Part 9: Perspectives on Safety in Yachting
To see the full schedule click here.
When I was asked if I would write something on this subject, at first I was a little unsure how (and if) safety and recruitment are related. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that so much we do throughout this industry has an impact on the overall safety of our crew members, including the hiring of them.
The yachting industry is complex – it consists of floating seven star hotels, where the unachievable should be achieved, in any corner of the world. Ultimately it requires fit and healthy individuals, with the correct qualifications. For example, an Engineer needs to fully understand his role, and be confident in his skills. Crew members need to have valid ENG1 certificates so they do not place themselves and others in danger due to any underlying medical issues.
How do we control this as Recruitment Agencies, and as senior crew members hiring others? It’s not as easy as it first may seem…
Certification & Reference Checks
Firstly, there is the issue of competition between agencies and this has only increased during the past few years as more and more agencies have been created. Unfortunately, because of this ever increasing rivalry, some will inevitably rush to get their CVs out (and as many as possible in some cases) in order to secure the placement. In such cases, have they had time to check the candidate’s STCW, ENG1 or CoC ? (Most of us are aware of what a lengthy process the MCA CoC checker can be!) Yachts are paying us for a service, where this should be included but, where speed is the priority for some, this can be missed at this first stage of hiring.
Further to this, we work in an industry where things happen very quickly; mid season we can have requests for crew who are required in the next 24 hours. Therefore if the agency doesn't already hold valid references or certificates for a particular crew member, that person could be on a flight and onboard before there has been time to ensure everything is in order.
What if something were to happen onboard before the Captain or management realised that the crew member didn’t have the correct certification or a valid ENG1? What if that crew member had been let go from their previous vessel for poor performance or a safety related issue, and there hadn’t been sufficient time to find out about this?
Having time to conduct due diligence on candidates is critical, especially for those in positions of responsibility. It's for precisely this reason that we like to have references checked and on file for as many candidates as we can, so there is no doubt in our minds if we do need to send them to a yacht last minute.
There is also the issue of Owner/Captain preferences when hiring new crew members. Unfortunately we cannot escape this in our industry. Certain criteria are sometimes asked of us when sourcing crew, which may not necessarily mean that the crew member with the most experience gets the position.
In turn this could potentially impact on the safety of the vessel, for example if the Owner wishes to hire a Captain because he happens to speak a second language, or has expert kitesurfing skills, rather than the one who has 20 years experience at sea. This is an extreme example perhaps, but one which highlights the possible effects of not always hiring crew members based on their skills and experience.
This issue of candidate preferences can put a lot of pressure on us as Recruitment Consultants. When we are asked to source people based on their nationality or gender, it can put us in a very awkward situation ethically. However, perhaps in our position, we can try to challenge this a little. We have certainly found that as the years have gone on, and we have built up trust with our respected Captains and Heads of Departments, we can try and suggest candidates that initially they may not have considered, based on merit and experience above anything else.
Girls on Deck
For example, take the case of gender stereotypes. Traditionally, interior teams have been made up of mainly female crew members, likewise on deck for males. In recent times, when a new job comes in, it has become very normal for us to ask if they could consider a male Steward, or a female Deckhand or Engineer. Sometimes they genuinely cannot accommodate this due to cabins, which we understand. However, if they can, it might be that they just haven’t considered these options if they are used to having a more traditional set up.
It’s been great to see so many clients being open to considering this after a little prompting from us - if we can show them we are putting forward the best person for the job, regardless of gender, or anything else, surely this is the most important thing.
The Value of Experience
On the other side, we also understand it can be difficult for candidates if they know that applications are being judged on attributes such as gender, nationality or age, rather than how experienced they are in their position. We regularly talk with Captains, some out of work, who feel frustrated waiting for positions that they are being overlooked for, because they are being filled by much younger candidates. It’s a very tricky one for us, as we often can’t change minds in these cases. If the Owner has a set idea of who he wants at this level, it can be hard to suggest otherwise.
However, the counter argument here is that the superyacht industry has changed considerably over the last 10 years, and perhaps there are some cases where a Captain may not have evolved with it, and a more current Captain could be the better choice in this circumstance.
Job Boards & Apps
Finally, there is the ever-changing landscape of job posts themselves which might arguably have an impact on the safety of crew. Job boards (or apps) have become very popular, where many different agencies can post positions on one central portal. It is a great concept, and very convenient for crew, but what are the legalities behind them, and how easy is it to regulate the people or crew agencies posting these jobs? And with MLC being a hot topic, can we still ensure that crew members are not paying anything to apply for these jobs?
As Recruitment Consultants, although we might not initially think it, there are many areas within our line of work which may have an impact on the overall safety of yacht crew and vessels. Although it’s a busy and fast paced industry, we should be doing our best to ensure that the things we do have control over, like checking certificates and references, are prioritised. We should be putting the very best people forward for positions, and perhaps be doing a little more to ‘break the mould’ of gender and other stereotypes to ensure those who are the most experienced are the ones getting the jobs, in turn helping to keep their vessels safe.
About the Author
Nicola Morgan left university in 2008 with a degree in Psychology, she soon after found herself in Monaco, working on her first yacht, MY Zenobia. She worked her way up to Chief Stewardess on the iconic MY Alfa Nero, and after previously working for wilsonhalligan, returned in 2015 as Director and Recruitment Manager, with the aim to carry on the success of the company and build on the exceptional reputation it had already gained.
*Image credits: Katie Jane Howson; Heidi Hansenfus - Captain/Mate; PYA
Girls on Deck: Female Deck & Engineering Crew
Yacht Crew Agents: The French Register
MCA Clarification: SEAs and Crew Agreements
Sea Service Verification on Large Yachts