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How to Break into Yachting

Mar 23rd 09
By Kelly Sanford

The bars and blog-spots are suddenly full of chatter about breaking into the yachting industry, not to mention’s ongoing Forum,“Getting Started.” A reoccurring conundrum for newbie crew is what exactly constitutes “experience?”

It doesn’t matter what position you are looking for, whether it be deckhand, stewardess or chef, when industry insiders talk about “experience,” it’s whether or not you have experience with yachts. We know. It’s an exhausting paradox. If “experience” really means experience on yachts, then how does anyone break into this industry?

See, here’s the problem: The hard part about working on yachts is not the job itself, like making beds or scrubbing floors. But when you have to do it on a yacht, everything changes. Sure, it seems pretty straightforward from the outside looking in, but once you are in, you’ll get it.

Captains are rightfully concerned that your 10 years of culinary experience won’t do anyone a bit of good if you are curled up in a lovely green ball in the head while the guests are waiting to have lunch. It doesn’t matter how many cruises you’ve been on or how many times you’ve been out on a boat; there’s really a limited percentage of the population who are able to handle working on a yacht. So when a captain takes on untested crew, well there’s a real risk that they won’t work out and the rest of the crew will have to shoulder the extra responsibility. This happens so often that just about everyone in the industry has done time with a “one-trip-wonder.”

Now before you start thinking, “Well, I just have to prove that I don’t get seasick….” No, it’s not just that. To do well on a boat, particularly in an entry-level position, Capt. Michael Sundquist says, “You have to be a really good subordinate.” You are expected to do as you are told (even if you were asked to do it differently just the day before). You have to be socially malleable and tolerant of the eccentricities not only of your guests but also of your fellow crew. You must quickly learn to be meticulous to the point of a borderline obsessive compulsive disorder.

Chefs, you may be great in a restaurant, but do you really know what it’s like to pack two weeks worth of provisions for 12 guests and six crew into two household-sized refrigerators and not run out of anything? You’ll screw up a few times before you really get the hang of it, and no captain wants to be the one to watch you move along that learning curve.

There are a lot of great resources for learning some of the ins and outs of being yacht crew. If you have the money, training classes do help. However, the best way to get training is on the job. There is no yacht-life simulator; you have to do it.

Marcy Williams of Northrop and Johnson Crew Placement says, “Since competition for jobs right now is high, consider letting the placement agencies know that you will be willing to start or do a freelance trip for a reduced rate just to get onboard and get your feet wet…. It may even be worth doing a short trip as an unpaid apprentice.” It might not be the best-paying job you’ve ever had (an understatement), but at least you’ll get some requisite experience for your CV.

Do two or three “starter trips,” do them well, take orders, make friends, and chances are you will connect with people in a very good position to help you get that first real job on a yacht.


Related Topics:

Junior-level Salaries in Sharp Decline (22/03/2009)

Getting Started Forum


Rating  Average 4.5 out of 5

  • "work smart and hard it will go a long way"
    RENTAL----renting out my 1/1 suite to reliable yacht crew. $250 a week all included + wireless. Off 17th Street ft lauderdale---e-mail me
    Posted by Kelovely 14/04/2009 06:42:07

  • I cant believe how hard it is to break into the yacht industry. I come from an engineering background and just taken my AEC and will be completing a CAT engine course in a few weeks time. The MCA have looked at my previous qualifications and will let me take my Y4/Y3 but before that I need the sea service and a chance to prove myself. So now I have to find someone who will take me on.
    Posted by Karl_4 26/03/2009 20:47:29

  • You know what, Starrider? You are absolutely right! I originally titled this article "Experience is Everything" but it could have just as easily been titled "Image is Everything" except for the fact that it's a subject which is considered a dirty little secret. Everyone in the industry knows that job hunting is much easier for young, attractive crew ...occasionally in spite of their qualifications. And this is especially true for jobs that are suited for crew with little or no qualifications. I would not say that this is true for all owners and captains, but I think it is fair to say that it applies to most - whether they are willing to admit to it or not. One need only to walk the Docks to see the image standard for crew. This is not unique to yachting, but nonethless it is fair for new crew to know it's out there. We could go on and on with perspectives about which matters most: whether its image or experience. It is obviously best if you have both.

    Crew Placement experts will also agree with you that if you have little or no experience with boats (particularly if you have no experience) that introductory courses are certainly helpful. There is a lot of hot debate about how useful some of them really are, but even if it is just a venue to start making connections with people who can help you get started, they are worth while.

    Thanks for your level-tempered candor and very sound advice!
    Posted by Kelly_1 26/03/2009 13:24:24

  • It is indeed interesting to read all the different opinions, and each one holds its own merit, but the truth still is vitually impossible to get into this industry unless you are recommended. Its not about being a Aussie, Kiwi or South African...I am a South African. Its not about experience....I have a 20 year seagoing career behind me. Now this leads to another discussion elsewhere, and that is age so we wont go there. Almost all deckhand vacancies that I have seen so far requires at least 3 years experience with a B1B2. How on earth must a eager young sailor break into this? Some pathetic owners even demand yachtmasters, MEO, helicopter and other rediculous licences. The dawn of a new sailor...SUPER SAILOR. All this for a dechhand's salary. I do not believe in a dechand holding a yachtmasters is a legitimate captain' license. A deckhand have a host of really good courses to choose from that wil assist him/her in building a solid foundation in the yachting industry. These can include:

