The vessels on which superyacht crew have served on have changed dramatically since the mid 1990s as the vessels have increased in size and complexity
Words: Capt A. Croft MBA, AFNI
How have the training and certification requirements for crew kept pace?
In the UK, until the early 90s, hiring and manning in this sector was mostly left to the owner/ or management independent of any overseeing regulatory examination body. Although there was a UK requirement that fully trained merchant officers should be employed on Red Ensign yachts over 80GRT, this was in essence ignored by almost everyone. Even on yachts that chartered, it was quite common for crew to have few or no formal qualifications, from the Captain downwards.
Of course there were yacht crew in this period who held Merchant Navy training, but they tended to be in the minority and there was little premium placed on hiring such individuals over a lessor qualified candidate.
In the early 90s the UK maritime authorities woke up to the fact that the superyacht industry was booming and that UHNWI were commissioning a number of larger and more complex yachts that were used for both private and charter use.
The result was the UK regulations for Vessels in Commercial Use for Sport or Pleasure, meaning that yachts that chartered over 80 GRT were now considered to be commercial vessels. However, very few yachts would have been able to operate under this legislation even if they wanted to, as there was no ready supply of merchant officers aware of the yacht market or looking to join the sector. Owners also wanted to keep their existing captains and crew, who had mostly be serving on board their yachts without issue.
Faced with the prospect of a number of superyachts operating illegally in what was already approaching a billion dollar industry, the UK Marine Safety Agency, as it was then, took a global lead in creating a training and certification path for captains already serving on yachts, but without formal qualifications.
Over the past two decades, this has led to a multi layered approach towards providing a pathway for deck and engineering seafarers to become licensed to serve on yachts of any size or gross Tonnage.
As with all CoCs, there is currently no regulatory requirement for formal reassessment of navigational/seamanship skills later in the career of any deck officer (including Master). As long as the sea time requirement is fulfilled when the CoC is revalidated, the CoC Issuing State assumes that critical knowledge and skill sets remain current.
Encouraging investment in training
Yacht employer training schemes vary considerably, depending on the interest of the owner/management in investing in their crew. As a result, many seafarers in the yacht sector often support themselves whilst investing in training courses. However, a recent market survey carried out by the PYA highlighted that a large number of seafarers in the sector see CPD as a waste of resources, especially as few seafarers feel that it is valued by those that might employ them. It is rare that seafarers are advised that they obtained a position or promotion based on having additional knowledge/training above standard qualifications.
One factor which affects willingness to invest in additional training is that the luxury yacht sector is an image driven environment. There is strong survey evidence that crew often encounter age bias during the hiring process. This particularly limits employment opportunities for those re¬entering the market aged 50 and over. Age bias is forcing out a number of time-tested, highly skilled, talented, creative, productive, experienced senior seafarers, in the prime of their careers. With this in mind, individual training investment may start to look less appealing.
The sector needs to realize that seafarers are not innate commodities, and unlike modern technology they generally appreciate with age. The challenge is to make the industry realise this and value it appropriately.