When Peter Vogel was headhunted to join 105-meter Lady Moura as second steward, he had high expectations after spending the previous five years working for Seabourn, the boutique cruise line that catered to just 208 guests on each of its 134-meter ships. “Coming off the cruise ships where things were corporate and well set up, I was thinking, ‘It’s yachting, it must be better.’ And I got there and I was really disappointed,” Vogel says. “It was just amateurish.” After a few weeks, Vogel was ready to throw in the towel. He tried to resign, but the owner liked him, so the captain promoted him to chief steward instead. “I thought, why not? Let’s give it a go. And I had a wonderful time — almost three years with that family.”
Why Isn’t Yachting “Better”?
Private superyachts are the most exclusive of anything that floats, so why aren’t their interior teams the best, most well-trained in the hospitality world? To be fair, some are. But it varies from yacht to yacht as owners have wildly different programs, expectations, and priorities when it comes to investing in career development. “There’s a real desire for the interior to be trained, but owners and captains don’t seem to recognize the value of that,” says Alene Keenan, a 30-year veteran of yachting. The “Yacht Stew Guru” also taught at Maritime Professional Training (MPT) in Fort Lauderdale for more than three years and she’s currently developing a series of online courses at alenekeenan.com.
Theresa Manwaring agrees. She worked as a chief stew for most of her 14 years before moving ashore in 2019 to teach at bluewater in Fort Lauderdale. “A lot of captains and first officers still don’t give interior crew time off to take interior courses because they’re not seen as necessary or a priority,” she says.
But a growing number in the industry recognizes that the interior deserves a professional career track with standardized accreditation.
“When you think about it, it’s kind of ironic, as the people who own these yachts also own the five-star hotels in which you need qualifications to work in, so it’s crazy that the interior crew don’t,” adds Kylie O’Brien, 14-year yachting veteran and author of The Stewardess Bible and The Chief Stewardess Bible. She was inspired to write after spending her last couple years on short-term gigs and found no interior standard operating procedures on yachts from 50 up to 120 meters.
Training the interior isn’t necessary from the standpoint that there’s no safety element to hospitality, therefore no MCA CoC that needs to be issued. But a growing number in the industry recognizes that the interior deserves a professional career track with standardized accreditation.
It’s Come a Long Way
When Vogel joined Lady Moura in 1997, the options for superyacht-specific interior training were few and far between. Vogel himself was educated in hotel school in The Netherlands, but your average maritime school had nothing to offer interior crew. This has changed considerably over the last 20 years.
In the early 2000s, courses cropped up that introduced prospective crew to the realities of interior work. Then during the past decade, the Professional Yachting Association (PYA) developed GUEST (Guidelines for Unified Excellence in Service Training). Accredited by the International Association of Maritime Institutions, the training offers CoCs in four programs, from GUEST 1 (junior level) to GUEST IV (purser level), each with a number of modules specific to the level. The program is offered in nine countries around the world.
“I think it’s good that there is something out there that allows people who are driven and serious about a career in this industry to be able to go and do courses,” says Vogel...
“I think it’s good that there is something out there that allows people who are driven and serious about a career in this industry to be able to go and do courses,” says Vogel, who following Lady Moura was chief steward of 126-meter Octopus then became the hospitality and event manager for that owner’s three-yacht fleet. He, along with Keenan and others, helped develop the GUEST program, which was spearheaded by Joey Meen at the PYA.
For him, the moment of realization came when he interviewed at the Marriott in Amsterdam, and they questioned his chief steward experience. “They were just not having it. They were like, you must be kidding, we don’t understand,” he says. “I felt embarrassed. I felt we had to do something as an industry; we needed to provide for proper certification that can be used either within the maritime industry or when you transition out.”
It’s made inroads, but GUEST hasn’t taken the industry by storm. “There are boats that love it and want it and boats that don’t,” says Vogel, whose own school in Amsterdam, Luxury Hospitality, offers GUEST II, III, and IV-approved courses. On smaller yachts that don’t typically pay for training, cost-conscious crew may do the work and get the school certificate but may not opt to pay the extra fee for the official PYA seal. Some schools opt to develop their own curriculum, like bluewater, whose program Manwaring feels better suits the U.S. market.
