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leadership in yachting

A topic currently gaining momentum is leadership in yachting, or more accurately, the lack of it. I am regularly getting Captains asking me how they can stand out from the crowd and I believe that becoming a better leader is the answer.

Over the last couple of years, we have conducted two surveys of crew members which yielded some fascinating results.

The first survey explored the mental health of crew members onboard. The results were startling, with certain departments and age groups showing exceptionally high numbers of crew suffering from mental health issues, either at that moment in time or previously onboard. The three main reasons given by the crew for these mental health issues were burnout/fatigue, poor leadership in yachting, and bullying and harassment.

Let’s analyse these reasons one by one…

Burnout and fatigue

On some yachts, burnout and fatigue are unavoidable due to the heavy usage of the yacht. However, on other yachts, managing hours of rest should be very achievable. Despite this, yachting still has some bad habits ingrained. For example, we often hear of programmes having the crew do unnecessary work such as a wash down, when they could be given a day off.

Poor leadership

This is fairly self-explanatory. Of the 1,000 plus crew members surveyed, many felt that poor leadership in yachting had contributed to their poor mental health.

Bullying and harassment

In my opinion, any instance of bullying or harassment onboard is clearly a failure in leadership. This could stem from the Captain or Heads of Department (HODs). Even more worryingly, our recent survey on crew retention suggested that on the interior, the biggest culprits were the Chief Stews.

The second survey focused on crew retention and why crew members leave yachts. The crew members surveyed were junior crew members with a maximum of three years of experience.

The six top reasons junior crew members gave for leaving a yacht were, in this order:

  1. No promotion opportunities
  2. Crew tension / toxic working environment
  3. Desired a better rotation
  4. Wanted more money
  5. Poor leadership
  6. Lack of training and professional development onboard

Let’s delve into these reasons in more detail.

No promotion, better rotation and higher pay

Unfortunately, the Captain has a limited impact on these three reasons, and generally, they are beyond their control, so we can skip past these.

Crew tension / toxic work environment

This reason is directly impacted by the leadership onboard. A toxic work environment can always be traced back to one or two individuals. They don’t necessarily need to be the Captain or HOD; they could just be a strong personality in a junior role who exerts a significant influence in their department and the crew mess.

If there is a generally toxic environment and multiple individuals are contributing, then the problem has been embedded for a while and more drastic measures are required to solve it. This blog isn’t about solutions to problems, it’s about raising awareness. But in that sort of scenario, the easiest option, in my opinion, is to dismiss all the offenders at the first opportunity.

Poor leadership

Again, fairly self-explanatory, although we will explore in another blog post what ‘poor leadership’ in yachting actually means. We asked two questions in our crew retention survey regarding rating the leadership skills of their Captain and their HOD. For clarity, we asked them to rate the weaker of the two if they had rotational leaders.

The average scores for Captains and HODs were both 6.2 out of 10. Obviously, those scores leave a lot of room for improvement. To point out the obvious, this is an average, so clearly there are some outstanding leaders out there. But for every amazing leader, there is a terrible one, at least in the eyes of the crew.

Caveat – I am very aware some of the crew scoring their Captains and HODs poorly are undoubtedly a nightmare to manage. Entitled, poor work ethic, bad attitude, inability to listen – this list is endless. Unfortunately, as a leader onboard, you have to try and get the best performance you can from everyone, including the rubbish ones.

Lack of training and professional development

Again, we asked crew members to rate this out of 10 and the average score was 5.5. As mentioned above, on some yachts it will be very difficult to implement a structured in-house training programme due to the heavy usage.

However, on many yachts, it should be possible to set aside a couple of hours a week on a fairly regular basis to upskill the crew onboard. The benefits of this are numerous, ranging from crew performance, building redundancy and reducing turnover to improvements in mental health and crew engagement.

So having identified some of the leadership issues in yachting, what do we suggest?

Firstly, we think the vast majority of Captains and HODs would benefit from attending a leadership course of some sort. Even if you are a really good leader, this could make you excellent or take you from average to good. There are many to choose from, both within and outside of yachting.

We aren’t going to recommend any particular supplier, but we are going to host a series of webinars featuring various specialists approaching leadership in yachting from different angles. The idea is that you can see which style aligns with your beliefs and thoughts and then explore further.

If you would like to be involved with this or to find out more, please drop me an email at

Leadership in yachting

About the author

Tim Clarke

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