If you’re not afraid of hard work, have a knack for hospitality and service, and are a team player, then traveling the globe as superyacht stewardess could be in your future. Here is everything you need to know to land a job as a stewardess on a luxury yacht...
A yacht stewardess (or steward) is an entry-level position in yachting that provides a gateway to a career in hospitality at sea. A stewardess serves a vital role as part of the interior team and is responsible for the upkeep and presentation of the interior of a vessel.
One of the greatest appeals of working as interior crew on a superyacht (other than travel and tips) is that the role of a stewardess doesn’t require extensive schooling or qualifications. While experience in the hospitality or customer service sector is advantageous, when starting out as a junior steward or stewardess, it is more about having a friendly disposition and being willing to learn and work hard.
“The ideal junior stewardess will have an eagerness to absorb information and learn the ropes properly, the ability to take direction and follow instructions, as well as the confidence to ask questions when clarification or additional instruction is needed,” says Sarah Bester with Northrop & Johnson Crew Services.
What is a Yacht Stewardess?
A steward or stewardess maintains the interior of a superyacht and provides five-star service to its owners and guests. On charter or owner trips, the interior team handles beverage and meal service, housekeeping, and laundry, all with the highest attention to detail. They have the most face time with guests so are responsible for relaying their wishes to the deck department, chef, and captain.
What Does a Yacht Stewardess do?
A junior member of an interior team on a yacht larger than 45 to 50 meters will typically start his or her career in the laundry room and/or in housekeeping rather than in service.
On smaller boats, the stewardess can be a department of one. “If you’re a solo stew you’ll be up early doing it all,” says Alene Keenan, a 30-year veteran of interior work who has literally written the book on yacht service, The Yacht Guru’s Bible. The day starts with opening duties: “setting up for breakfast, preparing breakfast, serving and clearing breakfast, laundry, cabin service, housekeeping duties, more laundry,” lists Keenan. This is followed by lunch service and more housekeeping and laundry, ongoing beverage service, setting up for afternoon activities, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres service, dinner service, cabin turndowns, finishing and returning laundry, and to close the day, pulling dishes, décor, and service items for the next day’s breakfast.
“If you have two or more interior crew, the duties are shared and probably rotated, and start times depend on hours of work and rest,” Keenan says.
On larger yachts, the chief stew will provide his or her team with a checklist of duties to perform for each shift. “The routine will generally be the same,” says Chief Stewardess Tracey Bamforth. “You will be allocated a shift, shift duties, and shift expectations. You will wake up and dress in your on-charter uniform, making sure you are presentable, fresh, and on time. It’s important to remember that when the guests are on, your need to manage yourself to the best of your ability: speaking softly, working smartly, being very aware of your environment — for example, not leaving cleaning products out and about and keeping the yacht to its absolute best standard.”
Off-charter is when maintenance, deep cleaning, and inventorying are done in addition to daily laundry, crew mess, and bridge duties.
Who Does a Yacht Stewardess Report to?
This varies depending on the size of the yacht and crew. “Every yacht is unique and could have a different set-up; nothing is black or white,” says Lien Eggermont, senior yacht placement consultant for interior crew at Viking Crew.
Generally, when a stewardess works alone, they report to the captain. When there are two or more in the interior department, the junior would report to the chief stewardess, or with larger teams, they may even report to the second steward/ess. For the largest of superyachts, each interior division — housekeeping, laundry and service — will have their own head of department (HOD), so for example a housekeeping stewardess would report to the head of housekeeping.
What Qualifications Do I Need to Become a Yacht Stewardess?
All crew need STCW basic safety training, a five-day course, and an ENG1 medical certificate, and some yachts may also require certification in Food Safety & Hygiene, a one-day course.
On top of these necessities, there are numerous options for yacht-specific interior training, but many chief stews, like Robert, prefer to teach on the job. “Most of the skills you need in yachting, especially in the interior, you learn as you go,” she says.
The amount of knowledge you need going in may depend on when you’re hired. “Early in the season, the HOD will have time to train and teach everything from scratch. Mid-season they don’t have time to hold somebody’s hand — in the nicest possible way — and will need somebody who can hit the ground running,” Eggermont says.
Courses that introduce entry-level candidates to yacht interior work are offered in many countries around the world. “Bluewater hosts some fantastic courses; their Yacht Interior Service courses start at a zero-to-hero course and can really help with a newbie or green stewardess who wants to acclimate and understand the principles and products used on a vessel,” Bamforth says.
Bester points out that additional courses like silver service and WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) can help a candidate stand out. “These courses are an additional investment and thus an indication that the candidate may be more career minded,” she says.
“Training has always been a privilege in my mind,” adds Bamforth. “Most newbies starting out will already be stretched from arriving from a new country, trying to find a new role, living in a crew house, and then to expect them to start off with a couple thousand dollars in courses under their belts is somewhat unfair. I believe in the ability to train and trial a newbie and give them the opportunity to show you they have the capacity to work, learn, live in a very close environment with others, repeat the systems they are learning, and, most importantly, have a good attitude!”
Maxine Robert, chief stewardess on 47-meter M/Y Loon, adds, “Having a positive attitude is everything as we live in such close quarters and work very closely with each other every day.”
What Experience Do I Need?
“Many programs will consider junior stew candidates who are green to yachting but come with strong land-based hospitality experience,” says Bester. Eggermont seconds this: “Waitressing in high-end restaurants or hotels, background in events, housekeeper in a hotel or, for example, a boutique B&B. But also candidates who have worked on board cruise ships or river cruises will be considered.”
Keenan points out a wide range of work experiences on land that translate to interior work at sea, listing: “restaurant/hotel work, flower arranging, event planning, retail sales, anything with customer service.”
Furthermore, Bamforth says she considers a potential new hire’s complete background, including things like whether they have finished university — “my thoughts would be that they have a ‘stick it out to the end’ attitude, and an ability to think on their own, which is always a plus,” — or if they played team sports at school — “shows an aptitude for playing nicely with people.” She says she has enjoyed working with hires from a wide variety of backgrounds, from advertising to having a family member who is a florist. “Nurses or medical-trained candidates I find to be extremely empathic and good with other crewmembers,” she says.
How Much Does a Yacht Stewardess Earn?
The entry-level starting salary can range from $2,500 to $3,500 per month, says Bester at Northrop & Johnson. “Charter programs will typically be on the lower end of the salary range due to the additional income crew receive through charter tips,” she says. Eggermont at Viking Crew says the average is €2,500 per month.
Dockwalk conducts an annual salary survey that polls both placement agencies and working yacht crew. According to its most recent 2020 Salary Survey, the low end of the range given by agencies — where most junior crew would start — is between $2,250 and $2,800 per month. Interior crew who aren’t working as the chief or solo self-reported that they made from $3,000 to $4,500 per month, with the bigger bucks being netted on bigger vessels.
The earning potential of interior crew grows alongside experience. At the top of their game, a chief steward/ess on a vessel longer than 70 meters earns $7,000 to $12,000 per month, says Dockwalk’s wage guide.
“I’d say don’t be too picky as a junior crewmember,” Eggermont says. “If a 90-meter-plus (yacht) offers you a role at €2,000 with potentially an increase after probation or so, I’d say take it. Do a season, do your best so that you get a great reference. You need a foot in the door!”