Career Advice

How to Get a Job as a Bosun

26 July 2021By Holly Overton
Credit: Mark O'Connell

Written by

Holly Overton

Holly grew up sailing dinghies on the south coast of England and discovered the world of big boats after landing a job as a digital writer for our sister website boatinternational.com.

If you are an experienced deckhand looking to retire the chamois and make a move up the career ladder, then the role of a bosun is the next logical step. From driving tenders to directing docking procedures, here's everything you'll need to land a job as a bosun on a luxury yacht...

What is a Bosun?

The bosun is the most senior member of the deck department and is ultimately responsible for the upkeep of the exterior of a vessel. They will oversee all operations on deck, including docking and anchoring procedures, delegate daily tasks to junior members of crew, and manage the maintenance of toys, tenders, and other equipment. On yachts that sit below the 50-meter mark, the bosun might be known as the lead deckhand; on bigger superyachts the two roles are generally kept separate with the latter acting as a deputy. 

Bosuns tend to be natural leaders who enjoy the outdoors and don’t mind getting their hands dirty. “The role would suit someone looking to step up who has the practical experience and is willing to go above and beyond the duties of a normal deck crew member to motivate and inspire the team,” says Alwyn Engelbrecht, bosun on board 69-meter M/Y Spectre.

When a bosun position becomes available, the role is often handed to the most experienced and suitably qualified member of that deck department, which means they're not always the easiest to find. “Bosun roles are quite tricky to come by as often the most senior deckhand, who knows the boat best, will be promoted to the role,” explains Fiona Murray, recruitment consultant at YPI Crew. That said, there are still plenty of positions to be filled and it never hurts to have your CV ready to go.

Credit: Mark O'Connell

What Does a Bosun Do?

Day to day responsibilities of a bosun will vary depending on the size of the deck team and whether there are guests on board. Bosuns on smaller yachts might be more hands on, while those on larger vessels might take on a more managerial role. 

When guests are on board, it is the duty of the bosun to direct the deck team and ensure the exterior is maintained to the highest possible standard. Duties will include overseeing the setup of the boat each morning, ensuring tenders are launched and toys are inflated before the guests leave their cabins, as well as supervising daily washdowns to ensure the windows are salt-free and the stainless steel is sparkling. "As the seniormost member of the deck team, the bosun is the first up and the last to finish," says Joshua Hayes, former bosun on board 61-meter M/Y Arience. For Hayes, each day starts with a whip-round of the decks, examining the work of the start-up team and “checking for the finer details."

During the day, the bosun will act as a guest liaison for those looking to take the toys for a spin, and, as the primary tender driver on board, is the first to be called upon when guests need taxiing to and from the mothership or when the chef requires a pick-up of last-minute provisions from shore.

When the owner or charter guests are on board, it is a much longer and higher-pressure day. “The usual is a 13-hour workday, a three-hour break at one point and a longer eight-hour break for your main rest, though this differs from yacht to yacht,” says Will Hollingshead, a first officer and former bosun.

When guests are not on board, the bosun will set to work on a list of maintenance tasks with the help of the deck crew. "In the shipyard or during periods of planned maintenance, the bosun will liaise with the officers and captain as to which jobs to prioritize according to time constraints, skills and capabilities of those carrying out the work,” explains Engelbrecht. 

While the captain is ultimately responsible for the safety of guests and crew, they only have one set of eyes. The bosun is therefore in charge of safety on deck and will be well versed in the yacht's safety procedures. “For me safety is at the top of the list as there are a lot of things on a vessel that can hurt or kill someone,” says Hayes. “You are on deck and the one person overseeing activities when the officers are in the bridge."

Credit: Mark O'Connell

Who Does a Bosun Report To?

As head of the deck team, the bosun will usually report to first officer or to the captain directly, depending on the size of vessel and number of crew. They serve as a vital link between the deck department and the bridge to ensure the vessel runs as smoothly as possible. “They are the middleman between the officers and crew,” explains Hayes. As such, a bosun can learn a lot about the role of a captain and what it is like to take the helm.

What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Bosun?

While there is no single document listing the mandatory qualification requirements for a bosun, most yachts will not consider a deckhand for a senior deck position without an STCW certificate, ENG1 medical certificate and PB2 or IYT Tender Driver Licence. A bosun is generally required to hold an RYA Yachtmaster Offshore or IYT Master of Yachts < 200GT (or higher) at the very minimum. “We also check if they have their EDH [Efficient Deckhand] and if they’ve started their OOW [Officer of the Watch] modules - navigation and radar in particular,” says Murray.

