NOTE: Megayacht News Radio is produced as a podcast and therefore designed to be heard. If you’re able, we encourage you to listen to the audio with Quay Crew, which includes emotion and emphasis that this page cannot convey. Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech-recognition software and human transcribers, and therefore may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio—each section is timestamped—before excerpting or quoting.
Charles Watkins, Tim Clarke, Diane Byrne
Diane Byrne 00:01
Welcome, everyone. While normally I greet you with a bit more of an upbeat tone, today’s podcast calls for a more sobering approach. Recently, I received an email that pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. It read, and I quote, “The superyacht sector is on the verge of a crew mental health crisis.” It came from Quay Crew, which is a crew recruitment agency, and in partnership with a company that provides mental health support to seafarers, Quay Crew surveyed more than 1,000 crew members worldwide. And they discovered some pretty startling realities. For one, nearly half of the crew surveyed have considered leaving yachting due to stress, isolation, burnout, poor leadership, fatigue, and other factors. Furthermore, more than half say that their mental health has significantly or somewhat deteriorated since they started working in yachting, and 62% say that they are unaware of any policies to address mental health problems. Now, as disturbing as all of this is, there actually is some good news from the survey. Among the crew members who were willing to talk openly if they felt like they were struggling, 30% say they would speak with a fellow crew member, and 85% of all of the crew surveyed say that they believe it would be helpful to have some kind of mental health training. Quay Crew’s survey had such profoundly important information that I have two guests here on Megayacht News Radio today. Each of them played an important role in formulating the survey and analyzing the findings. They are Tim Clarke, Quay Crew’s director, and Charles Watkins, who is the managing director of and a clinical psychologist with Mental Health Support Solutions.
Tim Clarke 02:08
Charles Watkins 02:09
Diane Byrne 02:11
Tim, I wanted to start with you. Why did you decide to launch the survey? And how did you and your team connect with Charles and his team?
Tim Clarke 02:21
So we’ve been aware that there was, obviously mental health issues amongst crew in yachting. I think they’ve been, you know, you hear stories on the grapevine, and every now and then you get to hear the details about what’s going on. I speak to a lot of captains as well, quite a few, quite a few of whom had confided in me that they’ve had issues on board, some of them as serious as they get. So we felt there was obviously an issue here, I think lots of people knew there was an issue. But without numbers and stats, it’s very hard to get a gauge on how bad that issue is. So we teamed up with MHSS. And obviously, we created the survey together to get some definite numbers on what is going on. And as I’m sure we’ll explore in a bit, some of those numbers were, were pretty scary. We connected with MHSS. They’re one of the market leaders in the commercial shipping sector, and look after or provide mental health support to a huge number of commercial shipping companies and crew. So we thought there would be a good person to talk to, and then it emerged that we could work in some form of partnership together where we can support the crew that we place with additional mental health support.
Diane Byrne 03:41
Charles, what do you think are some of the biggest takeaways from the survey results? What would you say are maybe two or three of the biggest findings?
Charles Watkins 03:53
I think one thing that stood out to me is that many of the crew, they know what poor mental health looks like. They they know the symptom in themselves, they see it in others, so they’re able to recognize it. But very few are able to actually help themselves or others. So there’s a real gap there between recognizing the symptoms and knowing it’s there. And then just having the resource to help themselves and knowing where to turn to. So I think that’s a that one struck me as huge when I was when I was reading it when I was looking at the data, but also the one of the major things that really, really struck me was 50% felt like leaving the industry due to mental health issues. And that’s a huge number. And only and only 7% said they had mental health first aiders on more people they could turn to and as we know they’re more likely to turn to people in their crew people that are that they’re surrounded with. So those are one of the main things that really struck me and I think things that we could also things you can actually change.
Diane Byrne 04:59
Yeah, those are good points. Tim, what would you say? I mean, I’m sure you agree that those were major points. But was there anything you would add to that?
