Crew and Crisis Management
Finding talented crews to staff superyachts and answering the martini question were two topics raised at Superyacht Investor’s latest Town Hall online meeting by Tim Clarke, director of recruitment agency Quay Crew.
“The biggest issue facing the yachting industry is where [crew] talent is going to come from,” Clarke told delegates. “There’s a requirement for hundreds and hundreds of crews each year for new yachts. There’s definitely a lack of key crew to fill these roles.” An increasing number of yachts sized over 3,000ft were under construction, which generated huge staffing requirements. Quay Crew was working with one new-build yacht, which has no crew coming from an existing programme. That project alone generated a requirement for 60 new crew.
But the supply of recruits to meet new demand was causing increasing concern. Typically for every 100 CVs received by Quay Crew, only 20% to 30% survived the vetting process, including reference checking. “And, if you pick the wrong CVs, you could be left with just 10% to put forward to potential employers,” said Clarke.
Skilled cabin crew were in particularly short supply. “Lots of people are joining the industry who are literally bringing nothing to the table,” he said. “We see so many CVs that claim hospitality skills, but when you scrutinise them, it refers to pulling pints in a pub, which is not relevant hospitality. Superyachting is supposed to be about incredible service levels, we need to attract people who have come from classically-trained hospitality backgrounds.”
Clarke craved applicants from Swiss or French hospitality backgrounds or people who have worked in hotel management. But the superyacht sector is not targeting these individuals, he said. The cruise industry was another recruitment pool to select crews with excellent hospitality skills.
To establish the skill set of potential recruits, Clarke often asks the martini question. “One question I ask a lot is: ‘How do you make an espresso martini? A lot of applicants cannot answer. They may have had a one-hour course on cocktails, where they have learnt 23 things in a week. But, in reality, they have learnt nothing.”
Requests for crew rotation
A recent trend was a growing number of requests for crew rotation. More crew want to work intensively aboard a yacht followed by an extended break ashore. “I’ve had a lot of clients in the past year asking about 3:1 rotation for junior crew or even 2:1 rotation,” said Clarke. “How do you implement it? What’s the impact on crew salary and what are the benefits and negatives?” But crew rotation was not the only way to retain staff. Crew training and development, which would boost crew retention rates, could be improved on many yachts, he said.
Training and communication were also highlighted by Elise Ciappara, Pelorus head of Yacht Expeditions. “There’s no excuse not to train crew,” Ciappara told Town Hall delegates. “I worked on a dual-season yacht that did not stop chartering and we still found time every week for training,” said Ciappara. “We trained the interior staff to do deck jobs [such as driving the tender]. Not so often, the deck staff were trained in interior jobs.”
Whole-team training helps to develop “a family feel” and support networking within the crew, she added. This means the crew is much more flexible and able to bounce back from a crisis. Clear and simple communication from senior yacht staff and between crew members were essential to stop unexpected incidents or problems escalating into crises.
Pelorus uses a military planning model where the crew’s best responses to a full range of potential challenges are mapped in advance. “Having people who are practiced and calm in these situations can make all the difference between a fatal, or near fatal, accident and something that becomes a story to laugh about in the bar afterwards,” said Ciappara.
Crisis management is the speciality of Alex Kemp, partner with law firm HFW. He focuses on legal challenges arising from casualty management and crisis response including: salvage, wreck removal, groundings, collisions, fires and piracy. With fewer vessels active over the past 18 months, due to the global pandemic, there were fewer casualties requiring attention, he told delegates.
But vessel fires – both at sea and in the shipyard – were becoming more common. “We have seen several fires related to lithium-ion batteries in [superyacht] toys,” he said. “They are often cheaply-made Chinese batteries, which simply degrade when they get too wet or too hot. We have worked on several total losses of yachts where lithium-ion batteries were the cause.”
Shipyard fires are another emerging trend, according to Kemp. “There has been the Lürssen fire [in the builder’s floating dock in Bremen in 2018], which everyone knows about. But there have been other fires in Italy and in the Middle East very recently. It is something I’d be looking to mitigate if I was an owner or manager.”
Fires in Italy and the Middle East
Yacht fires tend to involve the total loss of the vessel – unlike collisions or groundings, which may be repairable, he said.
Kemp recommended a four-step plan to mitigate a yacht crisis. First, the effective use of planning and drills as a tried-and-tested means of crisis response. Second, planned communication to all stakeholders including: the crew, the insurers, the local authority and, if necessary, the press. Third, find someone in the local area to manage the salvage response, liaise with the local authorities and help the crew return home. Fourth, compile documentary evidence.
“After the physical response to the casualty, make sure you have preserved documentary evidence from the vessel and taken witness evidence from those involved,” said Kemp. “That means you have a paper chain [of evidence] should a claim be brought against you later on.”
Effective communication was again highlighted by Michelle Van der Merwe, Pantaenius, superyacht account manager. “In the event of an incident, it’s very important to communicate to all involved and to ensure onshore support is in place,” Van der Merwe told delegates.
There had been a few large outbreaks of Covid-19 on superyachts, but these had been remedied by deep cleaning and complete crew rotation, she said. “That was the only way to break the cycle. But fortunately, there was no very serious outbreak.” However, the pandemic had generated many enquiries about different cruising areas, changing itineraries and manning requests.
Meanwhile, here’s the answer to the espresso martini question, from Liquor.com.
- Add 2 ounces of vodka, 0.5 ounce of coffee liqueur, 1 ounce of espresso and 0.5 ounce of simple syrup to a shaker filled with ice and shake until well-chilled.
- Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
- Garnish with 3 coffee beans.
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