Page last updated at 01:44 GMT, Wednesday, 18 June 2008 02:44 UK

Crew crisis as super-yacht industry booms

By Katie Hunt
Business reporter, BBC News, Portsmouth

The "Pelorus", the luxury yacht owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich
Super-yachts are the ultimate status symbol

Wanted: crew for luxury super-yacht.

Travel to some of the world's most glamorous destinations with free board and lodging and an attractive tax-free salary of between 2,000 euros (1,600) and 10,000 euros a month, depending on experience.

Despite the obvious perks, there is a global shortage of the deckhands, engineers, silver-service stewards and gourmet chefs needed to run the world's 4,000-strong fleet of super-yachts.

These hyper-luxurious motor yachts can cost as much as $50m (25m) and stretch from 24m to 100m in length.

Demand for the ultimate status symbol is at an all-time high - the industry has grown at 500% a year over the past decade - but the vessels' captains and owners are struggling to find the crew they need.

The yachts are ridiculously big, it's really shocking
Rachel King, super-yacht stewardess

The newly-established Flagship Superyacht Academy, based in Portsmouth, is attempting to address this shortage.

The academy offers training in all aspects of seamanship - health and safety, engineering, navigation and hospitality.

Royal Navy standards

Sir Tim McClement, the academy's director and a former Royal Navy Deputy Commander-in-Chief Fleet, gives super-yacht crews bespoke courses at its facilities in Portsmouth and flies out to marinas worldwide to provide on-board training.

Sir Tim McClement
The Superyacht Academy doesn't disclose its billionaire clients

He says that 3,000 new crew members will be needed each to staff the hundreds of new yachts being built. Turnover is also high, with many crew only staying with a yacht for a season.

"It's cut-throat," he says. "If a captain has to go sea and he hasn't got someone, he'll go to the boat next door and offer them an extra 100 euros a week."

Sir Tim says the increased size and sophistication of newer yachts means specialist training is paramount.

The academy has access to the Royal Navy's state-of-the-art facilities, including its sinking-ship simulator and naval fire-fighting training centre.

Its clients - rumoured to include the yacht management company of Roman Abramovich, the billionaire owner of Chelsea Football Club - like the Royal Navy cachet.

The bespoke courses cost 10,000 euros a crew member, while individuals looking to get into the industry can take part in basic sea safety courses for 720 for the week.

Helipads and mini subs

Rachel King, 23, completed the academy's basic sea safety course earlier this month and begins work as a stewardess on a yacht based in the French port of Antibes this week.

Captain - navigation and cruising, leading the crew, looking after the owner and guests, controlling budgets
Mate - the captain's assistant and second-in-command
Engineer - ensures that every piece of equipment on board remains operational
Chef - responsible for preparing meals for both guests and crew
Interior staff - ensure that guests experience an enjoyable time while on board
Deckhand - the first role that individuals entering the super-yacht industry would normally undertake

Source: Flagship Superyacht Academy

"It's looking after the guests - silver service of course. A bit of laundry, cleaning cabins and the deck," she says.

She ultimately hopes to find a job as a permanent crew member.

Walking along the docks in Antibes, Europe's largest yacht harbour, Ms King's jaw dropped.

"The yachts are ridiculously big, it's really shocking. Some have their own helicopter pads."

Others sport gyms, mini submarines and swimming pools.

Unlike many crew, who simply want to spend a summer travelling to exotic destinations and rubbing shoulders with billionaires, Ms King plans to have a long-term career in the industry. She hopes to go into yacht management and charter marketing.

"If I go and do a few seasons as crew, I'll know the industry inside and out."

The training offered by the Superyacht Academy is not for the faint hearted.

Its fire fighting facilities at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth simulate on-board fires in the yacht's galley, engine room and living quarters with a maximum temperature of 300C.

As part of the basic sea-safety training, trainee crew members must climb down a ladder into a blazing room.


There is not only a shortage of quality staff on board the mega-yachts. The skills needed to build the hand-crafted vessels are also in high demand.

The credit crunch doesn't affect those who can pay millions and millions for a yacht
John Graham, Paragon Skills

Britain, along with Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the US, is a key centre for building super-yachts, which take at least 20 months to build.

Toby Allies, marketing director of Pendennis, a luxury boat builder based in Cornwall, says new demand is coming from Russia, the Middle East and the Balkans.

"People say that shipbuilding is a dying industry in Britain, but our business is thriving," he says.

Pendennis takes on 12 apprentices each year to keep up with demand.

Buoyant industry

John Graham, marine division director at vocational training firm Paragon Skills, says that Britain's marine industry workforce is ageing.

The 30m Nostromo yacht in build at the Pendennnis shipyard
Superyachts take at least 20 months to build

"There was a move away from apprenticeships in general about 10 -20 years ago, so we lost people at the base level," he says.

Mr Graham is working hard to correct this.

His firm offers training and apprenticeships in all areas of the industry - from building a humble wooden dinghy to ship upholstery.

But it is the super-yachts that drive demand and hold the most allure.

All the signs are that Mr Graham's apprentices face a bright future.

In the past month alone, US yacht builder Palmer Johnson has said it will begin building 100m-long motor yachts in Southampton, while UK motor yacht maker Sunseeker International has announced the expansion of its base in Portland, Dorset - creating a total of 1,050 jobs.

As Mr Graham explains: "The credit crunch doesn't affect those who can pay millions and millions for a yacht."

Super-yacht firm creates 800 jobs
08 Apr 08 |  Hampshire

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