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Surviving the First Season

2019 Dockwalk

This is not a millennial bashing article. We all know the new generation of crew are different to the last, everyone comments on how much things have changed with regards to attitudes and approaches over the past 10 years or so. The aim of this article is not to investigate why (that’s an entire subject in its own right), but more to see how first seasons measured up to expectations for brand new crew, and for the senior crew who employed them.

To start this investigation, I started by posting two requests from various Facebook pages. One was for captains and senior crew who had hired green crew for the season. The second post was a shout out to all green crew who had just completed the first season in yachting,

The initial response was immediate. From both sides of the table I received several messages from people who said they would love to help. Questionnaires were sent out and then, this was the first finding… Most of the senior crew who requested a questionnaire returned it within 24 hours, along with a lovely email stating how they hoped it would be helpful in my project and that they were available for further questions if required. On the other side, only one of the new crew replied with a completed questionnaire in the same timeframe. Possibly relevant, is that he is in his 30s and came across from the commercial sector. So I persisted with follow-up emails, adding that if there were any questions the crewmember felt uncomfortable answering, they could skip them. My initial concern was that perhaps I had asked too much. In addition to the Facebook repliers, I also emailed a number of crew from my own recruitment database. And interestingly, this is where I got ghosted… it does seem to have become an acceptable practice these days to ignore messages if it’s something you don’t feel like replying to.  Is it rude? Yes. Is it unprofessional? Definitely. Is it hard to write an unbiased and fair assessment of the situation when only one side of the table are willing to give you information? Absolutely. And when the results come out, if they are one-sided, will the underrepresented side be annoyed and frustrated and say they haven’t been listened to? Probably! But do they understand that they need to speak up if they want to have their voices heard? Therein lies the problem. We want change, we want people to adapt our needs, but we don’t want to get involved with anything that involves work in order to progress this change. Is that the attitude?

Moving on! When asked if their first season had met their expectations, nearly all crew told me it was harder than they’d expected. They were not prepared for the long hours, and that was reflected in the feedback from senior crew. Captain John* felt his new deckhand was “Absolutely NOT [prepared]. The level of detail required was something he just couldn’t get his ahead around. The need to constantly go over everything he had already done was also a surprise. “The boat doesn’t stay clean by itself” I had to say. Making his bed and keeping his cabin immaculate seemed to come as a surprise too. His entire attitude and approach to the job seems to be “this is ridiculous”. He certainly has an attitude and struggles with respect and being told how to do anything as he believes he knows how to do it already.”

Captain Annie* found the working hours posed a problem, “my two new deckhands expected to finish at 5pm every night whether guests were on or off, and wanted weekends off.”

Chief Stew Liz* found that initially her green stews (she hired 4 to form part of her large interior team) were not ready for the reality, “at first the girls were very taken aback by the hours which in my experience were extremely generous (9 hr at night, 2-2.5 hr break in the day, I was used to 6hr at night and maybe an hour in the day being charter). We had a meeting where the girls had to get a bit of insight and a reality check for what the industry is. I luckily had an awesome captain who sat in the meeting and had my back 100%. After that and once the girls got used to the system it ran like a well-oiled machine and then when there were lulls in the day, they got longer breaks where possible."

Those who were aware of the hours still said it was more difficult than they’d anticipated as nothing they’d done prior had prepared them for this, regardless of how much background research they’d completed. Deckhand Dave* said, “My first season was pretty spot on to what I was expecting given my extensive research as far as the workload and hours were concerned. However, I was surprised how much I didn’t know and am still learning to this day.” Stewardess Sally* added, “I thought I was [prepared] as I worked and was always active (morning and night) at home but the reality of working 17-21 hour days with no days off proved far more difficult than I thought.” Stew/Cook Charlotte* felt more prepared than others, “as long as I am keeping busy and taking good care of myself, the long hours are just that.” This was echoed by a seaschool graduate, stew/deck Stella* “I really enjoyed working long hours especially on charter, I liked being in a good routine and knowing exactly what I was doing every day.”

In addition to long hours, time off (or lack of!) was also highlighted by senior crew. One Chef who runs a yacht with her Captain partner said she was quite taken aback when during an interview the crew member asked her “so what happens at weekends, will the yacht pay for a hotel for me?”.

Where are these ideas coming from? The crew themselves told me they found out about yachting from friends mostly.  Captain John feels crew need to dial their stories back a little, “Stories are exaggerated and the fame and overall glamour of the whole industry is bigged up when of course the opposite is true!”

