Industry » Features » The PYA: The Minnow and the Whale

The PYA: The Minnow and the Whale

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Ever heard of the PYA? Never heard of the PYA? Heard of it as Protect Your Ass?

What do you do to protect your ass? Take another course, move up the ladder, earn more pay? Of course you protect your ass. But you are not doing it on your own, because you can’t. You are doing it under the aegis of the PYA, aware of it or not. And even if you’re a Class 1 Master Mariner or Chief Engineer from commercial shipping, you still needed us.

If you think otherwise, tell us what you did, who you lobbied, which legislative councils you sat on, what papers you drafted, and how many hours of voluntary work you have put into the survival, development and professionalization of the yachting industry. We’ll be thrilled to hear from you, and invite you to join Council forthwith.  We need people like you. And if you’re a new entrant, or in mid-career, and you want to stir up the older geezers in PYA, come on board. Love us, hate us, bless us, curse us, admire us, despise us – we don’t mind which, as long as you tell us, and tell us your reasons. We need you all, and you need us – read on to understand why.

But first, we’re going to poke into your privacy right now and ask you a few personal questions.

We’ll start with asking about your friends back home. Do they have employee-friendly contracts to guarantee that they’ll get their salaries? Do they have inalienable rights to vacation times, to health insurance, to on-the-job injury insurance?  What kind of salary do they make? How much of it do they get to keep? Do they get free room and board with their salaries? Do they pay for the clothing they wear to work? Do they sacrifice a chunk of each year by having to commute twice a day? Do they get cash tips or bonuses to fling at a Gucci bag or a Rolex watch? Can they be property investors by their early 30’s? Can they seriously expect to become millionaires by sticking to a simple and realistic savings plan over the course of a 25-year career, in a way which will not at all crimp their lifestyle?

We could go on. How much time do they spend on the Cote d’Azur or the Dalmatian coast at somebody else’s expense? Do their work worlds give them the opportunity to windsurf in the Tobago Cays, dance their legs off all night in a Mustique beach bar, dive on the coral reefs of the South Pacific, or ride a tender to within meters of Alaskan grizzlies or Nantucket whales?

If your friends don’t do very well on these questions, maybe they’re in the wrong jobs and you’re in the right one.

And while doing your job, are you on Facebook, or Twitter, or whatsapp, (or email if you are over 35)? Can you Google an answer to any question on any subject in 30 seconds or less? Do you love your smart phone, your tablet, your laptop?  Do you upgrade as soon as the new models are released? Do you have a job in yachting to pay for all the above? Great life, is it not?

Well, YOU are living in a world in which, since you were born, many manual jobs have been automated out of existence forever. Next, the information technology revolution, which for you is probably not a revolution since you grew up within it, will eliminate 30% of white-collar jobs before the end of your working lives. So how are YOU going to protect your career, your lifestyle, your future, your million?

Some of you are presently serving on private yachts, some on commercial yachts. During the course of your careers you will likely move between the two sectors as you progress in rank. The manual work that you do, such as polishing, cleaning, laundry, housekeeping, cooking, serving, handling lines, holding fenders, loading stores, and so on, will never be automated out of existence. Unmanned engine rooms still need engineers to check, maintain and fix machinery. Unmanned bridges on yachts, and driverless tenders, will only arrive when MCA is merely a phantom entity on Google cloud, and all the guests are robots. So your friends ashore may have worries, but your job is safe, right?

Wrong. Why?  Because in the maritime world the yachting industry is a minnow compared to the Moby Dick of commercial shipping. The commercial world has become more and more regulated since the 1970’s, and it's rule makers have twice almost written us into oblivion, first in 1992, and again in 2006.

Until the 70’s the UK had a system of Home Trade Certificates of Competency for passenger ferries plying the English Channel and the North Sea. There was no certification for home trade cargo vessels up to 10,000 GT. You could join a vessel with no qualifications whatsoever and learn on the job while you worked your way up to Master. Then the regulators noticed the gap, and plugged it by issuing Certificates of Service (CoS) which, at the cut-off date, froze incumbents into whatever rank they had achieved by that time. Henceforth the full certification process applied to all new entrants, and to those who sought promotion from their CoS rank.

In the 1990’s the regulators’ eyes swiveled again to focus on the unregulated yachting world, very much a Red Ensign playground, which by then was developing a strong charter sector with paying passengers uncovered by SOLAS or any other safety legislation.  This trade had to be regulated. Fortunately, a few senior yacht crew saw the writing on the wall, and with the support of some shore-based stakeholders in brokerage and management, established the PYA to lobby MCA to create a certification regime appropriate to yachts.

