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How to stop a party boat derailing your career

Q: Anonymous, Deckhand, 28:

“My yacht is full of fun, young crew who party like crazy every single chance they get. While I’m up for a boozy night now and then, they don’t just stick to drinks if you get my drift- and the past Caribbean season was pretty loose, with random crew from the bar snorting lines in our crew mess at 5am! I’ve never taken drugs, but my crew don’t seem to accept that I’m genuinely not into it, and pestered me to join in until I snapped and told them they all need to grow up. As a result, I’m kind of on my own. (The captain’s fairly young and still well into his party days too.) I’m just not on the same wavelength, and this is starting to affect everything. They think I’m a boring prude, and I think they’re starting to put me in danger. Don’t get me wrong, they never take drugs at sea or with guests on, but I heard about a boat that got boarded by the Coastguard with sniffer dogs the other day, and I’m really worried that I might end up going down with the crew if my yacht gets searched. I kind of feel like it’s my right to say something to the captain in this situation, but how on earth do I bring it up when he’s practically the ringleader? It’s my first yacht, I’m only 6 months in, and I worked damn hard to get here as I’m a bit older than your average new deckie. The boss is great, pay’s great, itinerary’s great, boat’s great — and the crew are pretty decent too except for the A-Class craziness. What do you suggest I do?”

A: The Crew Coach:

I’m not surprised you chose to stay anonymous on this one, but you’re far from the first yacht crew member to face this scenario unfortunately. While there are a lot less crazy party yachts than there used to be, there are still a few yachts out there that are famously loose. And you’ve found one of them for your first yacht, poor you! On big party yachts, the balance of not getting involved in drugs while also staying on great terms with your wild party crew can be a difficult one.  A divisive ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ dynamic often forms when crews are partying hard (and particularly when they’re engaging in illegal actions) and they often feel that—by your refusal to join in— you’re judging their choices, or being a bit of a buzz-kill.  Good on you for being strong on your values and resisting.

Now, from a professional standpoint, I think you’re in difficult waters here. You’re brand new to yachting, and the captain is involved in the illegal activity. I think that while you’re totally right in thinking they’re putting you at risk, I don’t really like your chances of getting the captain to change the longstanding party culture onboard just because you object to it. Even if you just frame the conversation in regards to your concern about being boarded by Coastguard, it’s still a risk, because as a captain, he is well aware the yacht might get boarded by Coastguard, and he’s accepted that risk. This being brought up by a junior crew member might go down like a tonne of bricks- and remember, as this is your first yacht, you want a good reference if you can manage to exit this situation gracefully.

If the yacht is managed, you are well within your rights to report the drug-taking to the management company, but bear in mind this could results the captain and crew being dismissed, and people have long memories in this industry so you never know when this could come back to bite you. As much as it should be the right thing to do, I’d advise against this course of action purely on the grounds of self preservation at this very early stage in your career. Leave it to someone with more experience under their belt to bring this to management’s attention, as you’re too new to risk fighting this battle on your own.

I’m going to give you some unpleasant news. Despite your great yacht, boss, pay and itinerary, my professional opinion is that you should leave this yacht, ASAP. You could easily get boarded by Coastguard as you fear, and find yourself in real legal trouble. Your reputation will be mud in yachting because the yacht’s name will get into the news — and even if you personally are cleared, you could struggle to overcome being tarred with the same brush. I would recommend confidentially reaching out to a few carefully chosen and trusted crew agents to see if they have a position you could fit. At this time of year sometimes there are great jobs they are desperate to fill, so you should be able to find a position before you resign.

Another thing you need to consider is that if you know this is a party yacht, a large proportion of the yachting industry does too; and that reputation can genuinely hurt your chances on yachts later on. Crew agents and other captains know the names of the wild party yachts, as that kind of reputation really travels in yachting (especially if random people regularly get invited onboard for parties.) That particular cat is probably well out of the bag, and there’s no putting it back in.  All you can do is stop them from dragging your name down with them. When you do find a new job and start amassing some good experience on your CV, I’d also recommend removing this first yacht from your CV.

Finally, do you really want to stay on a yacht where you feel like you’re all on your own and the crew judge you as boring just for not taking Class-A drugs with them? I think you’re right on that front, they do have a bit of growing up to do! Also, no-one wants to work year round with crew who are always coming down from the last big night, there’s no question that their performance will suffer for all that partying. You deserve to be on a professional yacht where everyone’s pulling their weight and you’re welcomed fully as part of the team without having to take drugs to be included!

When it’s time to explain to the captain and crew agents why you’re leaving, just keep it simple and say that while the crew are great and lots of fun, you’re looking for a crew that’s a bit more low key and mature. The crew agent will read between the lines, and you don’t have to say anything explicit about the way the boat is run. As I said, they’ll probably know the boat’s reputation already. If you want more ideas about what to say, read my article HERE about how to handle this.

I do feel for you in this situation, and it’s a real shame that your yachting experience has started out this way. There are so many great, professionally-run yachts out there, you deserve to go out and find one. Best of luck and keep us posted.