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Training yacht crew

It’s hard to think of your recreation as someone else’s profession, but yachts are mission-specific. You may be there to escape stress, entertain clients or reward employees, but the success of that mission, be it a single day of vacation or a five-month charter season, depends on many people doing their jobs with skill and professionalism.

With a superyacht, there are vast sums of money in play, especially so if the yacht is in commercial service. However, for many yacht owners stepping into crewed yachts for the first time or stepping up into commercial yacht ownership, there is often a gap in logic when it comes to crew. Everyone knows that a yacht must be run by a licensed mariner and attended by an engineer. Most yacht jobs and their licenses derive from the US or British military or merchant marine services, yet, on any given yacht, at least 40 per cent of the crew are in unregulated, unlicensed positions.

Twenty years ago, these positions fell under what was commonly called the ‘department of beds and heads’. Now lumped under the label ‘interiors’, and including chefs and pursers, these crew members are on the front line to maintain the stratospheric level of service required aboard a modern superyacht.

They perform every role from seamstress to saucier, dive buddy to dog walker, and maid to masseuse. The diversity of roles they play defies formal description, but they must be Jacks and Jills of All Trades, who also are expected to be the masters of all.

How does a new yacht owner evaluate resumes for these key positions? Currently, the yachting world is of two minds on the subject of vetting: setting standards for interior crew or maintaining the status quo.

Many of the crew who blog or post on forums for Dockwalk sister publication for captain and crew, feel that standards are the first step in ‘unionising’ crew and are against such measures. Others post that some owners don’t regard what they do as a career deserving professional respect and would like to see at least definitions for interior jobs, so that education in yacht service gets recognised.

One of the most articulate voices of the opposition is Kevin Merrigan, president of Northrop Johnson. ‘I think we have about regulated this industry to death,’ he says. ‘Yacht owners are tired of being told there are rules for everything. It’s the job of the broker and/or the captain to put the right crew on the boat so that all the owner has to do is step board and enjoy the yacht.’

Specialist crew placement agencies agree, and most have well-developed procedures for discovering the expectations and budgets of each owner. Still, crew turnover remains an issue in the field, indicating unmet expectations and poor fits on both sides, which are often amplified by situational stresses.

The Professional Yachting Association (PYA) is on the forefront of the certification discussion with a program it calls ‘Guidelines for Unified Excellence Service Training’, or GUEST, with formal training to create an education ladder leading from junior steward or stewardess up to management level.

‘From the top hotels and Michelin restaurants to burger bars, service employees are required to have some training – in some cases years of schooling, or at least a basic food hygiene certificate,’ says Joey Meen, a training consultant with PYA. ‘Interior yacht crew are expected to provide the highest level of service to the most prestigious and demanding clientèle in the most challenging environment [with] nothing more than charisma [and an STCW95 certificate].’

Deck and engineering crew, she notes, benefit from a clearly defined regulatory route to training and certification, yet interior crew have no such 
structure available.

‘We feel strongly about establishing an interior certification program for the industry,’ says Peter Vogel of Triple S Consultancy. ‘It will showcase that the interior department is run by professionals, that there is an ongoing drive to improve service standards, and that there is an increased value for interior crew members to work aboard yachts, as the certification will be recognized beyond their careers in our industry.’

Triple S launched its Excellence in Service hospitality training program in 2008. ‘In 2010, we developed the standards for the Diamond Collection with Fraser Yachts for its charter fleet, and we have been very active with the PYA GUEST program,’ says Vogel.

Standards aren’t just for new owners, new boats or new captains. Captain Robert Corcoran of M/Y Samar, says developing interior crew standards are a necessity to make sure everyone is on the same page, and simply for the sake of efficiency. In the past, Corcoran had an annual budget of $60,000 for crew hiring and agency fees for 21 positions. He set up his own standards and weekly crew training program.

The yacht’s owner, he says, believes every crew position aboard should include rotation (five months on, one off). He also grants crew a retention bonus after 12 months of sea time.

