities, examples of the uniform and when to wear which, bedding and washing days, a photo of all the crew along with names and positions, etc? Some other suggestions may be general information on the yacht, the planned itinerary etc.

Most yachts have the initial induction sorted – their first day on board consists of familiarisation and going through all the legalities, admin, safety procedures, etc. The new recruit receives a huge amount of information and typically a crew social in the evening so they get to meet everyone. Day two, and they can start to crack on with the job they were hired for.

What is apparent, if you want a new crew member to fit in quickly, step up and perform, use their initiative (sensibly) and work independently; more time needs to be spent inducting them into your ways of working. However, this does not necessarily mean bombarding them with ever increasing amounts of information.

Take yourself back to the last time you joined a new yacht – that first day was probably an information overload and how much of it actually stuck? Sadly, according to research, we only remember 10% of what we read and 20% of what we hear! So what’s the solution? You have a legal obligation, hence the information overload on day 1. However, if this is so important shouldn’t it be re-visited to make sure it has actually sunk in?

We remember 90% of what we say and do. The NHS has developed their approach to teaching which embraces this fact. As a student you will first watch an operation being performed, then under supervision perform the operation, and the last step in the process is to “teach” it back to your consultant. Adopting this style of learning with new crew could be invaluable, particularly around safety critical issues. How else will you “test” that someone has paid attention to their induction? All too often the first time you realise that your new recruit was missing a critical piece of information is when there is an accident or incident of some description. I would also consider some sort of test at the end of week one regarding standing orders, safety etc. Doesn’t need to be huge but the new crew member needs to be able to tell you where all the emergency hatches are, BA sets, and the fire extinguishers in the main saloon for just a few example questions.

The “unspoken” rules

Every yacht will have slightly different “unspoken” rules and this is what forms the culture on your yacht. Often the issues and conflicts are down to “How” someone does or says something, rather than “What” they are doing. Do you thank the Chef after each meal, or leave your mug in the sink because the dishwasher is running? It can take a new crew member some time to work out the subtleties of how you do things. Some yachts adopt a buddy system for the new joiner, this way they can easily pick up on the small nuances that make your yacht unique – turning up 5 minutes before the morning brief, with or without a mug of coffee in hand?....every boat is different!

I actually think that the “unspoken” rules are just as important as the official ones and if feasible I would actually get as many of them down in writing as possible. I think the “unspoken” rules are also an area where a lot of crew come unstuck, especially regarding nights out and alcohol. This is the sort of thing which I would really clarify at interview stage as people have very different interpretations of want a ‘sociable’ boat means. For some this means out boozing several times midweek until the early hours. For others this means crew who play sport together, go out for dinner and have a few drinks on a Friday. Very easy for a new recruit to fall foul of this early doors if it isn’t made very clear what is expected of them prior to joining. Many senior crew out of kindness will generally cut the new recruit some slack…. But what they really need is to be set clear unwavering boundaries from the start.

Performance & Feedback

When do you review how things are going for them? Do you check in with your new recruit after their first day or week? What about thereafter? The sooner you ensure your new recruit is aware of how you like things done the better, but they may need telling more than once (remember that information over-load). It’s just as important to let them know both what you expect them to do as well as how you expect them to behave. Meeting with them at regular intervals, initially daily, then weekly and then moving to every two weeks, creates the opportunity to review their performance and give them feedback.

I would suggest:

End of day one, end of day two, end of day on their first Friday, end of day 2nd Friday, then 4th Friday, 6th Friday, 8th Friday, 10th Friday and then final 12th Friday which covers the probation period. Each meeting doesn’t have to be long, 5 mins is more than enough if there aren’t any issues but it needs to be private.

I would pick the brains of various people on board at regular intervals too. So after the first week speak to the bosun and see if he has any feedback. After the 2nd week speak to the Chief Stew and see what she has heard from her stews. And so on with other HODs. All of this will help nip any behavioural / cultural problems in the bud early doors.

If you have decided not to keep them on beyond the trial period, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to them. If you expected something different from them, either in their levels of competence or behaviour, they should have had the feedback on multiple occasions and at least been given the chance to improve, but if you don’t make the time to give them the feedback, how can they?

Thanks to Karen Passman at Impact Crew (www.impactcrew.com) for writing a very significant part of this article!

