Q: Yacht Stew Solutions has an interesting mix of courses, offering what many would consider “Yacht Service 101” instruction (food and wine pairing, silver service, interior management, etc.) along with classes in professional behavior, ethics, and gossip control. Are these latter classes required of all students?
A: At this time there are no standard requirements for interior service. The Professional Yachtsman’s Association is working with the best training professionals from all over the world this summer to set standards. In the future we hope to have training levels and qualification standards defined.
For now, I think that the topic is open to interpretation. Every yacht has its own culture and its own service standards and expectations. I prefer to create custom systems for each boat so we can draw on the strengths of the team and build up the areas that are weak. And then we need to follow up and recalibrate from time to time.
Sometimes the biggest problems onboard are interpersonal. Often a stew is promoted up to the chief position because she is a great worker, but then lack of leadership or management skills can create conflict and destroy her confidence.
Q: Social media usage is high among the age groups that crewmembers comprise. It can be a terrific tool, helping publicize a charter yacht’s availability, for example, or even simply helping a busy crewmember keep in touch with family and friends back home. Do you find that students use social media properly, or do they sometimes seem naive about what they should and shouldn’t post online? What are the concepts your team conveys to them?
A: I think social media usage is one of the hottest topics there is right now. There are some big problems here! On the one hand, it is a great tool for marketing and for crewmembers to stay in touch with family and friends. This can be a difficult and lonely lifestyle, and social media can really be a source of comfort for some. But limits have to be set and accountability has to be monitored. Too much of the wrong information going viral where millions of people can stumble upon it can cause serious problems. If you have signed a confidentiality agreement, it might not simply be a breach of etiquette; it might be a breach of contract. We’re dealing with young people here who are just developing their professional identities, who sometimes don’t always use the best judgment.
We have to set an example and clearly outline what is and is not acceptable behavior. Change will happen. It happens faster if it comes from the top down, but it happens from the bottom up as well. The perceptions of what is or is not acceptable behavior changes over time. The negative impact gets diluted, and social mores evolve. We have more control of the outcome if we choose to participate in the process.
Q: What are tips you’d give to an owner and captain who have an adequate crew but one that could benefit from more professionalism in behavior?
A: I would suggest that they break their issues down and discuss things. There are a lot of areas where cultures and personalities of the crew clash. Men and women look at things differently, and you may not be speaking the same language.
Often the different departments don’t respect each other because they don’t know the complexities of one another’s responsibilities, and so can’t empathize with each other’s frustration. On more than one occasion I have heard the expression that “being a stew is not rocket science,” but I wonder how many captains really understand how complex the job is. Probably, only the ones who have been screamed at mercilessly for years by the chief stew! I would like to develop a cross-training class for captains and owners. There is really a lot of interesting history and tradition playing out that would help them appreciate things.
I have found that most of the time, the guys on the boat would like to learn about etiquette, wine, and bartending, too. Some of my best experiences have been on boats where the stews serve the deck crew formally. The guys get a better idea of what goes on in the dining room, and the girls get a chance to practice without stressing out too much. It can be really fun!
It may be difficult to define what the problems are, but I would say it is going to be ethics/etiquette/interpersonal issues either among crew or between crew and guests. Or it will be service or management issues. There has been a lot of buzz about personality assessment tools for crew lately, and I think that it is a great idea. In my management classes there is always interest in learning to handle crew conflict and teaching people how we expect them to behave. I think we all know how we are “supposed to” behave, but acting up is often part of someone’s personality. It becomes part of the camaraderie onboard, but we have to know where and when to draw the line.
Obviously, I am a big proponent of training. I think it motivates people and gives them an opportunity to develop new bonds and create new interests. It also shows them that their hard work is acknowledged and rewarded. It’s all about perception. If we can improve the view, why not do it?