The result? Samar has just logged her first year with zero crew turnover.

Crew turnover remains an issue in the field, indicating unmet expectations

Many of the crew who blog or post on forums for Dockwalk sister publication for captain and crew, feel that standards are the first step in ‘unionising’ crew and are against such measures. Others post that some owners don’t regard what they do as a career deserving professional respect and would like to see at least definitions for interior jobs, so that education in yacht service gets recognised.

One of the most articulate voices of the opposition is Kevin Merrigan, president of Northrop Johnson. ‘I think we have about regulated this industry to death,’ he says. ‘Yacht owners are tired of being told there are rules for everything. It’s the job of the broker and/or the captain to put the right crew on the boat so that all the owner has to do is step board and enjoy the yacht.’

Specialist crew placement agencies agree, and most have well-developed procedures for discovering the expectations and budgets of each owner. Still, crew turnover remains an issue in the field, indicating unmet expectations and poor fits on both sides, which are often amplified by situational stresses.

The Professional Yachting Association (PYA) is on the forefront of the certification discussion with a program it calls ‘Guidelines for Unified Excellence Service Training’, or GUEST, with formal training to create an education ladder leading from junior steward or stewardess up to management level.

‘From the top hotels and Michelin restaurants to burger bars, service employees are required to have some training – in some cases years of schooling, or at least a basic food hygiene certificate,’ says Joey Meen, a training consultant with PYA. ‘Interior yacht crew are expected to provide the highest level of service to the most prestigious and demanding clientèle in the most challenging environment [with] nothing more than charisma [and an STCW95 certificate].’

Deck and engineering crew, she notes, benefit from a clearly defined regulatory route to training and certification, yet interior crew have no such 
structure available.

‘We feel strongly about establishing an interior certification program for the industry,’ says Peter Vogel of Triple S Consultancy. ‘It will showcase that the interior department is run by professionals, that there is an ongoing drive to improve service standards, and that there is an increased value for interior crew members to work aboard yachts, as the certification will be recognized beyond their careers in our industry.’

Triple S launched its Excellence in Service hospitality training program in 2008. ‘In 2010, we developed the standards for the Diamond Collection with Fraser Yachts for its charter fleet, and we have been very active with the PYA GUEST program,’ says Vogel.

Standards aren’t just for new owners, new boats or new captains. Captain Robert Corcoran of M/Y Samar, says developing interior crew standards are a necessity to make sure everyone is on the same page, and simply for the sake of efficiency. In the past, Corcoran had an annual budget of $60,000 for crew hiring and agency fees for 21 positions. He set up his own standards and weekly crew training program.

The yacht’s owner, he says, believes every crew position aboard should include rotation (five months on, one off). He also grants crew a retention bonus after 12 months of sea time.

The result? Samar has just logged her first year with zero crew turnover.

M/Y Samar has just logged her first year with zero crew turnover

‘We feel strongly about establishing an interior certification program for the industry,’ says Peter Vogel of Triple S Consultancy. ‘It will showcase that the interior department is run by professionals, that there is an ongoing drive to improve service standards, and that there is an increased value for interior crew members to work aboard yachts, as the certification will be recognized beyond their careers in our industry.’

Triple S launched its Excellence in Service hospitality training program in 2008. ‘In 2010, we developed the standards for the Diamond Collection with Fraser Yachts for its charter fleet, and we have been very active with the PYA GUEST program,’ says Vogel.

Standards aren’t just for new owners, new boats or new captains. Captain Robert Corcoran of M/Y Samar, says developing interior crew standards are a necessity to make sure everyone is on the same page, and simply for the sake of efficiency. In the past, Corcoran had an annual budget of $60,000 for crew hiring and agency fees for 21 positions. He set up his own standards and weekly crew training program.

The yacht’s owner, he says, believes every crew position aboard should include rotation (five months on, one off). He also grants crew a retention bonus after 12 months of sea time.

The result? Samar has just logged her first year with zero crew turnover.

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