Managing yacht crews' health and happiness

A boat at sea
Wellbeing at sea

Martyn Swann, Business Development Director at Aetna International, explores the unique assistance needs of those working as part of an international yacht crew

Essential to running a happy ship is hiring the right crew, arguably any yacht’s most valuable resource. For many prospective deckhands, stewards and stewardesses, the lure of luxury, travel and adventure make it a dream job, filled to the brim with beautiful places, people and parties. However, the reality of the work can be vastly different, especially when you are geographically cut off from your usual support network and can’t always easily access friends, family or even a GP. So, once your ideal crew are in place, how can you make sure they stay engaged, happy and well? 

Beginning with health and safety 
Health and safety requirements are one thing, but the daily challenges faced by crewmembers go far beyond that. When long hours, hard work and extended periods away from home are the norm, it’s crucial to help crewmembers maintain and prioritise their health and wellbeing. The little things can make a huge difference to physical wellness, like an opportunity to exercise over and above the exertions of the work, access to fresh fruit, vegetables and plenty of protein, and making sure everyone remembers to keep hydrated, especially in warmer climates. 

When long hours, hard work and extended periods away from home are the norm, it’s crucial to help crewmembers maintain and prioritise their health and wellbeing

Keeping people mentally well, however, can be a more complex issue. The ‘work hard, play hard’ mentality common to yacht life really suits some personality types, but others can find that the unforgiving schedule is a one-way track to physical and mental exhaustion. To get some space, a good use of downtime is important – reading, relaxing, playing music, or doing anything else that helps you shut off for a few hours can really aid recovery and restoration. A strong sense of belonging to a team can also go a long way in preventing stress and burnout; fortunately, with the right mix of people, the camaraderie element of a yacht crew is often strong. 

Trustworthy support
If things do start to get a bit too much, and reliable mental or physical support is needed, it’s imperative for yacht owners and captains to ensure employees have access to the right kind of care as quickly as possible. However, that can be easier said than done. A nomadic life on the open sea means that when someone needs to talk to a doctor or mental health professional, it can take some time to get to the nearest hospital or surgery, leaving everyone hanging around the port indefinitely. Even then, there’s no guarantee of the quality of care that will be provided. 

This is where digital innovation really comes into its own to make life easier for both crews and captains. Having access to the right online tools from benefit providers can support all types of wellbeing requirements, from sourcing the right onshore medical help via extensive and trusted networks to being able to easily submit claims directly, rather than via a third party. 

It’s imperative for yacht owners and captains to ensure employees have access to the right kind of care as quickly as possible

Virtual healthcare solutions and employee assistance programmes open up options to remotely connect with first-class doctors, qualified counsellors and trained life coaches via phone, app or email. Being able to connect with a professional who speaks the same language as you can also be tremendously reassuring. When you are travelling all over the world, it eradicates any language barriers that might otherwise run the risk of incurring misunderstandings, affecting access to the right medical care. 

These simple but effective approaches allow care to be personalised while giving crew access to the guidance and advice they need to improve their health. Whether it’s to help with the management of chronic conditions, to be pointed in the right direction for useful meditation and stress management resources, to access ongoing counselling support or as a precursor to a face-to-face appointment, virtual healthcare provides straightforward access to high-quality primary care. Of particular pertinence for crews is that around two-thirds of people do not need to seek in-person care after their virtual consultation. 

At their best 
Captains and yacht owners have a duty of care to crews, and a significant responsibility to ensure they are equipped with the right access to healthcare, whenever and wherever they need it. After all, in close quarters, a first-class crew needs to be on top physical, emotional and mental form in order to do their job to the best of their abilities. From getting the basics right to the latest in digital innovation, the good news is there are many options for superyacht crews to manage their health and wellbeing effectively – and distance no longer needs to be a barrier in accessing the necessary resources.