Career Advice

How to Get a Job as a Purser

28 July 2021By Lauren Beck
Mark O'Connell

Written by

Lauren Beck

Editor Lauren Beck has been with Dockwalk since 2006. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox. Email her at lauren@dockwalk.com.

If you have a head for figures, an eye for detail, and a longing for the ocean, you might consider a career as a yacht purser aboard some of the industry’s largest vessels. Here’s everything you need to know to find a job as a purser on board a superyacht...

If you’re on the interior team on a superyacht, chances are you’re already meticulous and organized — you wouldn’t last long if you weren’t. But if you’re looking to add to your skills and take on a new challenge, perhaps the purser role would suit you.

“In the last ten years, a significant increase in the number of large yachts over 70 meters launched has seen the need for qualified pursers,” says former superyacht purser Sandra Jordaan, who is now a coach at The Yacht Purser. As she explains, a purser may take over the duties commonly completed by captains on smaller vessels, so it’s no job for the faint of heart. “The purser role is complex, demanding, and very rewarding,” she says.

So do you have what it takes?

As former superyacht purser Khara Pierre of ShoreSide Pursers notes, “It is high pressure; you need to think quickly on your feet and work well within a team environment,” she says. “There is no room for error.” As crew, you already know the requirements of the crew job — it’s a stressful job, working long days for months without time off. You need to be a good multitasker and adapt to change, Pierre advises.

“A purser needs to be diplomatic, an excellent communicator, with exceptional attention to detail,” Jordaan says. “A purser should be curious, confident, ethical, have empathy, and a desire to serve others.”

If you have these qualities to start, you might be the perfect fit.

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What is a Purser?

“The purser is responsible to ensure the smooth and effective operations of the yacht,” says Purser Samantha Morris. “They are accountable for all financial, administration, and crew management on board. The purser oversees purchasing, inventories, accounting, and is a PA to the captain for any legal requirements.”

Basically, “A purser is the administrative hub on board a superyacht,” says Angela Wallace of Purser Trainer. A purser is usually a senior crewmember and Wallace notes that these roles are generally found on yachts larger than 70 meters, but also occasionally on yachts 60 to 70 meters “if the owner is very generous!” she says. (Our 2020 Dockwalk Salary Survey also shared figures from crew on board vessels of 50 meters or 140 feet.) On smaller vessels, the chief stew tends to assist the captain with some accounts and crew logistics. As Bec McKeever, a former purser on superyachts and now the co-founder of Virtual Pursers, says, “Although there is no specific blueprint to the purser role, a purser is mostly responsible for the financial management and administration hub of the vessel.”

“The demanding and complex role requires individuals to be proficient in all aspects of vessel administration and logistics with excellent knowledge of maritime law,” she says. 

As noted, the job is meant to remove some of the administrative tasks from the captain and heads of department to free them up to focus on the guests, but as Jordaan notes, it’s not just about the paperwork. “The demanding and complex role requires individuals to be proficient in all aspects of vessel administration and logistics with excellent knowledge of maritime law,” she says. “Without this knowledge, the purser can become a liability to the owner and captain. An excellent purser will hardly be noticed (unfortunately) because everything runs smoothly.”

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What Does a Purser Do Day to Day?

A purser’s role may vary from vessel to vessel, or captain to captain, depending on the captain’s preferences and experience, Jordaan notes. It could also change depending on the owner and guest’s requirements. For example, a private or charter vessel will have different needs, and different vessel programs would have diverse requirements as well.

“The purser role requires you to be on duty pretty much 24/7,” says Jordaan. “You are at the owner’s beck and call and if you have crew embarking or disembarking, you are also their 24/7 contact line when they are traveling. It is important to set boundaries, though, so that you don’t burn out.”

While it might not be one size fits all, there are core competencies that should stand you in good stead. If you enjoy accounting and balancing the books, you might be ideally suited for the purser role. “A purser is responsible for the forecasting and budget control, petty cash, credit card reconciliations, invoicing, purchasing, and approvals,” says Morris. They’re also in charge of preparing port paperwork so that the vessel is able to enter each port of call. They’re also your go-to for crew management duties, like repatriation issues, crew medical appointments, crew visas, Seafarer Employment Agreements (SEA), plus crew termination and resignation payments and, of course, monthly payroll, Morris notes.

Depending on your vessel and its specific needs, additional purser duties could include destination management, itinerary planning, and guest liaison and concierge duties. “Additionally, the purser could be the head of the interior and manage the interior team, alongside controlling interior inventories,” Morris says.

McKeever shares the list of possible purser duties, which can include:

  • Accounting and daily bookkeeping
  • HR, contracts, insurance, payroll, and crew certificate management
  • Crew and guest travel management; flights, transport, and immigration
  • Logistical management for provisions and deliveries
  • Destination management, planning guest trips, and executing itineraries
  • Vessel clearance in/out of port
  • Assisting the captain with maritime legalities
iStock/Ruth Peterkin

Who Does the Purser Report To?

The purser reports to the captain always, but as Pierre of ShoreSide Pursers notes, while it will always be the captain in charge, at times the purser may also answer to the management company or family office, the yacht owner, and guests. They may also report to charter brokers for specific tasks if the vessel charters, Jordaan says.

What Qualifications Do You Need?

At the very basic, you need your STCW courses and your ENG1, plus Pierre recommends the Food and Hygiene Level 2. While there may be no formal training requirements for pursers, there are many accredited purser training courses available throughout the industry, McKeever says. She recommends the IAMI GUEST program (which has three accredited yacht purser training companies, Jordaan says), plus the Diploma in Superyacht Operations by the Maritime Training Academy. As Wallace notes, the IAMI GUEST-accredited purser program can lead to a Purser CoC.

