Superyachting’s helping hand
With all the glamour of superyachts it can be easy to forget that superyachting is really about people – and with yacht crew at its core, the industry is looking out for their welfare through Yacht Crew Help.
In the early days of the superyacht industry, in the 1980s and 1990s when the fleet was a fifth of the size it is now and was one of the marine industry’s best-kept-secrets, crew often came from sailing or boating backgrounds and were often driven more by a passion for the sea than for any other motives. Nowadays, the fleet has grown massively both in terms of the number of yachts and their size, and superyachting has almost become mainstream as a career. There are more defined and more stringent qualifications based on commercial tickets, and there is more structure and more professionalism. It has become a sector that attracts people who don’t necessarily have that traditional boating background.
Enjoying an element of a yacht’s glitz and luxury – and definitely the travel – are part of being crew, but as has always been the case this is balanced by the hard work involved in running and maintaining a yacht, and catering to the needs of guests and charterers. As one interviewee for a crew survey responded, “You’re really connected, you get to know each other really quickly – you have friends all over the world and in every port you’re seeing if you recognise the boats to see if you might know anyone. You get to travel, to be at sea and to be outside. But you sacrifice a lot too.”
It’s that last point, and the findings of the survey in general, that inspired the yacht industry and the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network (ISWAN) to take steps to support crew worldwide. The impetus was The Welfare of Superyacht Crew survey conducted in 2018, commissioned by MHG Insurance in partnership with ISWAN, for which more than 400 crew responded to a comprehensive set of questions and interview requests. The results showed what many crew from all ages of the industry already knew – that with incredible upsides can also come significant downsides, such as social isolation, stress, long hours, or low crew morale.
The result was the formation of a specialist support service focused purely on yacht crew that aimed to offer not only various resources and online support for crew but also a 24/7, globally accessible helpline. The programme was called Yacht Crew Help. “Although the superyacht industry can be glamorous, the demands on crew are very high and living in your workplace away from loved ones can be tough,” commented then-Executive Director of ISWAN, who retired in 2021. “With Yacht Crew Help, we want to make sure that men and women working on superyachts can easily access the support available to them worldwide whenever they need it – free of charge, day or night.”
The pathway to Yacht Crew Help becoming the vital lifeline it is today was not straightforward, however. In early 2020, just as the covid pandemic was taking hold, the service was struggling to get enough funding to get off the ground. Enter Will Faimatea, a former crew member who stepped ashore in the early 2000s to form Bond Technology Management, a company specialising in the then-nascent superyacht AV/IT consultancy and support sector. Faimatea’s own experiences on board meant he could directly relate to the stresses faced by superyacht crews, and he was determined to make a difference.
“I got an email in the early days of the pandemic saying they were struggling to get money to get Yacht Crew Help off the ground,” he explains. I called Colin Squire (owner of Yachting Matters) who was helping to launch the Yacht Crew Help website and asked him what they needed because they were only getting small, individual donations in, and he said €20,000. I committed a large part of that, in May 2020, and that precipitated other big companies in yachting to jump on board too.” Those supporters include brokerage house Y.CO as another primary partner; Burgess, Nautilus International and the Professional Yachting Association as partners; and a host of other yachting and crew companies as supporters.
“Bond still supports them,” Faimatea continues, “because the statistics show that there is an impact on crew welfare through many elements, even as simple as loneliness or lack of sleep – I know all this from being yacht crew myself! I think it’s a very worthwhile cause.”
It’s all about putting people first – an aspect that is often lost on outsiders when all they see are the multi-million-dollar yachts themselves. “The most valuable component of the superyacht industry are the crews,” says one of the key members of the original Yacht Crew Help steering group. “Yacht Crew Help is key to educating and supporting yacht crew as they strive to deliver the excellence demanded by the industry.”
Mark Paterson, Director of Yacht Management at Y.CO – the other current primary sponsor of the programme alongside Bond TM – agrees. “Crew are the most important component of the running of a yacht and we are working with our owners to make sure that they are adequately looked after,” he states. “A happy, healthy crew is a safe and effective crew and we want to make sure that we are promoting the most positive onboard experience possible throughout our fleet. Moreover, the opportunity to partner with ISWAN and make Yacht Crew Help a reality has meant that mental health support is accessible to all yacht crew.”
It’s another marker in the yacht industry’s move to take care of its core workforce, and to recognise that even the hardest working and most stoic of crew may sometimes need to reach out to someone. But it’s also important to recognise that superyachting, and working as superyacht crew, is still an incredibly rewarding career that offers incredible opportunities. As another captain emphatically tells it in the 2018 survey, “I have worked in the industry for over 25 years and love it. However, at the age of 45 I am physically unable to complete an 18-hour day anymore. So I have saved my pennies and I am looking forward to my retirement in two years.
“I am old school,” he continues, “and have had an absolute blast sailing around the world many times and have memories to keep me giggling in my wheelchair for decades to come. What to improve? Nothing as far as I’m concerned,” he concludes. “Nothing is perfect but whatever’s not perfect about yachting is bloody perfect for me.”