Any additional qualifications, such as certificates in water sports tuition or scuba diving, could prove advantageous when you are looking to stand out from the rest. “If you can boost your CV with more OOW modules, Jet Ski instructor’s course, or even an AEC [Approved Engine Course], that will be very valuable,” adds Murray.

What Experience Do I Need?

Prior experience as a deckhand is essential for those looking to step into the boots of a bosun. Generally speaking, the bigger the boat, the more experience you will need. Most yachts will require a minimum of two to three years of experience as a deckhand before considering your CV and recruiters will often favor those who have held a leadership role. For example, a senior deckhand on a 50-70-meter yacht would likely be ready to step up to the role of a bosun.

“To become a bosun on a 50-meter yacht, you would need at least three years of experience as a deckhand," says Murray. "But for bosun roles on 65m+ yachts, captains will normally require the candidate to have previously worked as a bosun on a mid-sized yacht."

Credit: Mark O'Connell

What Skills Do I Need as a Bosun?

Yes, longevity on a CV looks good, but you will need to possess the practical skills to back it up. Can you fix a scratch in the varnish or repair a punctured paddleboard? Are you handy with a caulking gun? Do know the secret to removing red wine stains from a teak deck? It is important for a bosun to have knowledge of all sorts of maintenance tasks that may be required to keep a vessel shipshape. 

Good planning skills for preventive maintenance are essential, says Linda Turner at Crewfinders. "There are no repair shops 60 miles offshore. If it breaks at sea, it is your responsibility to fix it to get the vessel and all crew on board back to shore and safety." 

You don’t have to be a maintenance encyclopedia (after all, there is always Google) but the more knowledge you have, the more you can share with your fellow deckhands. The bosun is essentially the chief handyman on board and should also be able to share their knowledge and educate less experienced crewmembers. “As a bosun, you are in charge of keeping the deckhands working well and, most importantly, teaching and growing the skill level of the deck crew. You are only as strong as the weakest member of the team, so you bring them to your level and then take the workload off yourself,” says Hayes. “Not everyone walks on a boat knowing the job. You need to be able to teach and encourage the team to become the best they can and run to the highest ability," says Hayes. 

As well as organizational skills, being able to mediate and delegate, and an eye for detail, positivity, and maintaining a cool head under pressure are also a must for a bosun. “With positivity comes motivation," adds Hayes. "You work some long hard hours and not everyone loves cleaning a boat." Engelbrecht agrees: “You have to know how to motivate people both as a team and individually.” 

How Much Does a Bosun Earn?

The salary of a bosun, or any member of the crew for that matter, will depend on three things: experience, qualifications, and the size of the vessel.

The Dockwalk Salary Guide is the first port of call for any crewmember looking for up-to-date salary information from dozens of crew agencies around the world. A bosun working on a vessel upwards of 120 feet can expect to earn anywhere between $3,200 and $5,500 per month, according to the 2020 Dockwalk Salary Survey. On vessels upwards of 160 feet, a bosun’s monthly salary may start around $4,000, while yachts above 260 feet will see a bosun earn anywhere between $5,000 and $12,500.

At the same time, it is important to bear in mind that crewmembers living expenses fall somewhere close to zero as most things are paid for when you live and work on a yacht. And those working on charter yachts will often rake in some rather lucrative tips on top of their salary.

Credit: Mark O'Connell

Advice for Deckhands Looking to Land a Job as a Bosun

“Make sure you can walk the walk before you talk the talk,” says Engelbrecht. “If you are a lead deckhand or very experienced deckhand looking to take the next step make sure to actively seek knowledge and continue to learn and pass on what you have learned.” It is important that you are confident, but are not so confident that you are unwilling to learn and ask questions.

“You have a very knowledgeable team above you that are always willing to help you and help you progress and learn”, says Hayes. “Learn how to paint, learn how to varnish, ask the bosun to teach you, and question how and why you are doing something. You don’t learn If you don’t ask”!

Hayes also urges deckhands looking to climb the ranks to take their Efficient Deckhand certificate as soon as they can. “It brings in a great deal of safety knowledge and also gives you a different view on the way the deck is run,” he says.

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