    Day skipper/Tender Driving
    Maintenace/paint procedures and products
    Basic STCW
    Diving Courses
    With this knowledge a deckhand can be a an asset to his Skipper and boat and will be in a position to pass on this knowledge to new sailors when he/she becomes a Bosun in the future. The next step would then be to go for a Coastal Skipper, advanced Fire fighting, a higher level of medical certification. These courses should be aimed at giving the person the skills to manage. I am not here to lay out a career path for yachties, but that is the way that all sectors in the maritime industry operates. Those of you on this page that has got jobs, please stop greatfull that you have a job. I am a Commercial Yachtmaster sitting without work and being unable to get into this industry. Afer being a sailor and Bosun for 7 years, I spend 3 years obtaining enough hours to obtain my OOW Certificate. I am also a Radar I
    Posted by starrider 26/03/2009 07:49:45

  • Check out - answers many of the questions that are being raised here and a whole lot more...
    Posted by The Contract Yachtie 25/03/2009 22:40:37

  • It all seems impossible when your are an outsider looking in. The secret is to get on the inside.
    I'm a sailor, so we make it much harder for you to get inside. Our crew is always small and we have many tasks.
    I'm not sure what happens on a motoryacht that would require "experience". What I can tell you is that to work on any boat you must like messing around with boats and you must convince me of this.
    Tiffany you cant come to me off the street and ask for a job, everybody in the world needs a job, you must come to me with an aura of someone that likes to work on boats.
    To build this aura start messing around with boats !!! any boats, a windsurfer , go fishing in the bay, hang out at the sailing club on weekends, do a family delivery over to the Bahamas...anything that lets you reply to your friends next week ...what did you do this weekend Tiffany ? I was messing around with boats.
    Soon every person that you meet automatically knows that Tiffany likes to mess around in boats. A boat chic. You are working your way inside and soon you will see your opportunity. This whole yacht scene relies on a steady stream of young interested amateurs.
    Oh and one more suggestion...don't be coming to my boat in the morning looking for day work... with...hey ! got any work ? Ill pay no attention even though I have a hundred jobs that need to be taken care of. Try up behind my boat with a bag of rags and shout...HEY YOU, Do you need that stainless steel polished ? You needs a polish.
    Posted by monback 25/03/2009 17:26:18

  • I find it very interesting that the ones responding to this topic appear to be people who are already integrated into yachting and not the new crew. Hopefully, it goes to show that newbies are out there walking the docks trying to hustle that first job and not sitting at home on the computer lamenting their woes. I certainly hope it doesn't mean that would-be crew have lost all hope.

    I have been interviewing captains and crew placement agencies a lot in the past few months, and it is very clear that the industry is far less receptive to inexperienced crew now that there are so many experienced crew available. Even with respect to day work, most crew have experienced friends who they call first for daywork. It may seem like a lack experience is a brick wall, but to Quote Randy Pauch, "The brick wallks are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep [you] out. The brick walls are there to give [you] a chance to show how badly [you] want something." The good news is that it is not hopeless. According to several crew placement agencies, there are still some boats that are willing to consider new crew for entry level positions if they show the drive and dedication and have realistic expectations.
    Posted by Kelly_1 25/03/2009 14:25:13

  • Thirty days of sea time is a VERY long time to someone who can't get anyone to hire them for that first yacht job. There are not a lot of captains who are willing to hire even delivery crew who don't already have experience. You said so yourself, you want everyone to know how to drive a tender and handle lines and if they are doing a delivery. I'm sure you want them to be able to stand watch. How are new crew supposed to learn these things if no one wants to be the one to teach them? This article is about brand new crew, not you. It's really hard for new crew. Obviously you have your own complaints, maybe you just scare off come across as pretty self-absorbed, opinionated and hard to please.
    Posted by TiffanyS 25/03/2009 12:59:32

  • Thirty days of experience is nothing Tiffany. Simply walk down to the dock and offer your services as free delivery crew for trip to the Caribbean, when you get there have a bit of fun, mess around docking the tender for a few days and you got it. After this you attend a simple class, learn the rules of the road, first aid, a bit of navigation and you are a Coastal Skipper. Ive seen it done a hundred times.
    Is this to much to ask in return for me paying you three thousand a month when you sign on as crew ? How will you even know if you like boats ? Normal People who save all their money up to buy a little boat must do it. It will be good for your life.
    One thing I notice about the modern yacht scene is how difficult it is for me to find free crew to help out on long trips. Almost every trip I do these days is with only my permanent crew. A free yachtmaster in training, getting a look into the industry, and gaining sea miles was absolutely standard 10 years ago.
    I cant believe how every crew needs to be paid money to go sailing. Its ridiculous, I looked around for a young guy , an extra free crew , to lend a hand during a regatta we do this summer in Italy...they all wanted money so I called the owner and he is sending a friend of a friend.
    Posted by monback 24/03/2009 18:05:10

  • I think Kelly is right. Monback says every crew should have an RYA Coastal Skipper certification, but he also says you have to have 30 days of sea time to qualify. Which is exactly what the article is saying. Especially for people who have never worked on a boat before but really want to be a part of yachting. It is hard for someone new to yachting to get experience, because everyone wants to hire crew who already have experience. I wouldn't want to be first trying to break into this business today. It doesn't matter WHAT nationality you are. It has to be very frustrating. I see the kids walking the docks and I feel for them. But if you want it bad enough, you've got to keep trying, and if it means working really cheap or for free, if it gets you in the door, do it.
    Posted by TiffanyS 24/03/2009 17:03:55

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