Part 2: Building a good culture

So this was supposed to be part 3 of my blog series about how to improve crew retention. However, part 2 about onboarding and managing the crew as individuals has proven to be far more challenging than I originally envisaged so to buy myself another two weeks I have swapped the order around! There is also a significant crossover with this blog.

Part 2 in the series is arguably the most important because if you have a happy yacht with a great atmosphere on board then you can probably get away with average recruitment and management to a certain extent. I think the biggest thing that improves longevity outside of material things like leave and salary is running a happy yacht. There are so many factors which go into running a happy yacht and you won’t have control of all of them. But as Captain or HOD you will be able to influence some of them. So the essentials to running a happy yacht are the following in my opinion. And my apologies if I am stating the obvious but there should be a couple of pearls of wisdom in here.

However you lead, others on the yacht will follow suit. Work hard, treat people well, put in extra hours as required and work to improve your skills / knowledge and this will trickle down in a positive manner. Equally if you scream, shout, talk to people like they are idiots then I guarantee everyone else on the yacht who has these tendencies will feel it is acceptable to do so too. As a leader you have to hold yourself to higher standards than the crew.

Everyone responds a lot better to a positive management style. An arm around the shoulder and encouragement where possible. Obviously some crew need the stick occasionally and it can’t all be carrot. But be economical with dishing out the bollockings.

Sadly there are still boats out there which have an unsavoury subculture on board where the interior are treated disrespectfully. Every department and every person is of equal importance to the successful running of the yacht. Even more disappointingly we still hear occasional stories of yachts where sexual harassment is apparently acceptable. If you have any influence you should do your utmost to stamp this sort of behaviour out.

Have an extremely clear policy on what is and what isn’t acceptable behaviour on board. Also have a very clear policy on what the punishments will be for transgressing. Make sure everyone knows what it is and stick to it. It doesn’t have to be draconian either. It can be relatively light hearted. Not up on deck on time because you are hungover? That means you pick up the watch on Saturday and you aren’t allowed to be feeling delicate again.

Work out what culture you want on board. I would identify 5 or 6 behaviours which are essential for all crew to display and make this part of the Crew Handbook, on boarding etc. Some of these points are obvious eg teamwork or respect but you need to ensure that everyone is on the same page and your HODs encourage these behaviours at all times. Any additional champions of this philosophy amongst the ranks is beneficial too. This needs to be repeated by the Captain and the HODs often until it seeps into the sub conscious.

Whilst as a Captain or HOD you can’t be completely open about everything all the time you need to establish a base line of truth about what you say. If your crew don’t trust what you say then it will always be a challenge to manage them.

Sounds so, so obvious but this is probably the easiest way of upsetting the crew very quickly. When the crew can see that there is clearly one rule for one and another for someone else then rumblings of discontent will spread. It reflects badly on you as a manager and….. it just isn’t fair.

Everyone works better in an environment where people care about each other. Everyone is in it together so foster this attitude across the board. Unsympathetic, selfish personalities are less than ideal on a yacht.

Nip problems in the bud early doors. If there is a crew issue it is far easier to resolve it by tackling it as soon as it happens. If you are relying on it sorting itself out then you may well be disappointed. Then a month later what was a minor problem is now a serious one, others have been dragged into it and taken sides and there is now a divide in the department. Act sooner rather than later and definitely don’t rely on the maturity of crew to sort it out.

Reward people for going the extra mile. Again it doesn’t have to be a material thing but if someone goes above and beyond the call of duty then give them extra responsibility. Sit them down and tell them how pleased you are. Everyone loves to be appreciated for what they do. We did a survey a while ago and this was something which particularly came up in the interior department was that many Stews felt underappreciated and their work was unrecognised.

A lot of people will thrive if given a specific job which is theirs to own. Obviously if they aren’t the brightest or the most reliable then don’t give them something that matters! This also helps improve longevity in another unexpected way. Some crew have a slightly deluded view of their own ability. However if they aren’t capable of stepping up consistently when given the opportunity then it should be a wake up call about where they actually are professionally. The penny then may drop they aren’t ready to be a bosun or Chief Stew.

