With the high season now upon us, yacht crews will be at their peak over the coming weeks in their efforts to provide the ultimate experience for guests on board.
In recent years, the vital role of crew training in helping a team to deliver the highest standards of service, efficiency and ambience has truly come to the fore.
However, getting the timing right is key to maximising the results for crew members who might otherwise start to feel unmotivated and exhausted. And while traditionally, this has happened between seasons, it’s not always ideal, according to Martin Mainey.
"Timing is critical for crew training," says Martin, Luxury Hospitality’s Leadership & Coaching specialist. "It’s difficult for it to happen during the season on busy boats, whether private or charter, and fitting it in between seasons has many factors to consider."
While training of new crew should be immediate, winter is the ideal time to devote to training existing crew, according to Suze Gower, chief stewardess on a 110m + vessel. "We operate a buddy system from the moment a new crew steps on board," she says. "All aspects of their initial roles and our expectations are demonstrated on arrival and this is vital to ensure our newbies are not overwhelmed or left floundering, particularly on big boats!
"We focus on team training during our winter off season. This is the best time to really grasp the team’s attention and not get distracted or have disjointed training sessions mid-season. Holding our ‘main’ team training in the off season allows us to pre-plan and schedule it so that everyone can join."
Another consideration is rotational crew and crew members taking leave, meaning that you may miss a full hit with the entire crew. "This is where ongoing training and having a relationship with the whole crew is a massive advantage," explains Martin. "You can deliver training with the crew who are available between seasons and revisit to catch up with the ones who haven’t had it."
Planning ahead to protect space for crew training is the answer, however, in an industry notorious for short notice changes, being flexible is also important. "Things happen overnight and plans change" says Martin. "But if it’s planned and flagged early, people can avoid holiday and leave clashes.
"Another advantage to ongoing training means you can create high quality, trusting relationships that will enhance the impact of training. When crew get to know you and trust the quality of your delivery, they are more open to training, they engage and embrace it at a higher level than a one-off gig."
Suze Gower believes regular training is vital in creating a tight-knit and cohesive team. "Without training, nothing will be cohesive or efficient and worse - your team will feel lost, frustrated and resentful. If you don’t actively give your team the tools to better themselves, they will lose interest and you are depriving them of the opportunity to be their best, find out what excites them and which path they may like to take in the industry.
"We have a system whereby every Friday afternoon we have in-house training. Each team member gets to choose a topic to present and they get an entire day to put together a presentation for the group.
"My team comes alive in these sessions! Everyone is focused, the sessions are fun and really educational. By allowing them to contribute in this way and take ownership of something so impactful on the team, we make them feel valued and connected. I absolutely think this contributes to our crew retention and their happiness."
With year-round crew development becoming a priority now, Martin has noticed levels of engagement rise as a result. "When we engage with a yacht on a year-round basis, the impact of the training is significantly better; the relationship we have with the captain, senior officers and all the crew is significantly better too."
Having put her interior team through courses last winter, Suze has seen first-hand the value of regular crew training across all departments, adding: "Anything we can do to include multiple departments in training is so advantageous for crew moral and bonding. The added benefit is understanding other departments and their pressures and workloads.
"If you have a large team separated into service and housekeeping, these combined trainings are super valuable to ensure well rounded crew members that can easily jump departments when required. Setting them up to smash goals is the best!"
She is a passionate advocate having recently completed an in-depth management training course herself. "There’s no end to the benefits," she says. "I regularly use the tools I learnt to effectively manage my time better and focus my attention on the things that matter most. I implement communication tools learnt on this course and myself and the other team heads who did it all remark on how effective they are.
"It’s so nice to know that the captain and the owner are willing to invest in you, support you and help you to perform at your best."
Crew retention continues to be a challenge in yachting and like Suze, Martin also believes it is aided by the quality of leadership on each vessel. "If you have a great leader coupled with a regular training schedule, the training will have a positive impact on crew retention. It’s the atmosphere, harmony and vibe created by the style of leadership that leads to great crew retention. If that is not created, and people are unhappy, no matter how much training they get, it won’t make them stay.
"My speciality is leadership training and if it is not followed up with supportive coaching then people can have a great experience in that face to face or Zoom room environment but as soon as they use those skills and ideas in their day to day operation and come across issues, they will often push back and drop the new ways of thinking to revert to old practises.
"With access to ongoing coaching support and mentoring, when people hit obstacles with their team, they are more likely and better equipped to stick to the areas of good practise that they have learned."
Martin advises regular mail drops to students to keep them engaged, interested and at their best all year round. "I send weekly emails with short training videos and articles to remind and refresh the learning they have done, ideally for two or three months afterwards and before the next round of training."