Tim Clarke 05:07
Yeah, there’s a few different things that I think are relevant. First of all, some of the numbers, depending on how you filtered them was scarily high. Specifically, females under 30 seem hugely affected by this. I think the second thing which leapt out at me is how little effective support there is out there. Whilst there’s a selection of charities doing some great work, you know, there could be a lot more done. And it’s clear from looking at the results. A lot of crew don’t know how to access any of this support. And the last point, which Charles has identified as well, is the three main causes of mental health issues, which is burnout and fatigue. Crew politics, stroke, bullying, and harassment, and poor leadership. Actually, I think all three of those fall under the same bracket, that can all be traced back to poor leadership. Whilst there’s some yachts out there which are phenomenally busy, and it’s extremely hard to manage the hours of rest due to demands, there are lots of jobs out there where it shouldn’t be an issue. But it’s so yeah, I think the three main issues all stem from leadership. And that’s not necessarily captains, I’m talking about heads of department probably more than captain’s in some respects. So yeah, I think that’s the three main issues for me.
Diane Byrne 06:40
Yeah, yeah. Did any of that surprise you? Any of those aspects? We know crew work incredibly hard, long hours. And burnout obviously happens, as a result of that type of work environment. It doesn’t matter whether you’re on a yacht, or you’re in an office environment. You know, burnout is a reality. But were there any aspects from the findings that did kind of make you sit up and say, “well, we didn’t expect to hear that”?
Tim Clarke 07:07
So if you filter the report down by gender, the statistics are between 66 and 80%, of female crew are currently suffering from mental health issues, or have done whilst working on a yacht previously. So you know, between six and eight out of 10, currently or have is an absolutely awful, awfully high figure. That was shocking. And then I think something which stood out for me as well was how many crew didn’t know how to access, the support that was there. Various management companies have support in place. You know, there’s Medair is a company which supplies support, there’s an HSS, and things like that. But people aren’t accessing what is available. So yeah, that’s worrying. But hopefully, that should be something which is relatively easily rectified. And something else which leapt out at me, I’ve been convinced for years that a lot of the issues stem from alcohol and drug abuse. And there was a real disconnect crew could recognize that in others, but didn’t recognize it in themselves. So there’s a pretty high score where crew were saying, yes, alcohol and drug abuse is impacting on others mental health, but very few of them chose that as something which was impacting on them. It’s a tiny comparison. Yeah. And, you know, there are definitely, there is definitely a section of yachting which abused alcohol and drugs far too regularly. And yeah. And that’s obviously never going to be a positive.
Diane Byrne 08:44
Right, right. Charles, what about you? Was there was there anything among the findings that surprised you or maybe even didn’t surprise you?
Charles Watkins 08:57
Well, they’re shocking. But to be honest, that they weren’t very surprising. I’ve I’ve worked with with people, they’ve reached out to me, I’ve worked with people that were under extreme duress, they were suffering from depression, and someone was suffering from suicide ideation. In the, in the yachting industry. I’ve worked with the crew, and I’ve worked with captain’s officers. So I knew how much the Captain has an effect or superiors have an effect on the crew. But it was very helpful to see this, the people were honest about it. That’s what I thought was very nice to see. They’re finally speaking up. They’re honest about it. And to be honest, when when people reach out to me we have a case and the captain is very avant garde. And he’s he’s embracing of mental health, and you understand that he’s educated about it. It makes the case so much easier because he’s able to to help us deal with the case and deal with the crew member. And him being supportive makes all the difference in the world. Having a captain who for example, isn’t supportive who just doesn’t feel Believe it or simply, you know, just turns a blind eye to it. Again, makes case so much harder and very difficult to help the person in question. So yes, yes. Shocking. But to be honest, I was expecting similar results actually, you know, just being because I’ve dealt with with crew members in the industry. And I know how, how difficult it is and how difficult how leadership actually affects the entire crew.
