How to Staff Your Yacht
Hiring a good crew is essential for smooth sailing
Finding the perfect yacht is one thing. Finding the perfect crew is the next step.
“A bad boat with a good crew is a fun time. A great boat with a bad crew is misery,” said Rupert Connor, owner of Luxury Yacht Group, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
For a small vessel, about 50 to 80 feet with room for eight guests, an owner would need two to four crew members, according to Oxana Vergne, charter manager at Engel & Völkers Yachting, a brokerage focused on yacht sales and charters. Mega yachts, like a 236-foot Serenity, may have up to 30 crew members, she said. The biggest yachts may have a staff of 60 to 80 people.
The biggest yachts will have a deck crew, which includes the captain, officers, deckhands and other positions; the interior crew (butlers, stewardesses and other service-oriented staff); engineers; and a chef and galley crew, Mr. Connor explained. There is often also a land-based team, which helps with finances and logistics of running the yacht.
The most important hire is the captain, according to the experts. He or she will lead the team and set the tone for the boat.
“Everything comes from the captain,” according to Mr. Connor.
A close second may be the chef; the culinary experience must be top notch on numerous levels to keep the peace at sea.
“When the weather is bad, the only thing to do is pray there’s a good chef on board,” Mr. Connor said. In that case, the interior crew may put on a swanky party on the yacht, but it’s only as good as the amuse-bouche coming from the galley.
The chef also needs to be “creative and capable of cooking different type of cuisine, including gluten free, vegan, kosher and others,” Ms. Vergne said.
Harmony on the High Seas
It’s also important for the chef and captain to get along reasonably well. In fact, it’s vital to the success of the yacht that all the crew get along.
“Living on a yacht in close community is not an easy thing to do,” Ms. Vergne said. Crew members “have to get on with their ‘new family’ and live in close quarters with long hours and very little privacy.”
Employers should look for people with a can-do attitude and a smile, she said. It’s also important that they be flexible, friendly and discreet.
“Since the clients will spend a lot of time with the crew on board, some of them will expect the crew to be outgoing,” Ms. Vergne said. “And some clients would prefer to deal with a barely noticeable crew. [The crew] must be sensitive to this and flexible, understanding the boundaries to be crossed and not. Friendly but discreet.”
There are three ways to crew a yacht, he said. One is by referral. Other yacht owners may have a captain or chef to recommend, he said. “It’s sometimes the easiest; it’s not always the most reliable.”
The key is to understand what kind of experience the potential crew member has. “There’s an enormous difference between crewing a sport-fishing boat and a 130- to 140-foot yacht.”
There are also resume-hosting services for yacht staff. Potential employees post resumes; an employer searches the database for the positions he or she is looking to fill. The DIY process is time intensive, but less expensive than using a recruitment service.
Mr. Connor’s Luxury Yacht Group provides such a service, as well as extensive data about all positions and their salary requirements. (A captain may make $7,000 to more than $14,000 a month, while a junior deckhand’s wage is more the $2,000 range.)
These services vet all potential crew members, checking references and acting as a matchmaker of sorts between yacht owners and the crew. Fort Lauderdale-based Northrop & Johnson is another company that can help staff up for sea, as is Polo & Tweed, a London-based staff recruiting agency for luxury properties.
Personality is huge in choosing crews that will work well together, Mr. Connor said, and he aims to please clients by knowing their needs and finding a crew suited to meet them.
Training is also a big part of hiring a crew. That includes safety training for everyone, regardless of position, which is required in international waters. Recruitment services make sure their members are up to date with these requirements.
In addition to safety, working on and caring for a yacht often takes specialized skills. Some firms, like Polo & Tweed, offer on-yacht training for crews that aren’t quite meshing.
“Instead of recreating the hiring process, we send a trainer on board to iron out the issues,” said Lucy Challenger, the CEO of Polo & Tweed.
To that end, the firm flies in a trainer to work with the existing crew, helping with everything from team building to training in laundry or silver service. It also has land-based training for those looking to become a part of an international crew.
The cost of the crew is about 35% to 40% of operating costs of the entire yacht, Mr. Connor said. That includes salaries, training, transportation and basic essentials, as well as any special uniforms or accessories that may be required by the yacht owner.
And lest anyone be tempted to only crew the yacht when it’s being used, experts said it can’t be done. It’s possible to do without the interior staff if there are no guests aboard, but if the yacht is in the water, the deck and engineering crew must stay with it, Mr. Connor said. They need constant maintenance not only to protect bespoke wood finishes and marble in-lays, but also to make sure the boat itself doesn’t rot in the corrosive salt water.
“The worst thing to do is fire the crew,” Mr. Connor said. “The boat will be gone.”