With the global fleet of superyachts expanding at a rate of knots, Laurence Lewis looks at the challenge to build strong teams on board with crew from different cultural backgrounds.

working togetherThe yachting industry is in good health as seen by the number of sales recorded by the brokerage market in 2017 and by the number of vessels presently under construction and planned in the next few years. There are 773 yachts being built which will require up to 8,600 crew to man them and, together with the existing fleet, this could bring the total number of yacht crew in the world close to 85,000.

As the demand for qualified crew is increasing and looks set to rise further over the next decade, a shortage of new talent is threatening the yachting industry. The need to embrace cultural diversity in yachting has never been greater. English is of course the ‘lingua franca’ of our industry but no longer can our industry be the preserve of the stereotypical ‘Jolly Jack Tar’.

Candidates are required to disclose their nationality when they register on our database yet in order to comply with the need to prevent discrimination based on nationality, this is not a searchable criteria so we do not capture statistics as to who comes from where. We can however look at candidates who ‘check in’ and in any given period, over a third of the deckhands and stewardesses who check in are British, followed by South Africans and far behind Australians and New Zealanders and even further behind European citizens and the rest of the world. This gives us a snapshot of the industry and the makeup of the yachts (except for Filipino crew who mostly work with Filipino based agencies).

There are 28 countries in the EU, that’s 28 countries whose citizens can move with ease around the world, yet many of these countries are, for various reasons ranging from lack of seafaring traditions/maritime history from being land locked to lack of a long standing hospitality industry, to political isolation up to recent years, very much under-represented in the industry. Often, even at equal skill level when they come forth, crew coming from this pool of potential candidates struggle to break into the industry. This has to change, the industry needs to open up to new talent, yachting clearly needs more intercultural cooperation.

Yachts are of course highly self-contained, where crewmembers work and live together. More so then ashore, a sense of ‘belonging’ is necessary to build a successful team. Cultural diversity, when badly managed, can indeed be the source of further conflicts, misunderstandings, alienation and even a hazardous working environment. Multicultural teams are prone to ethnocentrism with minority crewmembers feeling ignored and disconnected which leads to low morale, frustration and a high crew turnover.

There is therefore no doubt that increasingly, the challenge facing captains will be to establish a cohesive team with crew from various cultural backgrounds and in doing so, develop a cultural intelligence allowing him to understand the ‘fault lines’ within the crew and the potential for misconception and miscommunication which may arise.

Making every crew member feel valued will create an environment of trust where people will know they can rely on each other to get the job done. There are no small jobs, everybody counts, everybody is essential in the success of a trip.

Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a good way to build personal bonds and will help in anticipating challenges.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of ONBOARD Magazine.