Whilst working as a captain, first officer or other senior crew member on board a superyacht can seem like plain sailing, there are occasions when the relationship between a member of the crew and their employer can turn sour.

Adam Ramlugon and Mark Needham, both prominent members of our Superyacht Group with significant experience dealing with crew employment matters, have put together the following guidelines to assist yacht owners, managers and crew alike to avoid disputes and, where unavoidable, pro-actively manage them.

You can also read a pdf version here: Crew Employment – Shore Up Your Position

Introduction / About Us

As a specialist superyacht law firm acting for a number of UHNW yacht owners our work very often involves advising owners on the obligations that they owe to the seafarers employed on their yachts. We are very fortunate to work with some truly inspiring clients and alongside some of the finest yacht management companies in the world. Disputes between our clients and their seafarers are therefore rare.

However, our experience affords us a unique insight into seafarer disputes. It means that we know when and why disputes arise, and what pre-emptive action can be taken by both sides to try and avoid them.
We set out below some guidance notes for owners, seafarers and crew employers. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list or complete handbook, but some practical and commercial recommendations for both parties.
Maritime Labour Convention 2006

Before turning to our recommendations, any discussion of seafarer employment would not be complete without reference first being made to the Maritime Labour Convention 2006 (the “MLC”).

The MLC is an International Labour Organization convention established in 2006 and represents the “fourth pillar” of international maritime law. It is widely regarded as the most comprehensive piece of maritime employment legislation in modern history. Its objective was to replace the previously “piecemeal” legislation with a set of global maritime labour standards.

The MLC applies to the vast majority of the well established yacht registries (and therefore yachts flying those registries flags), including prominent yacht registries such as the Cayman Islands. At the time of writing 66 counties have ratified the MLC and undoubtedly this list will continue to grow over time.


Who are the parties to the Agreement?

It sounds simple but one of the most fundamental points to check both prior to and when a dispute looks like it may arise is the identities of the parties named on the seafarer employment agreement:

  • Are these are the parties you anticipated?
  • Are there any other parties to the agreement other than the employer and the seafarer?
  • If so, who are they?

Readers from the superyacht industry will know that it is commonplace for seafarers to be employed by one company (often a company set up by the yacht manager or crew employer) and for the yacht to be owned by another. Knowing who the relevant parties to the employment agreement are, is essential for ensuring compliance with the dispute resolution provisions of the agreement and effective dispute resolution.

On board complaint procedures

In order to comply with the MLC, a yacht must have an “on-board complaints procedure” in place, and each seafarer should be provided with a copy so that they know what to do should a problem arise.

Apart from being an MLC requirement, this is also a helpful tool in nipping potential disputes in the bud at an early stage. In practice, this procedure has been shown to stop what are otherwise trivial disputes from developing into trenchant legal wrangling.

A well drafted complaints procedure should include:

  1. The name of a nominated person on board the yacht to whom the seafarer can turn for confidential and impartial advice in respect of their complaint. This is usually someone senior and well respected such as the first officer or the captain; and,
  2. The contact information for the department or individual with whom a seafarer can lodge a complaint at Flag state level – This right is expressly enshrined in the MLC.

Furthermore, the complaints procedure should ensure that:

  1. Complaints are resolved quickly and effectively, at the lowest level practicable;
  2. Complaints are addressed to the head of the seafarers’ department or to their superior officer;
  3. Complaints regarding health and safety matters are reported to the safety officer;
  4. The head of department or superior officer attempts to resolve the matter within a prescribed time limit appropriate to its seriousness;
  5. All complaints and associated decisions are recorded and copies are provided to the seafarer concerned;
  6. If a complaint cannot be resolved on board, the matter is referred ashore to the shipowner who is given an appropriate time limit for resolving the matter.
  7. The master maintains confidential records of all on board complaints.
  8. The shipowner maintains confidential records of all on board complaints, including those against the master.

In short, the procedure should be focused on the resolution of complaints at the first possible opportunity. Disputes can be costly and time consuming and it is generally in both parties interests to take a pragmatic approach to their resolution.

Eliminate “Emotion”

One thing that we can all be guilty of is acting on emotion rather than with a level head.

However, the early resolution of a dispute is much more likely where both parties focus not on what was said and done, but how the material issues are likely to be resolved.


In the context of “on-shore” employment disputes, utilising mediation is quite common place. In fact, the courts widely encourage all litigants in England and Wales to mediate their disputes at the earliest stage possible.

Mediation allows all parties to ventilate frustrations and concerns and in many cases leads to an amicable resolution saving time and costs.

For more information on the above or should you require any assistance in relation to any of the matters discussed in this article, please get in touch.

Adam Ramlugon
Bargate Murray
E: Adam@bargatemurray.com 
M: +44 (0)7966023951 
T: +44 (0)2073751393 
F: +44 (0)2073929529 

Mark Needham
Senior Associate
Bargate Murray
E: Mark@bargatemurray.com
M: +44(0)7581130546
T: +44 (0)2073751393
F: +44 (0)2073929529