Meet Oliver Lewis, a captain with a passion for the sea and an impressive career spanning over 20 years. Oliver is the captain of a beautiful 55m Amels yacht PAPA and with us he shares his insights on what he looks for when interviewing crew, his favourite cruising ground and one spot he recommends everyone seeing at least once in a lifetime.
He also talks about his management style and his thoughts on crew retention, emphasizing the importance of creating a positive work environment where crew members feel valued and appreciated. He notes that rotational roles and competitive compensation packages are key factors in retaining top talent in the industry.
As a seasoned captain with years of experience working with crews, Oliver understands the value of having a committed and motivated team.
1. How did you discover the yachting industry?
I always had a desire to work at sea. I grew up on the coast and had my first inflatable dingy when I was around 7 or 8. When I was a little older, I worked in the local chandlery and marina during school holidays, became a powerboat instructor at weekends, and volunteered for the RNLI.
There are generations on my father's side who had all been Seafarers in different capacities, so I suppose you can say it was in my blood. When I finished school, I had every intention of joining either the Royal or Merchant Navy, but my father rightly advised me to get a trade under my belt as a fall back.
I completed a four-year apprenticeship as a Ships Joiner, in Pendennis Shipyard, in my home town, and it was there that I was exposed to this remarkable industry. The end of my apprenticeship coincided with the launch of the 55m M/Y Steel, that I had been building for the 4 years prior. I took a gamble and was able to secure myself a job as a deckhand. That was just the start of a truly incredible journey.
2. How do you manage the various pressures that come with being a yacht captain?
Captains are often under a lot of pressure from Owners and Charterers to deliver regardless of the challenges that you may be facing, it could be weather, mechanical issues and breakdowns, operational limitations, crew tribulations, or sometimes it's just trying to make the impossible, possible.
It's vital that regardless of the situation you remain cool, calm and collected; As the Captain, everyone looks to you for comfort and reassurance, you cannot be visibly panicked and stressed, it's just not an option.
3. What qualities and skills do you prioritize when selecting new crew members? What is something that impresses you and something that makes you hesitant to hire a candidate?
A crew member that can bring something else to the table is always attractive, this can be anything from an interest in film making, a carpenter, water sports instructor, fisherman, personal trainer, a DJ or even a lifeguard. There are no specifics, but I always try and look for a skill that has added value to the program.
Longevity is also very important to me. With exceptions for the last few years with the pandemic, if I see a CV where a crew member has only spent 'months' on several different vessels, it will often go to the back of the pile.
4. What is your favourite cruising ground?
I was very fortunate to spend many years around SE Asia, the Western Pacific and Japan which I loved. The infrastructure for large yachts is very limited and can be challenging, but it forces you to think outside the box and find solutions.
Western Micronesia sticks out as one of my favourite destinations. Most of the crew were avid divers so every opportunity we had we were out diving on some of the best dive sites in the world. There's a lot of the world that I still haven't cruised, and I'm always excited to tick off some of those places.
5. What is one spot you would recommend everyone seeing at least once in a lifetime?
In Palau, there is a famous 12000-year-old attraction known as Jellyfish Lake, where everyday, millions of jellyfish migrate across the lake following the sun, and you can swim with them! It's a remnant of the last ice age; sea levels rose and began to fill the basin with sea water, as the glaciers receded, there was no place for the jellyfish to go.
The isolation in the lake allowed them to develop and become their own species. The jellyfish live off algae, and over time evolution has negated the need for them to catch prey so they have no sting.
6. How would you describe your management style?
As a Captain, you need to wear many hats. You need to be a good leader, a listener, a go getter but at times you also need to be a shoulder to lean on. I suppose I would describe myself as firm but very fair, I like things to be done correctly, it leaves no ambiguity.
I've been a deckhand, and I haven't forgotten what it was like. I acknowledge hierarchy, but I ensure every crew member, regardless of rank receives the same courtesy and attention. I rely greatly on the senior crew to run their own departments. I always have my finger on the pulse but it's incredibly important to give them the opportunity to carry out the job they've been employed to do, to their full capability.
7. What are some traits you value in crew you work with?
It's very important to me that crew value their roles onboard and always have the upmost respect for the vessel and their owners. I'm a great believer that we are all afforded a good way of life and that the owners should be afforded the same courtesy whether they are onboard or not.
I always appreciate crew who are willing to that extra mile to complete a given task, rather than stop at the strike of the clock.
8. What would you say contributes most to crew retention?
When crew wake up in the morning, smiling and excited to start the day; that's what we aim for. Crew should feel valued, everyday should be a learning day.
I've seen a considerable increase in rotational roles across the board over the last few years and this makes me very happy. I'm grateful to have had rotation for the last 8 years, I have a wife and daughter at home and I couldn't do this job without it.
I've certainly seen a decrease in crew movements for those fortunate enough to have rotational role. With the industry booming and more and more yachts being delivered, its important that crew renumeration remains competitive; The best crew now command the best packages.
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