Factor in as much training as you can on a regular basis. Have a capping rail to varnish and time to do it in? Then get the whole deck team involved so everyone has some exposure to it. Doing a short crossing in rough weather and no one can work on deck? Then get all the deck team in the bridge and go through the rules of the road. Quiet winter with no guest use and just routine maintenance going on? Then devote every Friday morning to training. Also think outside the box. If there is a flower supplier who you spend thousands with then see if they will give you a couple of hours of floristry training.

Everyone has to be a team player and no department is more important than another. A great and easy way of demonstrating this is everyone helps when a delivery turns up. No one is too important or busy to pick up a box. Another very simple one is that the department doesn’t finish for the day until everyone’s jobs are done. Not everyone downs tools at 5, except the one person only ¾ way through a job. Get others to help and finish the job quicker.

But not one which is too alcohol focused. If your crew are hitting the bars hard mid week then you have an issue. Excess alcohol leads to poor performance, increased risk of accidents and lots of other bad things which can range from the serious to the not so serious. The list is endless.

In the sand. If you are Captain or HOD you can’t be out boozing and fraternising with all the crew, all the time. Go out on a Friday and have a few pints and then go off and do your own thing. Whether that is with the other senior crew or friends. You will make your job significantly harder if you are too friendly with the troops as some of them will always take advantage of the situation. Once the line has become blurred it is hard to get it back. You are no longer the Chief Stew you are now a mate. That’s when the problems arise.

I can’t actually believe I have to say this but I’m going to as so many fall foul of this. If you are the Captain or a HOD you can’t sleep with the crew unless it is a serious relationship. Even worse is the senior crew member who tries to sleep with the crew and is rejected. That just makes things very awkward for everyone….so just don't.

Buy some kit for crew to use on the foredeck eg kettlebells, skipping ropes, sandbags. Or hire someone who loves running who also takes other crew out on the run. Or a PT whose is responsible for putting on a training session 3 nights a week on the dock after work. If you are training then you finish at 4.30. Not interested in training then you work till 5.

If the owner won’t let you use the toys then buy some crew toys and do watersports either pre or post work when you are in an appropriate location. I was very lucky and when we were in the Carib on Leander we started work early, took a short lunch and no breaks and in exchange we finished early and took the RIB out wakeboarding every day after work. The cost to the boat was some fuel for the RIB, so it was minimal. But great for crew morale and was good management IMO.

Encourage this and incentivise it if you can and the crew will love it. Fitter crew will perform better at their jobs and it is also a real positive for happiness, mental health and general well being.

Encourage suggestions on how to improve systems, ways of working more efficiently etc. It makes people feel like their opinion is valued. Also means the crew start thinking like leaders and applying a critical thought process to their work. If there is a project coming up then ask the crew how they think they would approach the job. Educate them to how it should be done. These sort of team meetings also make it easier to spot where the talent lies in the deck team from a leadership perspective.

Crew hate to be kept in the dark. If there is a deafening silence regarding an issue then I guarantee the silence will be filled with crew mess whispers. Crew mess whispers can cause a huge amount of damage very quickly. So as Captain or HOD everyone needs to be on the same page and there needs to be a plan to share information in a consistent manner. Sometimes things need to be withheld from the crew which is fine but it has to be consistent. If the Chief Eng tells his partner, actually we might not be going to the Carib, she then tells her dept we aren’t going to the Carib and then the entire crew know a day later.

I personally would make it very clear to all HODs that all work related conversations remain in the office. Any leaks will be viewed very dimly and will be a disciplinary offence. Loose lips sink ships and most leaks stem from a HOD telling someone they are close to something they shouldn’t know. When these leaks occur they have to be addressed to stop the damage.

Operate an open door policy. If anyone has any concerns they need to be able to approach you and discuss it. Whether that is someone from another department or another HOD. You need to make it clear that all conversations are completely confidential and you are open to discussing any issues and will endeavour to resolve them in a supportive manner. Having this in place instantly reduces turnover. Crew leave without actually telling anyone in power what their issue is. A lot of the time it can be resolved but only if the Senior crew behave like this.

This will be covered in far more depth in the next blog but we will touch upon it briefly now. Put aside 30 mins for everyone in your department and find out how they are feeling, what’s going well, what they would like to learn etc. Give them feedback on where they can improve.