MCA proved receptive to the PYA overtures, and YOU now work within the framework created by MCA at that time in consultation with the PYA.  You take the same STCW modules as all entrants into the commercial shipping world, but then move onto the bridge or engineering track for yacht crew.  Had it not been for the PYA, the commercial yachting sector would either have vanished, or would have shrunk to accommodate only officers with full commercial certificates from cadetships or cruise ship -type backgrounds.

Happily, we shall never know what the knock-on effect would have been on the private yachting sector, or the overall effect of imposition of commercial shipping licensing on the yachting world. But for sure, the industry would never have bloomed as it has in the past three decades, and unless you are one of the few entrants from commercial shipping, then if not for the PYA you would not have your present privileged job. Privileged? – look at your shore-side friends again.

Once the issue of certification for yacht crew seemed to be resolved, PYA was not disbanded. It became apparent that engineering crew needed more support, and for deck personnel the advancement process needed constant revision and adjustment to meet the changing size and nature of your industry. Moby Dick’s threats to swallow the minnow never went away. ISM came along, was largely welcomed, and was absorbed at a new cost to owners. ISPS followed, perhaps not quite so welcomed, and owners absorbed another cost. PYA had no input into ISM or ISPS, They were imposed top-down by the IMO, but we kept banging the drum to keep our industry alert to what was coming. Each new regulation, each additional cost, is of concern to us all, because owners and charterers want to get away from all that and simply have fun.

The next real existential crisis came with the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) 2006, which was inspired by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).  Did you know that your job almost went out the window back in 2006? MLC is a tri-partite piece of legislation, drawn up by representatives from governments, employers and seafarers from all over the world. From the UK, MCA officials from the shipping policy section represented the government.

Employers were represented by the British Shipping Federation, the owners of cruise ships and cargo vessels. Seafarers were represented by the UK governments recognised social representatives, union organisations like Nautilus and the RMT, the bulk of who’s membership are commercial shipping officers. The UK representatives at ILO were instrumental in drafting the text of significant parts of this remarkable and historic convention. 

However, buried the wording of the convention there was a big problem for large yachts. You were probably unaware, and you probably still are, that when the Convention was first published, most of the yachting world knew nothing about it. Of the few that heard of it, most went into denial anyway, for a very scary reason.  The MLC employment protections for crew embraced what many good owners were already offering their crew. It was the crew accommodation provisions of MLC which, if implemented as written, would have closed most of the yacht building yards by the end of 2013...  

PYA was the first organisation to react to the obvious fact that owners would never build a yacht in which crew accommodation would take up far more of the interior than guest spaces.  If the yacht builders were forced to close their yards, support services and sub-contractors would have gone down with them, followed by the shrinking of brokerages and management companies. The resulting turmoil would have scared many existing owners out of the industry. Are you with us so far? Your job was on the line here. Your bars, your restaurants, your boss’s florist, your chef’s supermarket, would all have been hit too. It was a scary prospect.

We approached MCA, which at first was defensive about the issue, realising that they had caused a big problem by overlooking the yacht sector when drafting MLC.

Looming job losses in the UK and across the EU were going to become a political hot potato.

We took our case to the ILO, and sat across the table from senior managers in their offices in Geneva. These were the very people tasked with drafting the MLC and until then were unaware of the unintended consequences of their legislation which was intended amongst other things, to improve the basic rights of all seafarers. They had no idea of its threat to employment in the yachting sector.

We went to Nautilus and explained to them the consequences of by-the-book MLC implementation. 

So at the invitation of PYA, ILO and Nautilus sent their top people to the South of France for a PYA-conducted tour to see the realities of crew accommodation in various types and sizes of yachts. In fact Cleopatra Doumbia-Henry, the Director of ILO and in charge of the MLC’s drafting, actually slept on board a yacht in a sub-standard MLC crew cabin, and loved it They went away impressed, sympathetic to our future, and wanting to assist our cause. But ... the wording of MLC 2006 was by then international law and unalterable, the timetable for implementation was unalterable, and disaster looked inevitable

We kept talking to builders and brokers and managers, and they joined us in appealing to MCA for a solution to save an industry. Some of the high-volume production yards were by now in a panic. MCA then formed a subgroup to study the impact of MLC implementation on superyachts, involving representatives from all Red Ensign flag states, SYBAss and ICOMIA for the builders, Nautilus and PYA for crew, and MYBA in the role of owners’ representative. PYA participated in all the meetings, and it was the PYA representative who wrote the final draft of the proposal which the builders sent to MCA, and which MCA used as the foundation for their LY3 “substantial equivalence” for crew accommodation in all future commercial yacht builds.