In-School vs. On-the-Job
Alex Parker-Larkin still remembers the time she shrunk the owner’s cashmere sweater in the first two weeks of her first junior position. She had a restaurant background but no yacht service training. There was none offered in the UK then. She considers herself lucky to be trained on the job by excellent chief steward/esses, but she recalls those questions that all new crew have: am I doing this right, is this where I should put the wine glass? “Everybody’s got a disaster laundry story or disaster service story,” she says.
“Sadly, there’s still the mentality in the industry that you don’t need any training getting in; you just get on a boat and they’ll teach you their way,” says Manwaring.
When she left the industry after 11 years, she segued into teaching for a hospitality school in London, and then two years ago she opened her own company as well, focusing on yacht-specific interior training in Devon, England. Her most popular course addresses those new-stew concerns. It starts with describing what it’s like to work on yachts, then the rest of the week is practical training: wine service, barista training, housekeeping, etc. “We don’t sit down, I don’t do PowerPoint presentations, everything is hands-on, and everyone gets to have a go at ironing, packing, unpacking, all those things.”
“Sadly, there’s still the mentality in the industry that you don’t need any training getting in; you just get on a boat and they’ll teach you their way,” says Manwaring. But often department heads don’t have time to train; new crew are thrown in the deep end.
Few crew come in with the formal hotel schooling that Vogel and O’Brien had. “I have a split mind on this,” Vogel says, adding, cruise ships expect perfectly trained crew, who are given three days to prove themselves or they’re out. “What would it be like if we had really qualified crew coming into yachting, all trained before they come, and they get some fine-tuning as they get onto the boat — it would be a dream scenario.” But he also recognizes that yachts have very different owners with specific programs and personalities, so he also recommends hiring based on the candidate’s energy. “If I have someone who’s completely driven and motivated to be on the boat, I can teach them...the chief stews can teach them to be great crewmembers and learn how to clean or serve.”
Taking it to the Next Level
Steward/esses have avenues nowadays to accrue specialized skills, but to reach the top, an interior crew must grow together. That’s where onboard training comes in. “I think that’s the best training of all for yachts with new crewmembers or if the chief stew is new or has been promoted,” says Manwaring, which offers this type of training in addition to school courses. “When [a yacht] brings a trainer on board for even a day or two, you get so much more value out of it.”
“If I have someone who’s completely driven and motivated to be on the boat, I can teach them...the chief stews can teach them to be great crewmembers and learn how to clean or serve.”
Training as a team can focus on both general education and yacht-specifc issues. Whether it’s introducing wine with confidence or figuring out why one crewmember never cleans the cappuccino machine, it’s a great time to tackle any pet peeves causing strife, says Keenan. She was often brought in to lead this type of training when the chief stew lacked management experience — which highlights another area that needs improvement.
“The boats are getting bigger and bigger and the chief stews are getting younger and younger. They don’t have any prior work experience in managing people,” says Manwaring. She’s seen an increase in the availability of leadership training but feels this facet of interior training is still under-serviced.
“The boats are getting bigger and bigger and the chief stews are getting younger and younger. They don’t have any prior work experience in managing people,” says Manwaring.
Vogel’s Luxury Hospitality takes a 360-degree approach to onboard training, one that involves all departments. To begin, “we make people aware of their inherent energy and how that affects the other people in their teams, so that they all start to understand how they could work together as a unit in a much better way.” He follows this with technical training for those who need it and inspiration for those who don’t, then offers continued coaching and support. “I find selling training is just selling a certificate,” he says. “I’m selling something that is much greater than that; it’s going to change the knowledge as well as the quality of output from a stewardess or a deckhand.”
The Tide is Turning
With the relatively recent proliferation of training in all facets of the industry, there is still a contingent who believes all training is just a money-grab. But that’s a mindset that’s giving way to a new reality: one where crew are able to work on their careers while doing their jobs. It’s a strategy that definitely benefits the interior department.
“There’s a massive [shift] towards developing people, letting them grow whilst they’re doing these jobs,” says Vogel. “Those programs that are investing [in crew], the ones that allow you to develop personally as well as professionally — those boats, those owners, those captains, they’re going to get the best crew.”
This feature originally ran in Dockwalk’s June 2021 issue.
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