How can you find out about a yacht reputation?

Q: Ashleigh, Stewardess, 24:

“I’m new to the industry and I’m wondering if there’s any way to find out about a yacht’s reputation before I accept a job? I’ve had a few interviews, and I’d like to know if there’s any reliable source of information in the industry to tell me if I should be wary or not? I’ve heard some pretty bad stories at the crew house about people who have joined yachts that turned out to be a nightmare and I’m scared that could happen to me.”

A: The Crew Coach:

This is a really great question, and one I’m sure other new crew will be curious about. In an industry where there is very little public information available on individual yachts, how on earth can you find out about a boat before you join it—and sometimes avoid making a big mistake? There’s no official source for finding out what yacht reputations are, but that’s not to say there’s no information out there — you just need to know where to look. Here are a few suggestions about how you can find out what you need to know before you take the plunge and say ‘yes’ to that all important first yachting job (or for that matter, any yachting job!)

Google it

These days you may be able to find out some information about who owns the yacht by doing a bit of online digging, and you might even come across a few mentions of particular yachts on crew forums etc. I’d caution you well about not believing everything you read on the internet, but this can be a good place to start. Some charter yachts even have their own website with crew profiles, blogs and information on their travels, which can be a really good insight into the yacht. You may well find information about the yacht on yachting magazine websites or management / brokerage websites too, although these are all most likely to be singing the yacht’s praises rather than giving an honest appraisal.

Approach Facebook with caution!

There were a few yacht rating groups on Facebook that sprung up a couple of years back—but by the looks of things they’ve not really caught on at all. And that’s not really a surprise, given that discretion is pretty much the core foundation stone of the yachting industry, and professional crew know that posting their opinions about particular yachts in a public arena really isn’t the done thing. Also, you must remember that most people will only post negative feedback on these sites (often when leaving a yacht under bad circumstances) so it’s probably wise to take negative ratings with a pinch of salt anyway as they could well be heavily biased.

Ask the community

The yachting industry is a word of mouth industry above all else, and this is where you’re going to get your best information. Ask anyone who works with yachts – suppliers such as provisioning companies, chandleries, uniform suppliers… they may well know of the yacht and its reputation.

Crew agents are your official source of information, although they’ll obviously be a bit cautious with the information they give about boats they represent. Stick to general questions about culture and the age of the crew, and whether the crew has good longevity.

Ask good questions in the interview

Your best way of knowing what the yacht is like to work on is to ask questions of the person interviewing you—but don’t make the mistake of asking the identity of the owner as that won’t go down well at all!

Keep your questions general, such as: What does the crew like doing in their downtime? Is the crew young, or a bit more mature? Do they enjoy watersports, or exploring the places the yacht visits? Does the boat tend to come into port, or is it at anchor a lot? Why did the last crew member leave the yacht? Do the departments all socialise together, and pitch in to help each other? Is it a more strict culture onboard or relaxed? (Don’t ask all these questions, just pick a couple that matter to you!)

Tip: You want to make it very clear that you’re simply trying to find a good professional fit, rather than being nosy or fussy. This can be a fine line, particularly with old school yachting types who aren’t accustomed to green crew asking questions, so if you notice the crew agent/captain react suspiciously to your questions, you know it’s time to ease off or explain your reasons for asking.

Ask other crew

You’re new to yachting, so it can be difficult to know where to turn to find things out if you don’t know anyone yet. But yacht crew are a friendly bunch, and you’ll often find that a casual question about a yacht when chatting at a bar will often bring you some useful information. Don’t make any assumptions, or add anything negative from your opinion- you don’t know whether the person you’re talking to knows someone onboard!

Tips: Never say ‘I’ve heard that X yacht is terrible to work for, do you know if that’s true? Lead with something very general, like ‘Have you ever worked on X yacht? Or have you heard anything much about X, I’m up for an interview’. You definitely don’t want to be seen as a gossip, so minimise your questioning to a few people who have been in the industry a while and seem like they can be trusted to give you good advice. The more you network, the more you’ll learn.

Request an onboard interview

Aim for an interview onboard the yacht if possible, rather than in a crew agency or café. Being on the yacht gives you an important window into the crew dynamic­-are they happy and welcoming? How do the crew interact with the HODs, is the relationship more formal or casual? The atmosphere of a yacht is a huge indicator of what it’s like to work onboard, so go for an onboard interview if you can- even if you have to travel a way to get there.

Go with your gut instinct

You mention that you want to find out if you should be wary or not, which indicates to me that something in the interview process made you a bit cautious and wanting more information. Find out what you can about the yacht through all the ways mentioned above, but ultimately you have to trust your own instinct. Did you come away from the interview feeling excited, or uneasy?

Some warning signs to look out for

If the yacht is hiring numerous crew at once, this could potentially be a sign that things aren’t going well onboard, if they have had a big crew change. Having said that this is not always the case – it could be a new yacht or it could have a new owner and many of the crew could have gone with the old owner to a new yacht, so again you can ask discretely about the reason for the position becoming vacant and that should put you in the picture. Same goes if the majority of crew haven’t been onboard for long (with obvious exceptions like new boats/new owners/new captains.) Yachts with high turnover generally have some serious problems that can make them unpleasant to work onboard. If you find a yacht with a good proportion of the crew being on board for over 2 years, you’re probably onto a well-run boat.

If the captain and or crew agent are evasive about the crew and culture, this can be a sign that crew life isn’t particularly harmonious. To a lesser extent- if a captain is unwilling to share any general information about what it’s like to work for the owner, this can be an indication the owners are tough to work for.

Also, a word of warning to the new: If a captain says ‘the boss can be demanding’, that is yachting code for ‘the boss is VERY demanding’ (AKA a total nightmare). This is an industry where guests are demanding as a general rule, so if the captain feels the need to point it out, then you can be sure the boss is going to be more than a little bit difficult. However, that’s not to say you shouldn’t take the job, just that you’ll need to be prepared to do your very best in potentially difficult circumstances! Strangely, sometimes yachts with difficult owners have really strongly bonded crew because they have all had to pull together to survive!

Unfortunately, there’s no sure way of knowing what a boat is like until you start working on it. Your best bet is to do as much research as you can, ask around delicately, ask good questions in the interview…and go with your gut instinct!

Do you have any other suggestions for finding out a yacht’s reputation prior to taking a job? If so please add your comments below!

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