That “substantial equivalence” is what is keeping the yacht building yards open today. We were there through it all, some of us giving up days of our leave at a time to attend meetings, study quantitative surveys, draft and redraft proposals, to protect your ass.

Member or non-member, PYA is there to represent you and fight for your career and your future. If you are a yacht chef cooking for 10 or more crew, and you don’t already have a Ship’s Cook Certificate (SCC), then your job will be in danger as from August 7th 2014. This is coming about because MCA is bound by MLC to introduce a regime of certification for ship’s cooks, and this certification requirement will apply to UK yachts, and by extension to the rest of the Red Ensign group...

But how do you get a SCC? If you don’t want to go back to school for a year, and you don’t meet the criteria in the MGN on SCCs for automatic issuance of a SCC? Your only salvation lies in PYA’s proposal to MCA which will safeguard the careers of incumbent yacht chefs, and also ease the way for new entrants. Details of the assessment process have recently been made available. In the interim, port state controls are expected to go easy on SCCs until 2015. Once you get the Ship’s Cook Certificate you can stay on yachts or go and cook for 1,000 crew on a cruise ship – it will not be a yacht-limited qualification. We’re protecting your ass too, Chef.

The whole certification structure for engineers is about to be overhauled and updated by MCA. Who has MCA turned to for representation of the yachting sector’s interests? One guess, but we’ll give you a clue, it’s three letters. PYA council members and workgroup volunteers are attending countless meetings in the UK to present the statistics about where the engineering training currently is, and help MCA determine how to improve it for the foreseeable future needs not only of yachting, but also in parallel sectors. This will open a path to cross-fertilization and flexible career options for our engineers.

If you are a PYA member, you will already have received our circular about the EU Directive pertaining to electro-magnetic frequency (EMF) effects on all EU workers, including seafarers. If you haven’t heard about it yet, don’t worry, EMF will soon be coming to a yacht near you. If you are in the deck department and around radars or Satcom antennae, or in the engine room and around generators, or in the interior and around microwave warmers, you will have the right to be warned and consulted about potential EMF effects in your work environment. And on behalf of yacht crew, which body did the MCA just approach as the consultative stakeholder for the yachting sector?

Again, PYA was asked to step up and protect your ass. And we’ve been there already to protect your owner’s ass as well, by pushing to make the EMF Directive implementation the least time-consuming and expensive as possible, so that this one more piece of legislation is not the last straw which drives him/her out of yachting, thereby helping again to preserve your job and protect your ass.

Last but certainly not least, the PYA has also delivered a complete training and certification structure for the frontline crew of yachting.  GUEST (Guidelines of Unified Excellence in Service Training). This much needed standardisation of training has already raised the status of interior crew, who work in a department which has been overlooked and under-appreciated since the beginning of time. So yes, again the PYA is also covering many asses in all sectors.

Enough about us. Let’s now hear from you. You may be working vile hours, and sometimes putting up with vile guests, and occasionally enduring vile weather, but you have openings to experiences which your friends back home will never realize. You may go to places unreachable by any other means than a yacht, you will meet people from the highest echelons in life, and some of you may become part of the extended family of some of the great and the good (though it will be part of the bond that you will never ever be able to talk about it outside of the family).

Are your privileges not worth protecting? You will protect them by continuous professional development, by always looking for a new field of study, by never resting on your laurels. And by joining and contributing some input, any input, to the PYA, you are not just protecting your ass, you are promoting your profession, protecting your trade, and defending the long tradition of yachting.

Be assured that Moby Dick keeps circling, waiting to flail at the minnow again and again. But with our partners in MYBA, SYBAss and ICOMIA we have fought our way close enough now to begin whispering into the whale’s ear at meetings of the IMO. This minnow is not for turning. Join the struggle as a PYA member and make your contribution to your industry. It is a duty to yourself. 


About the Author:

Rod Hatch 140 for feature cutRod Hatch got bored with the academic world after 3 years as a Lecturer in Economics at a London Polytechnic, and ran away to sea for a year as deckhand in a 100' motor yacht. His yachting career has now spanned 45 years (including six years in commercial shipping) and he was one of the last few dinosaurs to be certificated in the UK as Master of a Home Trade Passenger Ship. Current special interests: MLC, 2006; and advocacy of CPD opportunities for yacht crew outside of their mandatory training courses.



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