Diane Byrne 10:25
Right, right. You know, Tim, I’m, I’m wondering if, to some degree, those of us in the industry, from the media, on my side, to project managers to brokers, shipyard reps, etc. I’m wondering if we inadvertently might not be partly to blame for some of these issues. And the reason I wonder that is because we tend to portray yachting to the owners and to the guests as this “your dreams come true” scenario, right? It’s the image of your dream yacht, coming to reality, your dream vacation, your dream holiday, coming to a reality where the service is exquisite, the food is outstanding, and the fun is off the charts. From the crew standpoint, we do portray it as being hard work, but it’s, it’s the polar opposite of your typical office job, right? You’re not sitting in this window-less, you know, office building in the middle of a noisy, busy, maybe even dirty city. You’re on this absolutely magnificent, beautiful yacht in the middle of some of the sunniest, warmest, you know, destinations on Earth. And I’m wondering if us wanting to portray that fun aspect, that attractive, literally and figuratively aspect is, is kind of making us want to kind of tamp down the negativity. We don’t want owners to think that there’s a challenge. We don’t want guests to feel like that there’s a burden or something going on behind the scenes that they shouldn’t know about. So, you know, how can we kind of balance our messaging to still make it clear that it is a dream come true, and it is a really nice way to work, without kind of putting on the rose-colored glasses too much?
Tim Clarke 12:24
I think that’s an interesting question, which will probably be an entire podcast on its own to explore the answer. Lots of crew entering the industry, undoubtedly have hugely unrealistic expectations about what it’s going to involve, and what’s going to be expected of them. You know, for every person writing a blog, saying, “This is what it’s like,” there’s, you know, 10 training companies telling wannabe crew that they’re going to make 1000s every weekend in tips, and they’re going to be living the dream, traveling the world in luxury, etc, etc. And obviously, all of that both both sides of the story are correct. But the reality is, as a junior stew, or junior deckhand, your job is going to involve a lot of mundane cleaning. And you know, without pointing the two finger too much at the younger generation, a lot of people entering the industry and really young. A significant percentage of those entering the industry have never had a full time job, never lived away from home. And I think you’re seeing is an incredibly pressurized environment, where you could be living with strangers for the first time in your life, in what is essentially a big brother like house, you know, anyone who’s got a bad behavioral trait, it’s magnified on a boat, especially as crew. And, you know, it really is in the deep end, you know, you could be working seven days a week, 15 1617, even 20 hour days, for weeks on end, depending on the job that you’re up. And if you’ve not come you know, if you if you’ve done a part time job down the pub a few nights a week for the previous six months whilst you’re finishing university or college is woeful preparation for working on a boat. So undoubtedly, the results show the younger generation are more impacted by this. And without going too deep or philosophical. And this isn’t your thing that’s to blame. This is society as a whole. You know, I think this is one of my pet subjects were going into here, but you know, like my son’s 11 years old now, we’ve not had a sports day for a while, but they’re, you know, the last sports day we had there was still no winners or losers. And that’s not real life. And that’s not building up. I think something we need to look at is crew and society as a whole. People need to build up resilience. And society is removing all of these things that might make people stronger personalities when they’re young or kids You know, even technology, we’ve now got Alexa, you don’t need to even need to move to turn up the central heating or turn off a light or order, whatever, you know, anything, any all hardships are being removed from life one way or another. And that isn’t good for work environment. answered the question, it’s all there. And I’ve got off on some tangents. But there’s a few relevant thoughts in there hopefully.
Diane Byrne 15:25
Right, right. Like you said, it really could be a whole podcast in and of itself. Because there’s, there’s certainly a lot to maybe digest and analyze. But I think you brought up some really good points. There’s a number of things that perhaps, aren’t really being considered as much, especially the fact that they are quite young coming into this industry, many of them probably have never been away from home before, like you’ve said, or even if they have been away from home, you know, maybe if they went to camp for a few weeks, that’s a very different thing. When you’re, you know, 12 compared to here you are as an 18, 19, 20 year old, and you’re literally living with the people you’re working with, you know, that’s, that’s a tough environment, that’s tough for somebody who’s even 30 if they’ve never experienced that before.