Morris outlines what she would recommend for those interested in the role, above and beyond STCW and ENG1. While she also advises crew should have admin and finance skills, she also recommends the Security Awareness or Designated Security Duties, an understanding of ISPS and ISM protocols, and strong computer skills, especially with Microsoft Suite, which includes Excel and PowerPoint.

Morris stresses that pursers need to have an excellent understanding of safety and muster requirements, and also mentions that a degree in business, finance, or accounting would be beneficial.

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What Experience Do You Need?

The purser role is usually a more senior position on board, attained after crew work their way through the ranks, or perhaps transfer into yachting from cruise ships. Purser Morris made her way into yachting from the cruise industry, and she recommends either that or having previous experience on superyachts.

“Large yacht experience is best,” says Jordaan. “Knowing how each department functions, how they work together, and their needs are crucial to managing the vessel administration and logistics. You can’t ask questions about things you don’t know about.” Jordaan recommends at least five years of experience, with two of those in a senior role, and — ideally — two years on vessels larger than 60 meters. She believes, however, that it’s not necessary for a purser to have been a chief steward/ess before. “I would argue that the two need to have very different dispensations and personalities,” she says.

“Knowing how each department functions, how they work together, and their needs are crucial to managing the vessel administration and logistics. You can’t ask questions about things you don’t know about.”

McKeever agrees that having good industry experience is essential, in addition to financial management, accounting, and budgeting. “The role itself encompasses enormous responsibilities overseeing critical yacht operations and paperwork, immigration, legalities, HR, insurance, as well as being the direct point of contact for owners and guests,” she says. “The role requires a mature, well-rounded person who can confidently handle wearing many, many hats.” She stresses that understanding the legal issues in the maritime world is important — a purser must appreciate the complexities of yacht logistics and operations. “The role requires you to orchestrate many moving parts; a good purser will understand this and know how to create contingency plans b, c-z,” she says.

If you’re making the move from shore, Wallace of Purser Trainer says a background in villa management, luxury hospitality, and dealing with high-net-worth clients is useful, as is legal or accounting/admin experience. “Management experience and actually life experience [is important] as this is so overlooked!” Wallace says. “This role is actually better suited to someone a bit older, having a good amount of common sense, ability to work alone, and to be self-motivated.”

While all the paperwork and legalities may be enough to fill a full-time role, Morris urges pursers not to forget about crew welfare. “A yacht is a home away from home for all crew and all efforts to make this a happy environment to work and reside should be taken into consideration,” she says. This might mean organizing crew activities, game or quiz nights, chef competitions, or simply providing support and guidance. “The personable trait is often not requested but it is extremely appreciated when presented on board,” she says.

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How Much Does a Yacht Purser Earn?

As a senior member of the crew on a larger vessel, you might expect to earn pretty decent money on board. According to the most recent 2020 Dockwalk Salary Survey, the salary for a purser paid in dollars ranges from $3,500 to $12,000 per month on the larger yachts. As pursers are usually found on larger vessels, no data for yachts smaller than 140 feet was reported.

The 2020 Dockwalk Salary Survey also reported salaries in euros. In the purser position, salaries were included from €5,000 to €10,000 on the larger vessels, with no vessel smaller than 50 meters sharing purser figures. As with all crew positions, experience, certifications, and longevity will also affect your pay.

How to Apply For a Yacht Purser Job

While the purser position may not be well known outside of the yachting industry and is reserved for those on larger vessels with, usually, some seniority, if you’re truly interested in assuming the role, then start preparing as early as you can. As Wallace notes, purser positions are prized and tend to be filled in-house. “Getting your foot in the door is crucial,” she says. “Be proactive in searching for roles, contact management companies, as well as recruiters.”

Wallace also cautions wannabe pursers not to get too hung up on the idea of rotation. “Although this role tends to be rotational, it isn’t always, so have an open mind when you get your first position,” she says. “Do not think just about the ‘package’ — money and rotation have to be earned.”

Jordaan recommends finding a large yacht with a purser on board and offering to take on some of their tasks to get started. It doesn’t need to be complicated, but get yourself started with a few straightforward, repetitive jobs. “If you are on a yacht with no purser, ask the captain if you can organize the receipts and check invoices or if you can help with the port clearances,” she says.

“Getting your foot in the door is crucial,” she says. “Be proactive in searching for roles, contact management companies, as well as recruiters.”

She also advises that it might be worthwhile to consider a pay cut to get the experience you need. As she explains, there are purser duties to be found on every yacht, so if the purser role is where your interest lies, then see if you can undertake these tasks. “The best way to gain experience is to ask for it. If it means putting in extra hours so that you can list purser duties on your CV, then do it!” As she says, “The biggest hurdle in landing that first purser role is a lack of experience completing everyday tasks like payroll, leave, end-of-the-month accounts, managing crew certification, creating cruising plans and itineraries, and managing budgets, accounts, and cash.”

Pierre recommends signing up to yachting placement agencies and getting your CV organized — “Make sure your CV is readable, informative, and it really sells your capabilities,” she says — and get out there and network. Wallace advises that you make sure any gaps in your work history that may have come over the last year are filled and cautions about making sure you’re using the correct terminology.

“My advice to you if you are climbing the ranks: work hard, stay focused, continue a path of professional and personal development, and find yourself a mentor,” Pierre says. “Longevity and glowing references go far with such a competitive role in this tiny industry.”

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