Name: Matthew Fee
Position: Chief Engineer
Yacht: M/Y Unicorn
Years in current position: 1.5
Years in industry: 5
Previous vessels: M/Y Cyan, M/Y Serene, M/Y Titania
If I wasn’t working in the industry, I’d probably be miserable working on a cruise ship or else be shoreside with my wife and family.
I got into yachting via a winding path. I started working in the oil and gas industry on the rigs, but that industry collapsed in 2015. Then I moved to the cruise ships, where you just sit in the engineer’s control room monitoring the work of your team and I wanted a more hands-on role.
Breakdowns are the biggest challenge, especially when you are sleep deprived. You’ve got to keep smiling because there are guests on board. If something breaks, you can’t get access to it!
My worst mechanical failure was contaminated fuel on an Atlantic crossing — we had a diesel bug in the water. We took samples every day and saw no sign of a contamination. And then all of a sudden, the fuel pressure started dropping. We ended up replacing pipes and parts of the engine due to rusting from the inside.
The problem with the industry is engineers coming on board don’t have enough hands-on experience or electrical training. It’s hard to find engineers with a solid background that are then trainable. They come off cruise ships and since they’ve never touched electrics, they just stand there staring at the box wires.
My advice to someone starting in the industry is train as much as possible — including marine electrics and AV/IT courses — so you know what you’re getting into.
For anyone looking to impress on the job, I’d say to remember you never stop learning and no one ever has perfect knowledge of the yacht. The stereotypical know-it-all engineer in a boiler suit with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth doesn’t exist anymore.
Workwise, my greatest achievement has to be project managing a large refit and classification survey at the age of 28 and passing my YI Chief Engineer certificate when I was 27 years old. Personally, balancing the job with a wife and a baby is an achievement in itself.
The best part of the job is the satisfaction you feel when you’ve completed a hard task. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always taken things apart and then put them back together again.
This article originally ran in the August 2021 issue of Dockwalk.