Crew Welfare at the Heart of Yachting

Posted: 28th February 2019 | Written by: Karen Passman

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On the 3rd December last year in London, ISWAN (International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network) revealed disappointing findings from their research into crew welfare in the superyacht industry.

With 82% of the 402 crew surveyed citing low morale, 75% working over their contracted hours, 80% of females and 54% of males reporting episodes of stress, is it any wonder that we see high crew turnover in the superyacht industry?

Enquiry into the level of sexual harassment in the superyacht industry has also raised concerns. During the Monaco Yacht Show last year, the PYA (Professional Yachting Association) presented their findings from a survey on sexual harassment, revealing 65% of respondents ‘having witnessed or been aware of an incident of sexual harassment, physical or verbal, involving other people on board’.

This is echoed by a crew turnover survey conducted by Impact Crew in 2016 which found that over 60% of crew had experienced poor leadership on board.

If these results are not a surprise to you, they should be. If a shoreside organisation revealed similar findings, they would be under investigation by a raft of governing bodies. Despite significant growth and progress towards professionalising the superyacht industry, it’s still decades behind, but the question is why? What lies at the root and how do we change it?

Many talk of the need for a culture shift, but what does that mean?

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Perhaps the industry attracts certain types, or perhaps crew become immune to some of the behaviours and expectations they face. It’s not uncommon. Speaking recently to a young female deckhand she recounted an evening when she accompanied her captain to find a hooker for a charter guest, inviting women back to the yacht to strip and have their photos taken and sent for approval, with the rejects being escorted back to the street. The story was regaled with the same sense of normality as a trip to the store.

Perhaps crew are fearful of losing the job. It’s often difficult to say ‘no’, and if you object or make too much fuss, there is always someone else who willingly steps into your shoes, whether it’s a junior deck hand, the captain or a management company.

On the other hand, are today’s crew just less resilient than their predecessors, claiming to be overworked, harassed or bullied, when really it’s just a bit of banter?

Is either account acceptable in the modern workplace?

Culture Change and Leadership

Karine Rayson, The Crew Coach, who provides counselling, coaching and on board workshops for crew says, “Having clear policies and procedures around harassment and bullying which crew sign up to is key. We need to create a safe space where crew can feel comfortable expressing how they feel in terms of their general wellbeing as well as their mental health. It’s also important to have someone to speak to (not necessarily senior); someone who is approachable and who the crew member can trust.”

For those in crisis or wanting to speak to an independent party, ISWAN also operates SeafarerHelp, a free and confidential 24 hour helpline for seafarers and their families around the world.

Changing the culture of an industry takes time, but many believe it begins on board with more effective leadership. Here too the superyacht industry can learn from the corporate world but, as with welfare, many captains and crew are unaware of the resources available to them.

Sara Ballinger of Crew Glue, specialising in team development says, “Great leadership and formal on-boarding processes are pre-requisites. Teams go through stages of development, being less productive in the beginning, but with high levels of enthusiasm and excitement. As the team starts to settle we often see a drop in morale as crew jostle for position, establishing hierarchies and cliques. At this point it can feel very uncomfortable and crew may leave, but if you can get past this, the focus moves from the people to the tasks in hand.

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“This requires awareness and effort on the part of the captain and crew, but the benefits are clear; standards increase as do loyalty to the yacht and the team. When a crew member leaves and another joins, the process begins again and you quickly regain your high performing team. A happy crew is a stable crew.”

This echoes our own experience at Impact Crew, where investment in team development impacts how a yacht’s crew performs, moulding them into a motivated, productive and high performing unit. The key is to equip senior crew with the management tools and leadership skills they need.

Impact Crew specialises in team and leadership development on board to optimise team performance and improve crew retention. Having experienced the benefits firsthand, Captain Tom Jones of MY Lionheart said, “There is no single right way to lead but I have found that coaching enables me to draw on my strengths and work on my perceived weaknesses, ultimately to become the very best leader and captain I can be.”

In the words of leadership guru Jack Welch, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

Conclusions

Despite some disappointing findings, it’s not all bad news. ISWAN’s research also found that 83% of respondents were satisfied with the degree of variation in their role, 79% were on permanent contracts and just 22% felt that crew food needed to improve. Many also appreciated the considerable benefits of a career in the superyacht industry, travelling to beautiful and remote parts of the world.

Nonetheless, it’s clear the industry must make better provision for superyacht crew in regard to wellbeing and mental health, and ensure that crew are aware of the resources already available to them. The findings also suggest a need for better management of crew expectations before joining the industry, and more support for crew as they transition out.

Executive Director, Roger Harris, said, “ISWAN is keen to work with all parts of the superyacht industry to ensure that crew are valued and supported. More needs to be done to ensure that both the physical and mental wellbeing of crew is not only protected but enhanced.”

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Resources for Seafarers

ISWAN’s SeafarerHelp is a free and confidential helpline run by trained psychologists and counsellors offering emotional support for seafarers and their families worldwide.

Depending on your provider, some crew insurance policies also offer 24 hour help lines.

Seafarer Help provides a directory or support services available worldwide with a wide range of publications on topics such as harassment and bullying and mental health.

The Mission to Seafarers provides services and support in over 200 ports in 50 countries caring for seafarers of all ranks, nationalities and beliefs with plans to establish a base in Antibes specifically for superyacht crew.

Support is also available for members of Nautilus International and the PYA, and the charity Sailors' Society.

Please share this article among your peers to ensure all crew are aware of the help and support that exists for you. This is a fantastic industry to work in providing many amazing opportunities; together we can make it a positive experience for everyone.

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