Yacht Crew Recruitment

Taking the leap

Make sure you partner with an experienced and proactive recruitment company as part of your career progression, whether climbing the ranks onboard or even if you are thinking of moving ashore

Experts estimate that there are around 12,000 active superyachts of 24m+ currently cruising the world’s seas. A conservative estimate of the number of jobs that represents is approximately 48,000 which doesn’t include the 1,200 yachts in build or on order, due for delivery between now and 2027. Factor those jobs into the equation and we can add between 6,900-11,800 additional new jobs. That’s a lorra jobs.

As the Mediterranean season prepares to kick off, ONBOARD Magazine calls up the agency experts to find out the whos, wheres, whys and whats that will come into play to source the crews that will cruise this summer.

One big change to the season this year is the easing up of Covid 19 restrictions and vaccinations. But what else is afoot this year? First up, have owner requirements noticeably changed over the past twelve months?

Monique Dykstra is Managing Director of Saltwater Recruitment. Both she and Cara Lees, founder of Cara Lees Yacht Crew Ltd don’t see any particular change to make their ears prick up; longevity is always the number one most desirable factor in a candidate’s CV, followed closely by the desired experience level on a relevant size vessel Dykstra explains. Lees adds, “One aspect that I’ve observed on some occasions, is the request for crew to have qualifications that are higher than are actually required for a particular role.” She adds, “The crux of effective crew recruitment lies in identifying the perfect match for each position, not solely based on qualifications and staffing requirements, but also on how they could elevate the overall experience for owners and guests. The underlying emphasis is on versatility.”

All agents chime with Jacob Hardy’s observation, Managing Director of One Ocean Marine, that skill set requirements have changed: owners, (and therefore captains and management companies) want more bang for their buck; crew with additional niche skills, such as yoga instructors, nutritionists, hair stylists, water sports instructors, etc. “This is particularly the case with charter yachts,” says Hardy.

Don McKee of YOA Agency regrets that the number of crew that match these criteria appear to be currently quite low. Says Frankie Mason, of Bespoke Crew, “We recently placed a stewardess that was a professional makeup artist and this has helped her land her dream role.” Other additional skills in demand are photography/videography, dive masters, florists, musicians and personal trainers. Having that additional ‘superpower’ is an asset to any crew and will help a CV stand out from the crowd.

Down in the galley, Emma Bailey-Easdon of Amandine International Chef Placement has noticed that a chef’s land-based background is being taken into account more than before. “That’s a huge positive,” says Bailey-Easdon. She adds, “There seems to be more of an understanding of the level of skill required for a chef to work in Michelin and fine dining kitchens and this experience is now being appreciated and taken into account as much as how many years someone has worked within yachting. It has raised the calibre of chefs as well.”

Dykstra has been particularly busy sourcing crew for the interior, predominantly senior vacancies; “A lot of the larger vessels we work with have openings for Head of Department roles; Chief Stew, Head of Service, Head of Housekeeping and Second Stews are in high demand. We have a high number of applications but there is a lack of crew with desired longevity of 1 year+ on one vessel. This is an ongoing issue around crew retention, where 6–10-month stints onboard seem to be relatively common these days.”

“At the start of the season the hospitality, specialist stew and the galley roles are very much in demand,” says Chloé Collet, Captain & Officer Recruitment Specialist Executive at YPI Crew.

Hardy notes a demand for carpenters and Lees reminds us of a perpetual need for engineers.

Carla Swaine, recruitment consultant at JMS Careers says, “We seem to be looking for a lot of stews at the moment but actually lots of boats also seem to be changing quite a few crew for various reasons such as yachts changing hands, and then the yachts crewing up from winter and refit skeleton crew etc. In March and April it’s go, go, go. This is a good thing and we have lots of entry level candidates – the real greenies.”

From a crew point of view, McKee reckons it’s hard to pinpoint a particular position more coveted than others; “I have seen a very large number of applications for all departments we are recruiting for at the moment. From an employer standpoint, we generally see an appreciable increase in requests for junior crew as the seasons change. Many seasonal yachts have started to look for seasonal and temporary crew in the build up to the summer Med season with an eye to having some of these positions become permanent depending on how the crew perform during the summer.”

The numbers of new or ‘greenie’ crew pounding the pontoons in search of a first step are up reckon some experts; a result of greater exposure of the industry on social media and TV streaming services such as ‘Below Deck’ . Dykstra explains, “The normalisation of travel post-covid combined with the backlog of greenies who put their plans to join the industry on hold for a year or so between 2020-2022 has also increased the numbers.”

“This undeniable growth in interest,” says Lees, “has fuelled the dreams of many seeking what they hope will be a thrilling and rewarding career in this unique industry.”

But for new crew it’s a Catch 22 situation points out McKee, “Employers want experienced crew, but in order to gain experience, junior crew need to get a job, and so the cycle goes. There are a great deal of talented junior crew out there who are all eagerly awaiting a chance to prove themselves. I think it’s easy to forget that we once all started as junior crew and that someone took a chance on us, so the onus is on us to give others their start.”