Cliques can build pretty easily amongst departments or nationalities. So try and ensure there isn’t one nationality which dominates the ranks. Crew can fall into patterns for example all the boys sit at one table in the crew mess and all the girls at another. Any team building, training or social events mix up the teams or the seating so people get to talk who don’t get much exposure to each other. On large (over 3000gt) yachts the crew can number anything from 30 to 80 and large numbers of them will have no idea who others are and will have little cause to talk. This contributes to the high turnover on many of these vessels. Hopefully if the owner can afford a 120m yacht there is also a decent budget for the crew. I would really try and build something which encourages inter departmental interaction as much as possible.

If you have a bad apple on board then remove them. It could be someone who is always whinging about something which is no good for morale. Or it could be that crew member who leads others astray. In the words of someone far wiser than me ‘fit in or F*** off!’. One further point on this; it isn’t always obvious who the bad apples are as they can be underhand and devious. They load the gun but someone else cops the bullet to use another shooting analogy. Too many crew get away with being terrible for the culture on board a yacht because they are likeable, or they are good at their job. On a yacht the ‘job’ encompasses everything, not just what someone does in their working hours. Their social skills, habits and attitude count for just as much as their ability to varnish.

This isn’t an all encompassing list but it covers many of the important points about developing the culture on board. I am sure most of you will read this and probably think ‘I know all this’. And it’s true you probably do. Or alternatively you will think ‘he doesn’t understand my boat, we can’t do those things’ which is true. But I can confidently say the vast majority of boats aren’t hitting most of the points above and every yacht could do more. I can also confidently say the vast majority of yachts have more turnover than they would like and there is a lot more they can still do to reduce this.

There is nothing ground breaking in here. But you have to make the time to plan these changes, implement them and be consistent with them and that takes effort.

 

If you would like to chat about this article, career advice or more - Feel free to drop me an email tim@quaycrew.com

Part 1: Why am I experiencing high turnover on board?

Quay Crew's director Tim Clarke answers a common question about how to increase Crew longevity on board...

I recently got approached by a yacht which was curious as to why they were experiencing high turnover on board amongst the Junior ranks. I decided to write a blog about this as I suspect a lot of yachts go through similar situations and I quite regularly get asked a variant of this question, e.g. how I improve longevity, how do I improve the working environment etc. Different questions but very similar answers. Plus, hopefully it will be reassuring to know you are far from alone.

This blog will actually be 3 parts long and all are vital to the process being successful. This part covers how to get the initial recruitment right. Part 2 covers inducting the new crew member on board and how to manage them and Part 3 is about building a happy culture on the yacht. Many of the points made are obvious, and some just aren’t practical depending on the yachts circumstances, however there should be a few things in each blog for everyone.  I actually went on a management leadership course last week and learnt a lot. I thought I was a pretty good manager but realised there was a lot more I could be doing which is part of the reason for writing this, as we all need a gentle reminder every now and then.

Unfortunately, this isn’t an exact science, so adjustments will have to be made on a case by case basis. I’m also not trying to diminish what a Captain / HOD does or nor am I casting aspersions on their leadership skills as I know there are a huge amount of responsibilities to juggle. I also know managing crew is akin to herding cats! But if you are a Captain or a HOD you will get better results be following the below where you can.

The point also has to be made, that sadly junior crew are probably the worst they have ever been in terms of flakiness and unreliability. Unless you are offering something incredible a significant % won’t appreciate what they have and will think the grass is greener elsewhere. Even if you are offering something great and follow all of the points in all 3 articles - some of them still won’t be happy.

A poor recruitment process undoubtedly increases the chances of a poor hire which massively increases the chances of there being an issue further down the line. Unfortunately, all these things have a knock-on effect. Hire for example a poor Bosun or 2ndStew in a rush and I can virtually guarantee you will have increased turnover amongst the junior crew below.

Also, just to be clear I’m not writing this to try and drum up business for Quay Crew! This is applicable if you are using an agency, Facebook, a job board or word of mouth. I’m also not writing for this for those yachts which pay peanuts and treat crew poorly. This is for the decent yachts who are just looking for a bit of guidance to improve their retention.

