How to attract top quality crew to a smaller yacht

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Q: Sean, Captain:

“I’m a captain looking for a chief stew to work with me on a 30m motor yacht. It’s a great job with great pay and really awesome owners but nobody will take the position as they all want to be on bigger boats. I’ve worked on both big and small boats, and give me small boats any day! They are more relaxed, quiet winters, way less politics. How can I put this job forward in a way that gets top candidates, rather than just newbies or the sub standard candidates I’m currently getting? Even the crew agents say they can’t help me.”

A: The Crew Coach:

Oh Sean you are not alone! So many Captains of so-called ‘smaller’ yachts have said the same thing to me. It seems when crew are job hunting they are keen to get ‘any job’, but when offered a role on a small boat they turn their nose up to hold out for a bigger one. I agree with you, there’s obviously a lack of understanding out there of the many positives of working on smaller yachts. And it’s not just a new crew problem. Yours is a case in point: great pay, great owners—so you should have candidates lining up at the passerelle. Yet you don’t—and it’s not only frustrating, it starts to make you look bad in front of your owners as it’s really hard to tell them “Sorry sir, we can’t find any good candidates because your yacht is too small!”

It’s helpful to consider the pros and cons of small boats to understand why you’re struggling to get candidates, and perhaps consider wording and targeting your job advertisement differently.

The ‘advantages’ of working on small yachts:

Crew get a better all-round understanding of the yacht – there is usually better communication and things are less seprated.
Less departmental politics. Crew help each other out more, and tend to interact across departments.
Generally a more relaxed working atmosphere, with less hierarchy between the Captain and crew.
Amazing perks. When you hear about the really great ‘holy grail’ working conditions in yachting, (eg. one week on/one week off in winter, apartments for crew on land etc) they’re normally found on smaller boats. It might just be a matter of the Captain giving half days on Friday, higher crew provisioning budgets, and regular crew meals out… all of these things are much more common on small yachts.
More down time. The lack of range on smaller boats tends to mean that those boats will winter in the Med. This means crew can ‘put down roots’ a little more, see family and friends more, and have a more stable existence than those on world-travelling dual season yachts.
The pay is generally comparable to big boats, and sometimes is even higher, as the owner doesn’t have a wage bill climbing into the hundreds of thousands and they know they need to offer more money to attract good candiates. The really big boats often pay less for equivalent positions. Many crew make the assumption that smaller yacht equals smaller salary and this is not necessarily true at all!
The ‘negatives’ of working on small yachts

Limitations on career experience or progression. Chief stews may worry that if they only have one girl working under them this may work against them if they want to move to a bigger boat.
Watches come around more frequently. (Although some smaller yachts are happy to lock up and leave the boat unattended so you may not even need to do watches!)
Smaller teams. This can be a positive or a negative, but for younger crew looking for the excitement and camaraderie of a big crew, a small crew can be less appealing. Sometimes the senior crew are a little older too, and less likely to be going out partying a lot (which could also be considered a pro in many people’s eyes!)
Less exciting world cruising. Again, the quiet winters you mention might not appeal to young crew who haven’t had their time yet cruising the Caribbean or the Seychelles.
What you can do to attract better ‘small-boat’ candidates

There’s no point trying to appeal to candidates who aren’t yet done with their dreams of world cruising with huge crowds of young people. Yet as we know, there are also a lot of crew out there who would quite like to get away from back-to-back seasons, messy departmental politics, and constant moving around.

The key to finding these people is writing a really clear job advertisement or having an honest conversation with your crew agent. You may be better targeting chief stews in their thirties who may be more interested in spending winters in one place and putting down roots. These also tend to be longer-term hires than the younger chief stews who may want to move on to bigger boats before long.

You have a brilliant job to offer, so communicate that in a way that makes people feel it’s an opportunity worth fighting for. Whether that’s mentioning the fact you all go skiing in winter, or that your crew all pitch in to help each other out, make your job offer stand out.

You need to make it clear that you’re not interested in inexperienced candidates. You’re looking for the best, so pitch the job ad in a way that shows you’re looking for only the best. Sometimes people assume smaller yachts have lower standards so you can combat this by talking about a very discerning owner with really high standards who requires only the best in interior management. Sometimes this sense of exclusive targeting is just what is needed by a chief stew on a 50m charter boat who is starting to consider a move to something with quiet winters where they can go to the gym regularly, and have a more settled life.

Finally, I think there may be a problem with perception- that somehow being a chief stew on a 30m is not as ‘successful’ as being a chief stew on a larger boat, or that to go to a small boat after a big one is like going backwards. People want to feel proud of the job they are doing, so you have to make it sound really special and important. Word your job ad in a way that appeals to people who understand the job is about pleasing the owners and being part of a great crew, not about being flashy on the outside.

Have you ever struggled with this yourself? If you have any other tips or ideas to add please add your comments below!

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