Work-life balance is a struggle for crew.
The International Superyacht Society’s Education Leadership Seminar Series was held on Wednesday at The Canopy by Hilton in downtown West Palm Beach ahead of the Palm Beach International Boat Show.
ISS’s leadership series aims to address issues in the yachting industry that owners, captains, crew, and other professionals in the yachting world are facing. Wednesday’s series included a seminar focused on crew welfare, the lack of available and qualified crew, and crew retention on board. The seminar featured five panelists and was moderated by Graeme Lord, founder of Fairport Yacht Support with over 18 years of experience in the marine industry, including seven years as a chief engineer.
“To know how to pour an awesome cocktail and to know how to put out a lithium fire, that’s a lot,” Lord said about the increase in expected responsibilities for crew. “The demands that have been put on the crew have grown significantly.”
Lord mentions this example to not only highlight the skills a crew member must now possess, but to also segue into the issues that these increases in responsibilities impact, like hours of work versus rest and off-the-job training.
Capt. Kelly Gordon, one of the panelists, believes a better balance between work and personal time would help crew welfare. Gordon compares the “9 to 5” employees of businesses that some yacht owners own to crew members, noting that some owners’ expectations between the two seems flawed.
“Those employees get certain perks or benefits, and they would never expect a 9-to-5’er to work 16 hours a day, but we do,” Gordon said. “Granted, that’s what we signed up for and I love my job and doing what I do, but I think there needs to be a better work-life balance.”
Gordon said crew enjoy their work and even jump at the opportunity to take more classes to develop better skills, but the life side of work isn’t being accommodated as much as it should be. According to Gordon, not knowing exactly when crew will be given their time off is the No. 1 detriment to their work-life balance.
Amy Kowalski, a freelance chief stew who attended the seminar, said she enjoys and looks forward to taking classes to further her yachting career, but won’t commit to a permanent position because of crew welfare issues.
“Why would I commit to somebody who wants for me to be their servant but can’t take care of me on the back side of that?” Kowalski said. “I would rather be freelance and be able to pick and choose where I want to work because it’s better for me in the long run.”
Kowalski also mentions how she completes the extra training on her own time but deems it to sometimes be useless in the hiring process, as it is often never looked at by owners.
Issues like financial literacy for crew, strategies to avoid burnout, and mental health outreach programs were also mentioned during the seminar as different ways crew welfare could be improved.