Often, I speak to a yacht and they don’t really know what they want or need. They think they do and have a list of requirements but then hire someone who bears no resemblance to the initial brief. With this I’m not just talking about manning requirements and experience. I’m talking about a host of things. What sort of personality is leaving? What sort of personality would improve the culture on board? What additional skillset would improve the team? Is that skillset essential or would it just be the icing on the cake? You need to work out what you can flex on and what is non-negotiable. We often hear that a yacht wants another deckhand / stew with 2 years of experience and is a superstar. If your entire team is populated with ambitious, very experienced superstars then that can cause issues all of its own as they all vie for more responsibility and all think they should be bosun / 2nd.

If you are only offering 30 days of leave and 2500 euros yet want a deckhand with a year of experience (on 1 yacht) and a Yacht Rating or Yachtmaster then you are fishing in an extremely shallow pool if you are insistent the potential candidates tick every box. Unfortunately, the chances of getting this amazing crew member are slim because he will be interviewing with other yachts paying 2700 euros to 3500 euros and offering 60 days of leave at least. The chances of them taking your yacht are slim. Additionally, if they do take your yacht, they probably are reluctantly and will still be applying for jobs. Which means they could well leave 6 weeks later when that good offer comes through. If you aren’t offering an incredible package then sometimes you need to flex on the sort of candidate who is coming through the door and look for other qualities like attitude, enthusiasm etc. Consider less experienced candidates, consider candidates who are making the step up or coming from smaller yachts etc. All of this then takes us neatly onto….

Getting someone on board under false pretences doesn’t benefit anyone and drastically increases the chances of things going wrong down the line. This is something I hear a lot. From a yacht being sold as ‘busy charter’ (does one week a season at best and the rest is friends of the owner who don’t tip) to ‘it’s a busy yacht’ (owner lives on board the entire season and you won’t get a day off ever). The list is endless. You are better recruiting less of a superstar and being honest about what the role involves. Otherwise crew get on board, realise they have been lied to and instantly have a bad taste in their mouth. Like any relationship this is a bad start and will possibly never recover.
I understand that needs must and sometimes you have to be economical with the truth but it should be avoided as much as possible.

This includes all the obvious things like salary, leave, flights etc. But what else can you offer a good candidate? I’m talking about what makes your yacht appealing. Why would people want to work on board? There are lots of things that can be done which don’t cost money. A good atmosphere on board, good longevity amongst the crew etc are all appealing. If you can’t think of anything particularly appealing about working on your boat, then you need to reassess a few things as you are probably having to do a lot of recruitment.

Give yourself as much time as you can to find someone who is a good fit. Prioritise recruitment as finding a great crew member will make your life easier. Conversely, finding a poor one will definitely up your work load. Start the process early. If you know someone is leaving on a set date, then start looking 6 weeks before then. That gives time for the interview process to unfold and time for someone to work their notice period. Don’t think you have weeks to sort something out, the clock is ticking and suddenly you’ll be in danger of facing a last-minute nightmare because your options are limited.

There are always things that are more immediate e.g. the audit/survey, the upcoming charter, the interior refit and before you know it recruitment slides down the list until all of a sudden you need someone in 10 days. Then you only have those that are immediately available or crew who are prepared to stitch up their current job which doesn’t bode well or speak highly of them. I appreciate that things can be extremely last minute on occasion in which case you are limited in what you can do!

I would devote a significant chunk of time towards recruiting someone. Most yachts wait until they have half a dozen good CVs to go through in one hit, so they can compare candidates. I think this is a mistake. Open and look at the CVs as quickly as possible. Good crew don’t last long. Especially on the interior with Junior Stews, they get snapped up extremely quickly as there is a lack of them around. For those positions you really need to be on it. Put aside a good chunk of time to interview candidates, do some ref checking etc. This isn’t a quick process.

If you are recruiting using various sources create a new job specific folder in your inbox and put everyone in there so you don’t miss out on anyone. Use an excel spreadsheet for the candidates with some simple columns. Eg emailed, replied, interviewed etc. This may seem like overkill but if you are dealing with more than one role or a lot of candidates it makes you far more efficient. Have a word document you fill out for each candidate when you interview them and staple it to the CV. Additionally if you schedule in a phone call then make the call! A sure-fire way of annoying a good candidate is by not calling when you have promised to. Especially if they have stayed in all morning waiting for a call.

I would also suggest if you are using agencies to only use one or two. Engaging lots of agencies just means you have more admin to do and less commitment from the agencies in question to find you the right crew member.

