Crew hiring can be a messy business; there’s nothing worse than setting out on a long cruise with the owner or charter guests, only to realise that your new recruit may not be as good as you thought they were. Maybe they lied on their CV and actually have no silver service training, maybe they have an attitude that rubs the owner up the wrong way, or maybe they simply aren’t as well suited to the yachting lifestyle as they thought.
Whatever the problem, you are generally stuck with this crew member at least until you reach the next big port, and in the meantime you have to accomodate the situation. But imagine if crew hiring wasn’t so difficult. We spoke to Lauren Cotton, founder of luxury yacht crew agency Cotton Crews, to get her advice on how to recruit better...
What are the most common crew hiring mistakes?
I think when people hire out of urgency and pick someone in a panic, that’s when the biggest mistakes are made. Yachting is quite a last-minute industry and people sometimes quit on a Sunday when the yacht is due to leave the next day, but a little bit of planning goes a long way. We like to say that there is always time to get the right candidate onboard.
Unfortunately we do sometimes see owners hiring crew for their looks rather than their accomplishments and what's on their CV. But just because someone looks like a supermodel, it doesn’t mean they’re the best candidate to look after your yacht!
Captains are also busy people and sometimes they don’t have much time to review a candidate’s CVs, verify their accreditations, scroll through their social media profiles and conduct interviews to see what a potential crewmember is really like. This is where yacht crew hiring often runs into trouble, as without going through this process you're effectively inviting a stranger to look after a multi-million dollar vessel and its owner and guests.
Does where you advertise crew positions make a difference?
Yes, for sure. To find crew you've got to know which networks crew use themselves - Facebook is used pretty universally, but not everyone checks it every day. We use Facebook, our website and our app to advertise crew jobs and we receive a good number of applications from which we make a shortlist for interview.
The problem is that a lot of yachts will just use Facebook and not a crew agent, meaning they get fewer applicants and their options are more limited. In this scenario you're more at risk from people lying about their certificates, as there's no crew agent to step in and say “hold on a second, that doesn’t look right.” I think sometimes people get carried away with the fact that Facebook is free and forget that it isn’t a regulated recruitment site.
Are there ‘warning signs' to spot in a crew interview?
Absolutely. First impressions are huge. I always make a note of whether candidates are on time, as tardiness will get you nowhere in this industry. I also look at their mannerisms. Did they shake my hand? Did they look me in the eye? You need to be friendly and confident to do your best work as a yachtie, so I’m looking for signs that they have this outgoing personality.
The next thing I note down is their appearance - not whether they look like a model, but whether they have made an effort. Have they brushed their hair? Do they have a clean, ironed shirt on? Presentation is important in the yachting world and it would be a definite red flag if they weren’t taking care of themselves.
Then it's about how the conversation flows. We like to ask some out of the box questions to gauge reactions, and to see whether they're really committed to yachting or just looking to get some good Instagram photos. It might sound crazy, but this has become more and more something you have to watch out for in crew hiring.
What are your top tips for hiring better?
My best advice is to do a bit more forward thinking when it comes to hiring. If you know that you will need to crew up after the summer season, get in contact with a reputable crew agent wherever you plan to refuel. And whatever you do, don’t hire without checking certifications, unless you're prepared to risk having a broken down yacht or unhappy charter guests!
In all seriousness, pay attention to a candidate’s qualifications, not just what they look like, and take a little time to check out their social media - this will give you some insight as to what they are like as a person. Since the yachting industry is small, don’t forget to reach out to Captains that prospects have previously worked with - our crew hire app has a handy section where you can see candidate references, but otherwise it’s definitely worth putting in a call. Lastly, good luck!