There is a crew crisis brewing in the megayacht business: a lack of competent hands to take care of the thousands of feet of yachts that are under construction worldwide. In fact, by some estimates, if every one of those yachts were to hit the water today, there'd be a shortage of well more than a hundred crewmembers, making for a scenario in which many yachts wouldn't be able to leave the docks.
Plenty of people in the megayacht industry are doing what they can to drum up interest in this issue. The International Superyacht Society hosts introductory crew-training sessions at major boat shows around the world each year, for example, and many brokerage houses have crew-placement divisions to help current and would-be crew find a good fit. Some independent training and placement firms are even tapping into the power of the Internet, creating pages on social-networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. But it's not enough.
Enter Benetti, with an interesting—and unconventional—solution. A few months ago it decided to partner with Flagship Superyacht Academy, a maritime training organization which is part of the Royal Navy's training partner, VT Flagship. But signing the partner agreement wasn't the unusual part: Benetti sent five members of its after-sales service department to Flagship's UK base to undergo the hard, hands-on fire-fighting, sea-survival, yacht-handling, and first-aid indoctrination.
Why would warranty and technical-support staff do such a thing, and why would a boatbuilder, of all companies, be the one to send them? Vincenzo Poerio, Benetti's CEO, sums it up this way: "Our ultimate goal is to provide the owner with a fully tailor-made service." In other words, Benetti believes that it's all well and good to build an owner the yacht he or she has always dreamed of, but the effort is for naught if the yard's after-sales team can't lend support in the quest to find people adequately prepared to run the vessel. The problem deepens when you consider how crewmembers often abruptly leave one boat to go work aboard another, leaving little or no time to train a replacement. In the case of busy charter yachts with back-to-back bookings, novice crewmembers pressured to prepare for the imminent arrival of new guests don't have sufficient time to learn proper handling and safety techniques, opening the door to human error.
So what exactly did Benetti's team do? By being placed in lifelike scenarios at Flagship Superyacht Academy's facilities (with instructors alongside them to ensure a safe and controlled environment), they battled smoke, heat, and flames in replications of engine rooms, galleys, and passageways. They learned the proper way to administer first aid. And as the photos here show, they also experienced an emergency at sea, which required entering the water and inflating and boarding a liferaft, and a simulated sinking, in which decks, passageways, and rooms flooded. In each case the Benetti staffers had to learn to work as a team to tackle the emergency and to escape safely.
During the week, they also studied how to handle a vessel with a reduced crew, performed a safety inspection, and even learned about hospitality. (Don't scoff: Social skills are the cornerstones of good working relationships and an enjoyable yacht-ownership experience.)
Ultimately, for Benetti and Flagship Superyacht Academy, it all comes down to raising the bar. "We wanted to give the team a fully rounded experience similar to the training we would deliver for a whole crew," says Sir Tim McClement, the head of Flagship Superyacht Academy. "Our intention is to work closely with Benetti to raise the standards of crew training so that owners get the best out of their new yacht."
Down The Ways
A Middle Eastern owner christened Hana, his new CRN 43, in late March. As is tradition—at least at the Italian shipyard—the yacht slid into the water to the stirring sounds of an Italian aria, this time "Con te partir." Hana is the second hull of a new series at CRN (see "Star Power") and features a private balcony off the master suite.
In early April ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, the Germany-based shipyard conglomerate, announced the sale of Nobiskrug to a private-equity firm. Eagle River Capital, located in Guernsey, is the new owner, retroactive to October 1, 2007. No reason was given for the sale, though ThyssenKrupp is undergoing a restructuring, which is expected to result in two separate entities, a military sector and a civil sector.
Moore Stephens Yachting, which has been providing financial services to yacht owners for decades, is now offering assistance to yacht crew. Specifically, the company will advise crew on life, medical, disability, and travel insurance; savings plans; offshore accounts; and retirement plans.
Feadship's De Vries Makkum yard has been named Frisian Company of the Year, an award bestowed within the Dutch province of Friesland, following a referendum among the general public. The yard builds Feadship's XL line and does refits.
This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.