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“No South Africans Please”

South African Yacht Crew

This blog is not intended to be divisive, but I feel that it is something that needs to be addressed.

I was asked to weigh in on whether any nationality appears most prevalent in yachting by a yachting publication recently. As far as I can tell it is South Africans by some margin but why is this? Where have all the Kiwi’s, Aussies and Brits gone?

Many are still there, but there definitely seem to be more South Africans looking for work than crew from elsewhere. This can be due to many different factors such as Aussies and Kiwis being locked out of their countries due to Covid lockdowns and not wanting to ‘risk it’ again, Brexit, higher wages for shore-based positions in first world countries etc. etc. but why so many South Africans?

It’s very simple, it’s no secret that South Africa as a country has been struggling for many years. Unemployment and crime are high, job prospects aren’t that great, the currency is weak and the power grid is on its last legs leading to daily power outages of up to 10 hours in places.

Add to this the fact that many of the almost 60 million South Africans have watched Below Deck and have ‘a mate on a boat’ posting great pictures on social media and it’s no wonder that Yachting seems like a great opportunity to ‘get out’. The net result is hundreds, if not thousands of eager young crew looking for work in Europe or further afield.

The problem with being a majority is that it only takes a few bad apples to tarnish a reputation.

A case in point was an interior manager I spoke with, who mentioned that they had a terrible experience with a South African crew member in the past which resulted in the owner no longer being open to considering any South African in the future. Of course this is a more isolated incident, but is worth noting.

There is also a diversity element to consider – A captain who asked us to find a deckhand for them mentioned that of the 25 crew on board, 18 were South African and he would prefer someone of a different nationality for this role. No problem, completely understandable, let’s find you that deckhand!

Of the 200 applicants we received, 175 were South African and the remaining 25 either were not available in the given timeframe or did not meet the requirements.

Difficulties in obtaining visas for South African crew was previously sighted as the main reason for yachts favouring non-visa-restricted crew, however these days “the wrong attitude” is often mentioned as a reason for not being favourably viewed. Of course, it goes without saying that this is the case for a lot of crew regardless of nationality, but being the majority means that most are painted with this brush.

Our job as a crew agent is to find the very best candidate for a given position taking into account all the client preferences, crew dynamics, qualifications and packages on offer. This is no mean feat as anyone who has recruited crew will attest to. Tom made mention of this in his recent blog “I hated crew agents, so I became one”.

My time on board yachts and more recently as a crew agent has taught me a huge amount, not least that the best candidate for a position may not be the one that ticks every box.

I always encourage clients and crew to tell us what they are and aren’t flexible on.

Of course, there are manning requirements and other constraints to consider, but ultimately it comes down to trusting that your agent can find the best possible person given the parameters of the job and the current crew market.

We all want a rockstar however they aren’t always available when they are needed and most will have more than one job offer to choose from. In my opinion, the best crew member is the one that ticks as many boxes as possible and has the correct mentality. This is what separates the best crew from the rest. Having every ticket in the book or 20 years of experience does no one any favours if you aren’t also a good crew member.

It is very disheartening to tell a great candidate that they aren’t being considered further for a position based on something that they have no control over – In this case Nationality.

That said, I am also a firm believer that there is a ‘right fit’ for everyone and we enjoy the challenge of finding it.

I suppose I am extremely fortunate that South Africans were sought after by most back in 1999 when I started yachting.

Perhaps we can focus more on “the wine and not the label” when looking for our next crew member?

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