Social media plays a big role in this, and we are all guilty of not posting the reality of our day to day lives. Why would you post a picture of a dirty bathroom when you can post a picture of jeroboam on a beautiful riviera day with your bikini clad friends #livingyourbestlives? We as an industry are portraying unrealistic expectations. It’s not all glamour. Captain Annie agreed, “Yes it’s great, you get to travel, you get paid well, and meet lots of people, but with all of that comes a lot of graft, and I don’t think we talk about those bits. We are all guilty of posting on social media about being on the beach, at parties and cool bars, but we don’t talk enough about the other, less enjoyable parts of the industry, and therefore set a fake image of what to expect.” But that being said, who posts the reality of any job on Instagram? Should we have to explain that there’s more to a job than what’s seen on social media?

Reality TV was also cited as a source and sadly, anyone who believes what they see on these shows as “reality” definitely needs a talking to. Most serious yachties find these shows cringeworthy and borderline offensive, and many would immediately turn down any crew member who has “starred” in one as their employers simply don’t want that sort of attention.

Obviously, sea schools and training establishments are going to take advantage of all this publicity and want to make as much money as possible from new crew, some being more responsible than others when it comes to preparing their students for the reality of yachting. One organisation in the UK does produce consistently good newbies with well rounded skills and a seemingly realistic set of expectations, encouraging them to keep in touch and mentoring, whereas others prefer to churn out students thick and fast with as many courses as possible, and no clue about the industry – instead taking their cash and having no long term interest in their careers. This was raised with the new crew and many appear to have been oversold courses and offered no post course support.

On the positive side, when asked about how supportive their senior crew were, most greenies gave good reports.

New stew Lena* had three jobs over the summer, the first was not such a good experience, “There was a poor relationship between the captain and management. The boat was falling apart, the standards were disgustingly low and the captain was horrible and didn’t pay my tips. The crew chef’s food was awful, when you’re working long hours it’s all you have to look forward to so that was a pretty depressing job.” She went on to say the senior crew onboard should “lead by example – work as hard as they expect you to!”.

New stew Rica* told me her senior crew were: “Brilliant. They taught me so much and were keen to be involved in everything and learn as much as I could.” A sentiment echoed by most of the new crew, including deckhand Billy* “My crew were helpful and accepting, very willing to teach me what I didn’t know.”

In fact, across the board, the element of the whole season the new crew liked the most came down to their crew.

So it seems if there’s good training and mentoring in place on board then the new crew will develop into positive and ambitious crew members. The trouble might be in finding the time – unfortunately there isn’t always the luxury of having enough hours in the day to get the job done, let alone support and develop the junior crew but hopefully that is changing. Chief Stew Liz held meetings whenever possible to review performance, “I don’t mind mistakes being made in work, that’s how we all learn and no one comes into this industry knowing every aspect of every role. It is the attitude and behaviour expectations that were the main topic of all conversations.” Personal development is essential for all roles, junior or senior.

Unfortunately, all the senior crew seemed to agree on one major problem with the new generation which makes them more challenging to mould and train than previous, and that’s the feeling of entitlement. This came up repeatedly. Chief stew Liz said, “I was raised to earn your opinion and respect others, which is something the new generation cannot grasp.”

Captain Annie’s issues were that her 2 deck crew were “both young and have been brought up in families where they very much had everything done for them. Simple things, such as putting more rubbish in an already full bin, instead of emptying it. One of them had such a big night out that they couldn’t turn up for work the following day, and had their mom text me to say they were too ill to work.”

Captain John feels “They are not all in it for the right reasons. They often come in with preconceived ideas and attitude and without a doubt 99% come in just EXPECTING this and that from lightning fast internet, time off before they’ve even begun, free this and free that etc.”

How can we address these issues? It’s certainly a challenge. For the training providers, as senior crew we must recognise the good ones and hire crew through them and recommend them. This industry thrives on word of mouth and that must continue. Perhaps all of us need to add a few more hashtags to our social media accounts… I wonder if #7daysstraightnobreak or #20hourdays or #cleaningtheheadforthe7thtimetoday will catch on though….

Mentoring and training has always been key and I think often due to time constraints we can at times all be guilty of looking for the easier route when hiring new crew, and only considering “experienced crew” when we need to remember we all started at the bottom of the ladder. We did not come out of the womb deftly tying our umbilical cords into a bowline, so we should not expect others to.

One thing is clear, the new generation of crew are definitely not the peel back the lid and serve kind. They need mentoring, educating, and encouragement, in a patient and non threatening environment. Perhaps more so than previous generations due to lack of life experience, but this is how it is… so instead of complaining about it, we, as the old bunch, must adapt in order to get the best out of them before we all turn into our parents’ generation whom I’m sure, we all called fossils and out of touch with reality.

*all names changed

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