Many yachts have an interview process that is completely unplanned and unstructured. I would have a set process and agenda I follow every single time. The most obvious structure is to do an introduction which covers the yacht, the culture on board, the job role and finally what is expected of the crew member (habits, attitude etc) joining before you start asking questions. However, doing things in that order means the interviewee has been given some strong hints about what you want to hear in the answers. So, I would interview the candidate first and then cover the yacht, culture on board etc. Have a word document printed out for each candidate so that you can make notes (e.g. when available, salary expectations) on as you interview them – Also in that document have some in depth questions that you ask every candidate religiously. I would suggest these cover both work & experience, but most importantly attitude.

Also, I would also suggest that the HOD does the initial interview and the Captain does a 2nd. Some yachts also make prospective candidates fill in a questionnaire which is a great idea, I think. One phone or face to face interview isn’t always enough I don’t think. This whole process from initially receiving the CV to making an offer should only take a few days.

Drop me an email at tim@quaycrew.com if you want a more detailed breakdown of the structure for this or if you want an interview document to follow.

Don’t pin all your hopes on one candidate as this is setting you up for a problem down the line if they fall through for whatever reason. Additionally, if you interview a few people then you can benchmark the candidates against each other. You are also more likely to ‘know’ who is right for you when you do interview them.

This goes both ways. Once you have offered a candidate (which has been done the day after their 2ndinterview with the Captain) let them think about it if they need to. Any candidate who waits too long to think about it, isn’t that keen unfortunately. 24 hours max. Any longer means they are holding out for better from elsewhere. Once they have accepted, get a contract out to them asap and get it back from them signed. Delays from them gives you an indicator that all may not be well with the candidate and you can manage the situation. I would then get their flight booked. All of this shows your commitment but is also getting commitment from the candidate. I hear the following a lot, ‘I’ve accepted a job, but I don’t have a contract yet and I don’t have a flight or start date.’ What that really means is ‘I’m still casually looking’ until these things are in their hand. If you book a flight and a crew member then pulls out after sending a signed contract, I would send them the bill. Crew need to take responsibility for their actions more and appreciate there are consequences for their behaviour. Equally yachts need to do what is expected of them as many crew accept jobs, or are kept waiting on a promise that never materialises. It is a two-way street.

 

Some Final tips

Take verbal references. This is absolutely essential. Even more so if your crew agent hasn’t done it.

Longevity is the most important thing you can look for in a CV. Both in yachting and previously. Especially if it is in a non-glamorous job! A crew member who has worked at McDonalds or similar for 4 years has staying power and commitment to the job they take. I guarantee they won’t be a drama queen on board. They also generally appreciate what they are now doing so much more.

Go for personality in junior roles. People who will get stuck in and get on with everyone else on board. Teaching a junior stew, the intricacies of the job isn’t too challenging if they have a brain and a good attitude. Trying to mould someone’s personality which they have developed over the last 20 plus years is a lot harder.

Be friendly and warm in the interview. Even though you will be asking some challenging questions how well you get on over the phone will influence the final decision. Build rapport and don’t be too confrontational.

This turned into a significantly longer blog than I anticipated, and I still don’t think I’ve covered everything in as much depth as I could have done! But it should help a little with how you approach your recruitment.

Part 2 will be published in 2 week’s time and will cover the Induction of a new crew member and how to manage them and your team more effectively.

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Fail to prepare, or prepare to fail!

Why you should prepare for an interview:


It sounds like an obvious thing to do – But lots of people don’t bother to prepare, they will just wing the interview. Or are under the false illusion their winning personality will get them the job. Whilst that might be true some of the time, plenty of the time it won’t be.

I have been working in recruitment around 11 years now having originally started in London working for Aspire Group. I then worked for Poolia and Eames Consulting in banking and finance. A large part of my week in my latter role at Eames and Poolia was spent coaching senior candidates within banking to perform better at interview. I have interviewed thousands of people across several very different sectors ranging from green crew to Executive Directors at large banks. What the vast majority of all these candidates have in common is they don’t enjoy interviews and they don’t perform to the best of their ability when being interviewed.

There are some candidates who enjoy interviews and think they are good at them. In my experience they may enjoy them, be personable, likeable etc but very rarely are they actually nailing the interview.

