Career Advice

Does Yacht Size Matter for Crew Careers?

10 June 2022By Claire Griffiths
iStock/EXTREME-PHOTOGRAPHER

Written by

Claire Griffiths

Claire Griffiths is Dockwalk’s contributing editor in the Mediterranean. She fled to the sunny south of France from Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. Claire has a background in journalism for national and regional UK press and a career in political and corporate PR prior to that. Claire’s hobbies include eating, sleeping and dancing at inopportune times. She tries to avoid sheer drops and Olympic bobsled runs. Email Claire at claire@dockwalk.com

They’re not talking about shaking it down for a limbo dance when the crew pitch into the long-running debate on whether or not size matters, asking, “So, how low should I go?”

According to BOAT International’s 2022 Global Order Book, there are 1,024 projects in build or on order, a rise of 24.7 percent on last year’s 821. More than 40 kilometers of superyachts will be built, launched, and delivered between now and 2026. There’s a steady demand for yachts across all size categories, but particularly for yachts under 45 meters and smaller (30.5 percent rise for yachts under 30 meters). The 45 meters and above category witnessed a 10.5 percent rise, according to the report.

There is obviously a need for crew across all vessel sizes, but does it really matter what size yacht crew start their careers aboard?

iStock/yoh4nn

Small But Mighty

Deckhand Trenton Echardt has worked on board 29-meter M/Y Olga 1 since October 2018. “There are definitely plenty of pros for working on a smaller boat,” he says. “You can learn a lot more than just one role, because you’ll be forced into multiple roles. As a deckhand on a 75-meter or anything upwards, you’ll probably only be doing wash jobs and probably only seeing one side of the boat for quite a while and doing one type of job whereas you’re a bit more hands-on on a smaller boat. There’s not as many people so you’re going to find yourself in scenarios where you are going to have to be taught to learn quickly.”

But there are downsides to small vessels. “The living quarters can be a bit tight, with maybe four crew sharing one bathroom, or whatever it might be,” he says. “And you’re more closed in on each other, very personal, and private space might be limited, and you feel that you can’t really get away.” While he acknowledges that this isn’t much different from a larger vessel, “it’s amplified on the smaller yachts.”

The diversity of the job role on small boats can give crew a boost, not only to their confidence but also to their experience. It can act as a speedy “leg-up” the rungs of the career ladder. Echardt was lucky enough to land a role with Capt. Gary Morton, who was ready and willing to invest in his development. “If you’ve got a good captain, which I have, you can possibly get drive time — but that’s not the case on all smaller boats,” he says. “I’ve got the ticket available to legally drive and my captain is willing to teach me, so I have got three years of driving experience. A lot of captains prefer not to allow drive-time because it goes on their heads if something goes wrong.” His driving sea hours and current certificate — Yachtmaster Offshore (soon to qualify as OOW) — means at the age of just 27, he could soon command a vessel up to 200GT.

Large yachts are good for rotational positions and there is often more opportunity to grow.

“So there’s a possibility to learn a lot, but I guess it can be much more pressurized than on a bigger boat, so you either get used to the pressure or you have to look for another job if you can’t handle it,” Echardt says. “Being able to handle that pressure is obviously a good thing moving forward — you’ll be able to handle different situations, maybe more than some people who have just been in relaxed roles of polishing the stainless steel the whole day.”

“Most new crew will be open to any size yacht,” Crew Recruitment Specialist Sharon Rose at bluewater says. “If they have come from a cruise background, then they will be more interested in larger vessels. It all depends on their background; sailors tend to go for a smaller sail or motor yacht to get their foot in the door. More experienced crew will be looking at their career path, so a second stew from a larger vessel may want a chief stew position on a smaller yacht.”

Adobe Stock

The advice she gives on yacht size depends. As Echardt said, crew can learn more on smaller boats where there’s more opportunity to help out in other departments, whereas crew in a big department on a large vessel will tend to work only within that team, but then they get to really focus on their skillsets if they have a specific career path in mind.

“Generally,” says Rose, “I would advise starting smaller if they have that option, learn as much from all the departments on board to get a good appreciation of what everyone does.” Normally, crew who go straight to larger vessels for a first season will have a particular skill the yacht is looking for, such as beautician, hairdresser, carpenter, etc. “If you want to get ahead as a newbie on a small boat, you need plenty of confidence and [must be] ready to learn at a fast pace,” Rose says.

Is Bigger Better?

Sophie Allen is head of housekeeping on the 62-meter M/Y Cloud 9 and previously worked in the same role on board M/Y Tanusha. She’s worked on yachts ranging in size from 26 to 106 meters. After dayworking on yachts around 60 to 65 meters, she managed to get a job as housekeeper on a 65-meter, loved the role, and worked her way up to head of housekeeping.

“I feel it is the right ratio of crew; the departments are slightly larger than on smaller boats, so you can work and hang out with different people,” Allen says. “So now I have found this is the size of crew and boat that I like.” She has no real goals to move up or down the yacht size scale, because “it’s the crew size that counts; not too many people that it’s impersonal, but not too few that you’re with the same three people every day.”

