The yachting industry gets the crew it deserves
Having coffee after one of the discussion sessions at the Global Superyacht Forum in Amsterdam I was already feeling a little grumpy and annoyed following the morning’s session with yacht engine manufacturers. In several debates that day, various speakers made comments about the quality of yacht engineers and the training they receive, or about yacht crew in general.
Leif Gross, director of product development at Caterpillar, had said: "Usually, the crew, without blaming anyone, aren’t getting much more educated than they were in the past." he added: "It’s very nice that we are developing new technologies - diesel-electric propulsion systems and variable speed DE systems, LNG propulsion systems and all these kinds of things - but it’s very important that the training of the crew and the service providers is keeping up. There’s still a long way to go in order to develop the right training programmes for the crew on board."
In another session, Erwin Bamps, chief operating officer of Gulf Craft, declared: "Sometimes in our industry we oversell some features without considering that the crew may not be up to the mark to keep this working while at sea," while Martin h. Redmayne added: "You can have a great boat but the operation of it can make things go very badly," and Will Faimatea, director at Bond Technical Management pointed to the training schools: "I think it’s up to training schools to map out a career path."
As a training provider I take these things very personally across all departments. I, and many of my colleagues in other schools, have been uncomfortably aware for some time that there is more than a grain of truth in what those speakers were saying. So why did I get annoyed? Because of the assumption, implicit in all of these statements, that the crew are somehow to blame and that it is ’someone else’s problem’ to fix things. Perhaps we as training providers should be doing more - there is probably some truth to that - but we cannot do it alone.
All of the training that we provide, almost without exception, is generic; we can teach you how to run a fire hose, use an extinguisher, prepare a cocktail and navigate a yacht, but most of this would apply to any yacht. We do not know which fire extinguishers, type of radar, propulsion system and number and make of breathing apparatus sets you carry on board, nor the layout and design of your vessel. On-board continuous training to apply the general principles that crew learn with us is an indispensable part of the learning programme. So maybe the managers, captains and senior crew in our industry can take some of the blame for the problem highlighted in Amsterdam. It is certainly true that some yachts pay very little attention to on-board training, even in safety-related areas such as on-board familiarisation for new crew, let alone career development training. But promoting a more creative and imaginative approach to on-board education is only part of the solution - those who were complaining in Amsterdam need to step up as well.
Most of the courses that training providers run have a syllabus drafted by a lecturer at a UK nautical college on behalf of the MCA. For many courses this works well - the principles of navigation do not vary enormously from a supertanker to a sailing yacht, only the equipment carried - but in the more technical subjects there is a problem.
So here’s a question: how much do the authors of MCA engineering exams know about the range, type and complexity of equipment found on a modern superyacht? The answer: very little indeed.
The engineering courses, like those for the deck, are adaptations of those used for the general service merchant navy. But they are very generic. The needs of yacht engineers often fall through the gap between standard generic courses and the problems caused by lack of a ’training culture’ on board, already mentioned here and in other articles in this publication. For example, because they come from a variety of backgrounds, many yacht engineers express a lack of confidence in some areas for which their previous experience happens not to have prepared them. hydraulics, electrics and hVAC gas handling are all good examples of these areas and are commonly mentioned to our instructors. As Diane Franklin of E3 Systems recently pointed out in these pages, there is virtually no structured training at all for ETOs.
But there are two things we can do: work with the MCA to adapt the yacht courses more closely to our needs, and establish standards for non-statutory training and for on-board continuation training which we as an industry expect.
With regards to the former we are lucky. The MCA is one of the most flexible and responsive maritime administrations in the world. While it will not ’gold plate’ the international statutory requirements (UK government policy will not allow this), it will listen to constructive feedback. Companies and organisations can interact with the MCA via consultation panels and the organisations described below.
To establish our own standards we need to grow up as an industry and start to set the training agenda. The major
yacht organisations - LYBRA, MYBA, SYBASS, UCCINA and others - need to participate, as do the major yachting companies. Training providers cannot do this, nor would it be right for us to try. A good example of what can be done is the new Guidelines for Unified Excellence in Service Training (GUEST) programme set up by the Professional Yachting Association (PYA) after an extended industry-wide consultation. More of this needs to happen.
There are three organisations or forums through which both of these objectives could be advanced. Many yacht training providers are members of one or all of them.
The Yacht Qualification Panel is probably the most important MCA forum for our industry. It meets once a year in September for two days. Day one is an open meeting where any yacht organisation (shipyard, engine manufacturer, electronics company and so forth) can come by arrangement to discuss any training issues. (The UKSA in Cowes has hosted this in recent years). Day two is held at the MCA and is limited
to invited training providers with the PYA as an observer.
The International Association of Maritime Institutions (IAMI) is an influential organisation of merchant navy colleges and other trainers. It has members in several countries and has Deck and Engineering sub-groups which meet twice a year with the MCA to discuss training matters. Recently a new Limited Tonnage sub-group has been formed to handle superyachts, tugs and workboats. This is not an open forum, but I believe that an organisation with something to say would probably be allowed to come and say it. In any case, the PYA has permanent observer status on the yacht sub- group and could be a conduit for new ideas.
The PYA (which has observer status with the Yacht Qualification Panel and the IAMI) has a busy Career and Professional Development working group, and at the time of writing is actively engaged in re- establishing the Yacht Engineering working group (of which I will be a chairman). Both of these groups are open to, and desperately in need of, input from all corners of the superyacht world.
It is up to the major players in our industry to set expectations and standards, and to engage with the crew and with the training providers. And until they are prepared to do that, they should stop complaining.