Unfortunately an interview is a pressure situation so no one ever does as well as they hope to. Factor in it’s the dream job, whether that is Stew on a world cruising yacht or a Captaincy role offering rotation on a new build then that pressure rises significantly and performance deteriorates.

The obvious way of alleviating this is to prepare. What do I mean when I say prepare? Well this could be a whole separate blog on its own. But in a nutshell spend a bit of time working out your strengths. What have you achieved in your previous roles, yachting or otherwise. Jot down some examples of when you have been given responsibility, when you have done things well. Think of the personality traits of a good crew member and come up with examples of when you have demonstrated these.

Make sure you know all your own details. Dates, time frames, what tenders you drove, how many weeks of charter you had. The list is endless so write down everything relevant into a word document. Think what questions you could possibly be asked. Then think of how you will answer them. Write all of these questions and answers down if you can as it will definitely benefit you. You are far more likely to remember something if you have written it down and it will jog your memory about other things you have done at the same time. Finally, look into the logistics, where is it and how am I going to get there?

Doing the above will take a couple of hours. Most people won’t bother as it takes time and effort. I would urge you not to be one of those people. Doing the above will also have one other significant benefit. It will make you more confident in the interview and a little more relaxed going into it. Hence your performance will improve but it will also allow your personality to shine through more which is vital in the junior ranks.

If you are a Captain who has been vaguely interested by some of the points made above then please get in contact as I offer career & CV advice and very detailed interview coaching for a small number of suitable candidates. This blog is just scratching the surface of what is an in depth subject. This service is completely free of charge, I just like to keep my hand in. Tim Clarke, tim@quaycrew.com.

 

Don’t forget to register with Quay Crew HERE 

Pick up these work habits for a successful Superyacht career!

Pick up these work habits for a successful Superyacht career!


This article appears particularly apt as so many crew are shooting themselves in the foot at the moment and getting sacked in their first few weeks on board. Crew take note!

These are just some ideas and habits its worth forming at work which will make you stand out from the crowd. They cost nothing and are relatively easy to implement. It just takes a bit of discipline and effort.

Be punctual.

If your working day starts at 8am be in the crew mess at 7.45 and make yourself a coffee and be on deck or in the interior ready to go at 7.55. Not making your coffee at 8.01 and rubbing the sleep out of your eyes.

Smarten up.

I understand one of the pleasures of no guests or owners around is not shaving. However you should still make sure it is a trimmed beard, your hair is done and you’ve showered. Daily, if not twice a day. Sounds obvious the showering bit? Apparently not. I hear stories all the time of smelly crew who don’t shower. There is no excuse for it.

Clean and tidy.

No one wants to tidy up after you. So all communal areas should be free from your clutter and bits and pieces. Also make an effort to keep your cabin clean. For multiple reasons, not least out of respect for your cabin mate.

Team player.

Help others! At all times. Just because you finished at 5 on the dot don’t finish for the day. Go and help your colleague finish his task, help tidy the work area and put things away back in various lockers. Share ideas and knowledge and make other people’s life’s easier. This helps you build trust with each other too.

Respect.

Simple. Treat others with respect. Don’t mock, belittle or be sarcastic with your colleagues. If they are letting the side down with their performance let a senior member of crew deal with it. Basically treat others as you want to be treated. And don’t forget, no one likes a bully….

Work ethic.

Work hard. Very simple and obvious. Too many crew are last on deck, first into the crew mess at lunch and last back to their work station. Constantly on their phones and nowhere to be seen when there is hard work to be done or a horrible job to do. Don’t be that person. Put in a good shift and work to a good intensity. Especially if you are working to a deadline.

Attitude.

Being that positive, happy go lucky presence in a department is an amazing quality to have. It will make you popular on board and valued by your superiors. Equally being that miserable, whining pain will get you sacked quick. So if you are about open your mouth to say something negative don’t….

Listen.

Listen to your superiors. If they want something done a certain way. Don’t question, don’t ignore and don’t do it another way. More often than not they have the bigger picture in mind and know things you don’t. So just get on with it.

Help other departments.

Pretty obvious. If you have some down time and another department is struggling help them. whether it is putting out fenders or washing glasses just do it. Also be considerate of the other departments. Eg Don’t hold onto all your laundry for days and then give it to the interior.

Take a deep breath.