Tim Clarke 16:09
I strongly believe crew need more life experience for most of them for the ends of the industry, or not most but a good percentage. And I think a lot of people lack self awareness, working with a large number of people in close proximity. Do you get on with people? Do you like people’s company 24/7 If you don’t being on a boat is probably not the place for you. You know, if you’re a moody personality, who doesn’t cope very well, if you get less than eight hours asleep? Again, maybe yachting isn’t for you. You know, I think a lot of crew entering the industry lacks self awareness. And then they realize once they’ve joined, that, maybe it is or maybe it isn’t the industry for them. The problem is, it’s a very appealing industry, because it pays great salaries, there’s opportunity of great leave. And you know, all the benefits we’ve discussed earlier. And you’ve touched upon earlier, as came out in the survey, a lot of crew feel tied to the industry because of their golden handcuffs, they can’t leave because they’re earning so much more money than they ever could in any other sector. So you know, someone who doesn’t want to be there and is only there for the money is never going to be a positive influence on board a boat. That’s going to be the miserable negative person who upsets everyone else? If I’m miserable everyone else’s as well sort of attitude, even if they don’t, they’re doing it.
Diane Byrne 17:31
Yeah, yeah, good point. Good point. Well, as much as all of these details from the survey that you’ve brought up are really quite sobering, I did want to emphasize to people that you have concrete ideas on how captains, heads of departments, you know, even owners and the owners’ team can really start implementing differences or changes to kind of turn the tide. Charles, why don’t you weigh in on some of those things? And then Tim, I can I can bring you in?
Tim Clarke 18:08
Charles Watkins 18:12
Sure, so you want some ideas? How things can change in terms of leadership? Is that right? Yes. Well, I think the most important thing to note is that on a very basic level, let’s keep it very simple. You’re either afraid to speak up, and to admit that you’ve done something wrong or that you know, you haven’t done something the right way, or that you have shortcomings or that you’re not feeling good. You’re either afraid to do that, or you feel that you might be supportive when you speak up, and people will be there for you. That’s the bottom line really, because like Tim said, if you’re if you’re working and living there, you know, there’s nowhere to turn, you know, it’s kind of your your friends, your family, this is your you, you the people you work with are the people that you you’re going to have to rely on in some way, form or the other. So that’s what it comes down to. Is the person in charge, a compassionate leader? Is he does he understand the importance of positive feedback of work appreciation of mental health support? Or does he not? And, again, that’s what it comes down to? And you can you can do this by simply allowing people to go through simple training procedures that teach them the importance of Compassionate Leadership. How does that look like? You know, what, what are the parameters when resources have to be there? How do I inform my crew? How do I make them know that they can always come to me with things and they will not get penalized, but they will be supported? And people will work together to create that environment, those environments prosper. They’re more creative, feel more productive, people are more likely to admit mistakes. Think about that. It’s a mistake, friendly environment. Usually, especially in the commercial, industrial where I’m from. People are afraid to admit mistakes, but on those vessels where they have a mistake, friendly environment, people go off Say, Hey, I made a mistake. I’m very sorry. This is what happened to me and everyone else learns from it. So it doesn’t happen again. Those are the systems that make place. That’s the work culture that inspires people to come up, say, This is what I did wrong, let’s all learn from this, okay, and then move on. And it benefits everyone and personal development. But if you have a hostile work environment where you’re afraid to make mistakes, and we do make mistakes, you might not, you might try to put on the carpet. That’s when things get really bad because it builds up. Right. So again, I like to keep things simple on. And on that level. That’s what it comes down to. And you can do this by implementing proper trainings, for the people in charge to know how do I create a culture that supports mental health and is able to bring, you know, educate people on the importance of being compassionate, being supportive, and understand that mistakes are something to learn from, not to always, you know, be penalized and then have consequences. So, yeah, thanks.