Allen believes it takes a certain type of person to work on smaller boats. “You have [fewer] people around you to rely on and you have to be confident in all areas of the yacht,” she says.

iStock/Travel Wild

Large yachts are good for rotational positions and there’s often more opportunity to grow. Rose recommends crew gain experience working on various (and different size) yachts as every yacht has distinctive methods and it’s good to be able to adapt. “Be flexible, get as much experience as you can,” she says. “This doesn’t mean jumping from yacht to yacht, but choose your roles carefully, make sure they will train you [as] safety is key on board, [and] gain as much knowledge of every area as you can and make yourself indispensable.”

“There are definitely plenty of pros for working on a smaller boat,” he says. “You can learn a lot more than just one role, because you’ll be forced into multiple roles….”

Ashley King is first officer on board a 32-meter Azimut. It’s his seventh and smallest boat, the largest being the 86-meter M/Y Cakewalk, during a career that has spanned 10 years. His first boat was 42 meters with 12 crew — “not a terribly small boat but relatively so,” he says. “It was nice — I enjoyed my first yacht; she was small enough crew that there were enough people to bounce off and not be stuck with the same people all the time but not so big that you get lost in the numbers and the politics.”

For King, working on deck aboard Cakewalk also had its pros and cons. “The [number] of crew on it was a big change; I think we were 27 fully crewed.” One of the greatest differences he found was ticking the ‘i’s and crossing the ‘t’s was very much part of everyday life. “On a bigger vessel, the greatest difference is that so much is obviously done by the book,” he says. “I think you sort of get away with stuff on the smaller boats — you know you don’t have to have a crew cabin inspection every week because on a small boat the chief stew just knows that you’re doing things properly. But on a big boat like Cakewalk, it’s very much by the book.”

Despite the extra paperwork, etc., King enjoyed his time. “I kind of preferred working with that number of crew because you had crewmembers who were into fitness and you could join them for that, but if you wanted to party, there were also crewmembers who wanted a night out; you didn’t all have to be doing the same agenda all the time.”

The benefits of smaller boats outshine the big boys if the crew bond well and the atmosphere on board resembles a tight-knit family rather than a bunch of people just working together. “Also having things run by the book (as on the big boats) can be a bit detrimental, like having a cabin inspection every week,” he says. “It just takes up time that doesn’t really need to happen and filling out your hours of work and rest all the time — not that we go over it on the smaller boats, but it’s just unnecessary. If everyone is happy with the hours of work and rest, it’s fine.” He agrees with Allen and Echardt about the flexibility of roles on smaller vessels. “On an 86-meter, the deck crew is the deck crew and that is it. But on a smaller boat, I might be serving drinks one day, [the] next day driving the tender, the next day cleaning in the galley. Everyone just pitches in and helps out because you don’t have the crew to not do that.”

iStock/Sergey Chips

The Best of Both Worlds?

King recommends newbies aim for a mid-range size. “I would say to someone who genuinely wants to get into the industry and who really wants to learn the most in a position, I would recommend a mid-range size yacht, which would be 54 to 60 meters.” That way, he points out, “you’re going to be maybe the third stewardess or the junior deckie, with not a lot expected of you compared to on a 30-meter yacht where you are the only deckhand. So you have a chance to learn a bit more compared to on a very large yacht, and you can progress a bit quicker. Because on a 60 meter you still have to learn how to drive the tenders and help out around the boat a little bit — so it has that nice mix.”

He adds, “The downside of a big boat is that you would learn a lot about how a boat is run but you end up just being a cleaner if you are a junior deckhand. You’re not helping the engineers out, you’re not helping the interior crew, you’re just doing deck work.” King’s long-range plans are to keep working towards his captain’s ticket. “I’d probably aim to get a position on a 54- to 60-meter yacht; that’s the size I enjoy working on most,” he says.

More Than the Numbers

Capt. Christos Mattalinos commands the 88-meter S/Y Maltese Falcon. After the naval academy, he began work on cargo ships. Later he moved to yachting and began a traditional ascent on different sized yachts starting with a 27 meter, then 35 meter, then 50 meter. “Everybody has to start at a certain position, and it doesn’t matter if it is on a small yacht or a bigger boat, the most important thing is the mentality,” he says. “Which means you have respect for the ship, for the sea, the charter guests, the owner, and for the crew. I think it is important the crew have experience of similar size yachts so that they are not faced with a surprise of something much larger — it’s critical that they have understanding of what they have to deal with.”

For him, it’s important crew understand what the work really is about and are not distracted or get a false sense that it’s a well-paid wonder of world travel and exoticism. “I don’t think there is necessarily a different attitude in crew from smaller or larger boats — they just have to fully understand their role and what they have to deal with,” says Mattalinos. “You make money in this industry on board, but our lives have to be [on] 24/7 standby for the yacht’s safety, security, and the pleasure of owner and guests.”

Looking ahead, there’s plenty of different size yachts to match up with all shape, size, and crew sensitivities. And in the end, after all, everything is relative. “Sometimes we can be the biggest boat as we go into port and sometimes not,” Allen says. “Boats are getting bigger and bigger every year... In my mind, a small yacht is around 35 meters and a large boat anything over 90/100 meters.”

And at the end of the day for her, as with the others, it’s not yacht size that matters, but the crew size.

This feature originally ran in the May 2022 issue of Dockwalk.

More from Dockwalk