Sometimes someone will do something which pisses you off. Don’t instantly react or shout or scream. Take a moment, and act like a responsible adult. If you are having an issue with someone have a discrete word with them away from other crew and try and sort it out. Again the key thing to remember here is like adults. Sometimes you have to be the bigger person and suck things up for the greater good.

Don’t get involved.

There will often be things going on that have nothing to do with you. In different departments or with other people in your dept. That probably don’t affect your life in the slightest. Or only marginally. So don’t get involved, don’t offer up your unnecessary opinion on the subject in the crew mess. Don’t stir the pot, don’t gossip, don’t take sides if it involves petty, mundane BS.

Responsibility.

Know what your job involves on the yacht and take ownership of what are your responsibilities. Not complicated, you just need to take personal pride in your work and your standards.

Take initiative.

If the bins are full in the crew mess empty them even if it isn’t your specific job. Do things that need to be done. Don’t always wait for someone to tell you to do something. Use your brain assuming you have one. Not to be confused with ignoring your superiors orders as you ‘know better’.

Develop yourself.

Always be looking to learn. Develop new skills on board. Assist with something you’re not familiar with. Being coachable and developing yourself will also make you a lot more likely to be promoted internally.

Work  etiquette.

Don’t spend too much time on personal calls, e-mails, whatsapp etc. Don’t constantly be on Facebook during the day. In fact your phone shouldn’t even be with you on deck, it should be in your cabin and checked on breaks. For the majority of crew you don’t need a phone with you constantly.

 

All of this sounds obvious. Have a quick think and see if you ticked all these boxes today. Most can’t. If you are missing things out then print this off and put it up in your cabin. Reflect on this list a couple of times a week and modify your behaviour accordingly. Not everyone can be a superstar who is brilliant at all aspects of their job. But… do the above and you will be a genuine asset who gets a good reference.

Register to start your Superyacht career now! 

The Dog Ate My Homework

Tim Clarke gives his take on honesty among yacht crew –
This is a slightly controversial post which people won’t like but every single Captain and Head of Department will agree with me. I’m probably turning into a bitter, twisted cynic in my old age too but something which has irritated me for a while is crew lying. This seems to be far more prevalent in junior crew than senior crew obviously.
Specifically I am referring to lying about a situation at home to reject a job offer, to leave a yacht for another job or just generally get out of an awkward situation. I’ve got a family emergency at home is the yachting equivalent of the dog ate my homework. Whilst undoubtedly true at times, the vast majority of the time it is a porkie told to remove said yachtie from an uncomfortable situation. To clarify, I have spoken to lots of crew who I have no doubt are telling the truth about this and have had to deal with some awful situations. But just as many are stretching the truth.

I understand you don’t want to tell a yacht that you are leaving mid season because you have been offered a job on your partners boat. I understand telling a yacht you’ve been offered a better job is hard, or that you will get 200 euros a month more, there is rotation, it’s a busy charter or whatever the reason may be. But you will get far more respect by owning this honestly than lying. Be sure your sins will find you out….

The ‘family emergency’ excuse is suitably vague and carries connotations that means you won’t be called out on it. Some are more specific and name the dead / dying / seriously ill family member. Who is going to accuse you of lying when it may be true? No one. However I guarantee you that your Captain or HOD is going to have a significant seed of doubt as they will have seen it multiple times before. Often when they’ve seen it before they will have found out the real truth later down the line. And the real truth doesn’t match the story that was peddled to them 3 months previously.

I could give you dozens of examples but a recent one was ‘I have to go home and look after my dad, he is seriously ill’ when turning down a job of mine. Sounds terrible, best of luck with your dad. I actually believed this one as it was fairly specific and it would be an awful lie to make up. 2 months later I get an updated CV. The updated CV contains a temp job for 6 weeks which started a few days after you turned down my job to tend to your ill father. Now you look like a pretty poor candidate to me. I don’t think anyone would be shocked to hear I won’t deal with that candidate again.

Tim’s Suggestion:
I would suggest to crew only use the seriously ill / deceased family member story if it’s true. Otherwise man up and tell the truth about why you are leaving or why you aren’t accepting the job.
Not only that, but why tempt fate?

Last point, this happens in all walks of life as memorably demonstrated in the following link. If you want to read a humorous example of how not to do it then then click below….

The Guardian: Stephen Ireland’s ‘dead’ grannies and Roy Keane