Getting the most out of your crew agent

Written by Erica Lay for Onboard Online

In today´s yachting industry time is usually of the essence. Busy programmes and tight yard periods keep the pressure on the team; as yachts increase in size and complexity so must the crew. Sometimes a captain simply doesn’t have the time to source individuals with the specialist skills and experience required – that´s ok though, that´s where people like me, the humble crew agent, come in.

Each year that passes sees yachts grow in size and with the rate of developing technology so do the systems on board. As such, new positions have arisen. For example we now see Interior Managers residing above Pursers and Chief Stews, and ITOs (Information Technology Officers) working alongside the ETOs and Engineering teams. Quite often with these specific roles we need to spread the net a little wider and actively seek people from outside the yachting industry. This takes time and research; quite often the yacht captain or manager simply does not have the time to dedicate to finding these people.

The same goes for the traditional positions; everyone in yachting knows how hard it is to find a suitable engineer, so that´s why crew agents evolved. We have a niche to fill, and we have evolved further to satisfy the different wants and objectives of our clients.

If you want to get the best service out of your crew agent you firstly need to consider exactly what it is you want to achieve. For example, some captains would rather do the leg work themselves and search through suitable CVs on a database and check the references to get feedback from industry peers. In this case, a head hunter style agent probably isn´t for you – it´s more expensive and if you are going to be repeating their work anyway it´s a little pointless. For this reason we are seeing more and more of the shopping cart approach agents popping up. You can pay an annual fee to search through an online database yourself and contact whoever you like for any position. Works for a lot of people, time permitting!

Also social media is a great and effective way of gathering CVs for positions. Be warned though; you will have to sift through a large number of applicants in order to find those crew who are suitable. Try it – it’s quite and experience; a captain said to me in Antigua earlier this year he had been inundated and it gave him a new found respect for what I do. Which was nice!

However, if you´re super busy, in a rush, or maybe you just don´t like sifting through CVs, that´s when you get to call the recruitment agents like me. These guys (should) work with you to determine your exact needs. In my experience, every client is different and it takes a little time to get to know them. A client usually gives me the basic information on what they are seeking, I then drill down a bit to get some more details to help me find just the right fit. On paper it is often straight forward; e.g. Captain Bob on the busy travelling chartering 50m MY Bertha is seeking a chief mate holding CM3000gt, with at least a year´s experience as mate on a similar sized vessel. But it´s my job to find out the type of personalities found on board; my aim isn´t just to find a guy with the right ticket and experience, it is very important he fits in with the captain and existing crew.

So to do this I would ask the captain various questions that aren´t specifically related to the positions. For example I might ask about the ages of the other crew on board, overall or in the team the new crew member will be working in. I might ask about the languages spoken onboard, the nationalities, experience levels of other crew and skill sets. Also I try to find out what the crew do in their spare time to unwind. Are they party animals? Homebodies? Are there lots of couples on board? Do the crew socialize together out of hours or do activities together? There are lots of different factors to consider in creating the perfect team.

Agencies like mine interview crew in person wherever possible; not just to determine experience levels but to get to know them a bit too! Personality goes a long way. We thoroughly check references and ask a lot of questions – again not just about work ethics, and skills but about them as individuals, how they interact in a team environment and how they get on with the other crew members especially when under pressure. I understand how demanding it is to work and live in a tiny space, so it´s incredibly important to find personalities that mesh well. Sharing a cabin with someone who is your polar opposite is, to be frank, a total nightmare. Having common interests is important.

The way to get the best out of a crew agent is to help them build a relationship with you. Some clients send out emails to a number of crew agents which often results in all of them racing each other and bombarding the client with CVs. The client then has the unenviable task of working out who sent whom first… and informing all the agents during the ensuing bun fight. Some agents will throw CVs at the client to cover all bases, without being sure these crew really tick all the boxes, or worse, before confirming the crew member is even properly interested. When a captain sends out blanket requests it doesn´t really give us agents the opportunity to really investigate the role. The emphasis is often on commissions over the actual level of service required which results in the client being bombarded with unsuitable CVs and gives us agents a bit of a bad name. But we do understand that sometimes you have what feels like five minutes’ notice so the only way to cover yourself is to contact lots of agents at the same time. In those situations it´s a free for all, and if you need a crew member that urgently you´re probably not going to be quite as picky as when you have time on your side.

In an ideal world the client should take the time to develop relationships with a few good crew agents in different locations. Build that relationship so the agent knows you well enough to be able to judge who you would like to be working in your team. Ok, it could be a little bit arduous at first or a little hit and miss, but once you take the time to understand each other a little you will reap the long term benefits. When your lead deckhand slips and twists his ankle mid charter and you need another one to start the same day you should feel confident enough in your crew agent to be able to pick up the phone and tell them you need a new one, and now! They should already have a file on your vessel and probably on you too, so they know exactly the type of people you need.

Each yacht has its own programme and demands, your crew agent should understand that, and more importantly understand you. Your agent of choice (or agents) should be on the ball. You should not be asked the same questions every time you call… “is it private or charter?” “Motor or sail?” “How many crew?” etc etc. And if you are? Give me a call...