Tim Clarke 20:58
Yeah. I’m in complete agreement with Charles. I think, if I was in charge of implementing or changing things on a yacht, the first thing I would do is make the captains and the heads go on leadership courses. There’s some great ones available. I’m hearing a lot of positive feedback regarding the Crew Academy in their senior leadership and command course. That’s a great course, that’d be my first step. I would look at building mental health awareness on board, you know, I’d be using someone like Charles to regularly do or webinars or training or whatever, I’d absolutely make sure the crew knew where they can access the support. And then a couple of things which are a bit more maybe holistic. There’s some yachts I know, they, they make sure they hire a PT. And so when there’s no no guests on the PT would do a training session, like every Monday, Wednesday, excuse me, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, and all the crew take part. You know, if you’re fit, and you’re training regularly, that’s great for mental health, but it’s also got the benefit of makes you more productive, concentrate better, etc. So that’s a really simple tweak, I think, which will help you recruit a better quality of crew help you retain crew, and it will make everyone healthier and happier on board. As previously discussed, I think alcohol and drugs, we’ve got a lot to answer for in this. So I will be running a yacht, which was a lot more I’ll be running yacht, which was fairly tight on alcohol, seeing the culture would be if you didn’t go out and drink on the weekend, fine. But midweek drinking, certainly to access would be frowned upon. And I regularly bring in drug testing. You know, if crew knew there, that’d be drug tested four times a year. And it was there to be a hair follicle test, and they’d be sacked. If they failed it. Or, you know, there’d be consequences. If they failed it, then they would not do it. Or they do it? Certainly, you know, it would it would cut down on it at least.
Diane Byrne 23:14
Right, right. You know, a lot of what the two of you have just said reminds me of a discussion I I’ve had with a good friend of mine who’s a business coach, when she and I met going probably about 20 years ago. And I said to her, “I’ve never heard of a business coach, I have to confess, you know, I’m don’t understand really what you do. Can you explain it to me?” And the analogy she used was that when you are an athlete, you may be quite talented and you are clearly gifted because a team hires you. But you still have a coach to help you improve your skills and become better in all respects. And she said, “That’s what business coaches do, too. We tap into what people do naturally well, and we help them deal with the areas where perhaps they aren’t doing as well.” They don’t like to use the word failure. Because nobody really is a failure. At the end of the day, we all have strengths and weaknesses, period. But the business coach’s job is to help somebody make the weaknesses less weak, and strengthen their their true strengths and really have those rise to the top over and over again. So it kind of strikes me that a lot of what you’re saying is that same concept of getting everybody on board starting with the leaders, whether it’s the captains or it’s the heads of the department, and even the crew, the the quote unquote, low-level crew themselves to understand what their strengths are, what the opportunities are, and recognize that making a mistake is not a weakness is as long as you don’t do it over and over again, then you learn not to repeat it and that everybody in the crew learns from it so that they can avoid that issue. So it’s the same concept of credit has been permitting business over the past couple of decades that perhaps is finally filtering into the the onboard world.
Tim Clarke 25:07
Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think there is a perception, you get your master 3000, or your master unlimited. And then you become a captain, where you’re at the top of your career ladder, what more could you possibly learn? And, you know, the reality is for modern day captain, driving the boat is probably about 5% of the role. And arguably the easiest part of the role. You know, the other 95% they have to wear a lot of different hats. And it’s very much like running a small business. And if I was a captain, I would constantly be looking to evolve and improve. And, yeah, one of the areas which I know personally I really lacking is leadership skills. So actually, I should do I should practice what I preach. And I should be doing a leadership course as we speak. But yeah, no. So yeah, there’s there’s that there is that issue, people have that thought mindset. I’m at the top of my game, I don’t need to do anything else. And the reality is, all of us could be better at certain aspects of our day to day jobs.
Diane Byrne 26:10
Yeah, definitely. Well, I want to thank the two of you for being here on Megayacht News Radio today and, and shedding some light on this. You know, mental health is thankfully becoming less and less of a taboo subject in society. So it’s good to see that this is also becoming less of a taboo in terms of, of yachting, and I think these younger generations certainly are much more apt to be much more aware and much more likely to speak up. So, you know, hopefully, things will just continue to go in that right direction. And I’m sure you’ve helped open a few people’s eyes, to have some really good simple changes can make a world of difference.
Tim Clarke 26:53
Okay, perfect. Thank you very much.
Diane Byrne 26:55
Thank you. I really appreciate it. Everyone. If you would like to learn more about Quay Crew’s survey, you can visit their website, which is key crew calm, that’s q-u-a-ycrew.com and click on their blog. That’s where you will find a full post about crew mental health. And there will be details from the survey there as well. Until next time, I’m Diane Byrne.