Hardy of One Ocean Marine, on the other hand, sees a drop in green crew this year and he reckons there are fewer junior positions available as vessels have gone to skeleton crew. “The Russian/ Ukraine situation has definitely impacted the industry and alongside this it seems a lot of experienced crew have left the industry. The number of new chefs entering the industry hasn’t changed in the past 12 months but Covid did make some chefs re-evaluate their careers so the number of green chefs over the last few years has been higher.”

Chloé Collet of YPI anticipates a busy and exciting Mediterranean season with lots of activity surrounding the many events that are all back on the calendar. There will be more green chefs moving from shoreside to sea reckons Bailey-Easdon and “So far, the standard of these chefs is excellent. This should help to raise the standards in general in the galley and to show that restaurant experience is important as well. Rotational packages are also becoming more common.”

Cara Lees expects an increase in the charter market and new builds; “A flourishing charter market along with the growth in new yacht constructions has created an exciting atmosphere in the world of yachting. This surge is further fuelled by the rising number of ultra-wealthy individuals and a younger generation of owners exploring the globe on their luxurious vessels. Consequently, this demand for yachts is met by extensive waiting lists for new builds, further accelerating the charter market growth.”

There is a growing realisation that crew generally work harder when they are more rested. In the galley Bailey-Easdon has found that even crew chef and sous chef roles are becoming rotational as well as head chef positions.

All agents agree that rotational roles are becoming more common throughout the departments. “Five to six years ago,” says Dykstra, “rotation was only offered to junior to mid-level crew on 70m+ vessels and this was in the form of 5:1. Today, 5:1 is becoming considered rather standard and crew have increased expectations of having 3-6 months paid leave per year which is putting pressure on owners and management to offer better work/life balance.” It is not uncommon for green crew to start on 3:1 rotation which is setting the benchmark and creating often-unrealistic expectations. During the covid pandemic we saw a shift in the value of leave vs salary. Crew are now placing a higher value on leave and time off the vessel to recharge.

A big motivator for crew longevity is the ability to maintain their home life/relationships. Says McKee, “There are of course budgetary considerations from a management perspective, but we have had numerous clients switch to rotation and across the board they have noted higher crew retention and productivity as a result. Unfortunately yachts without rotational packages are finding it harder to attract great candidates as a result of this.”

It’s not only the very large yachts that are opting for rotation points out Collet; many in the 45-70m range that have very busy programmes, are dual season and wish to keep a stable crew are also opting for it.

Frankie Mason of Bespoke Crew is pleased to see rotation roles extended beyond HODs which is partly a result of the pandemic. She says, “We are now seeing rotation extended to even our junior’s positions, which is not without its practical challenges, however, it does attract the best candidates and helps with retention. This is not to say crew starting out in the industry should expect rotation! It is important for new crew to get the experience and learn from the professionals, in order to become a value to the crew. We regularly see two months on two months off or equivalent for a Captain, Head Chef and Chiefs. Management and junior roles tend to follow four months on and two months off or three months on and one month off. It’s great to see the industry finding a way to prioritise the health and wellbeing of crew.”

“I expect the increased exposure of the superyacht industry will lead to an significant influx of new candidates from around the world, which will keep the job market competitive,” says Mason. She adds, “HODS will become harder to place on smaller yachts that are not able to match the competitive work life balance/rotational packages that larger vessels are now offering.” Carla Swaine warns clients, this is no time to dawdle as good crew are being snapped up super-fast, “Tricky for recruiters but great for crew, but as ever, it’s about getting the right crew that will remain on board and not just trying to fill slots quickly.”

Crew retention is however an issue notes Dykstra and as rotation becomes the norm, management will need to focus on onboard culture; crew welfare, training budget, and crew mental health; “With the advances in technology, it is much easier for crew to ‘jump ship’ as there is instant access to jobs via social media and automation. This is even more of a reason for vessels to focus on retaining crew and ensure they feel safe, happy, and appreciated. After all, it is their home away from home.”

Hardy also picks up on the crew mental health issue; “Talking about it is becoming a lot more common in the industry, which is great to see. Hopefully 2023 continues this trend to ensure everyone is safe and happy in their workplace.”

Not only will crew be happier, they’ll also be travelling further to far flung shores, as the trend for explorer type yachts grows and according to Collet and Mason adventures off the beaten track show no sign of letting up.

Thanks to increased media exposure and a consequent interest in joining the superyacht industry, captains and owners aren’t short of rich pickings to source good crew.

And for crew, the future is looking good: with enough longevity experience, a few additional skills under their belt and an appetite for versatility, they can and will go far, both up the ladder and into the darkest, unchartered corners of the world. And with a conservative reckoning of 6% in the new build order books, a growing trend for rotation, and greater awareness and concern for crew mental health, what is there not to like?