Career Advice

What are the Different Crew Roles on a Luxury Yacht?

27 May 2021 By Holly Overton

Holly is the editor of Dockwalk. She grew up racing sailboats in England before switching to the world of superyachts and moving across the pond to Fort Lauderdale.

So you’ve scored your first job as crew on a superyacht — great! Here is a who’s who of everyone you will meet on board...


The role: Responsible for the entire vessel, including crew and guests

Responsibilities: Navigation, safety, personnel management, regulatory compliance, budget management

Reports to: The owner

The captain is the highest ranking member on board and carries four stripes on his/her epaulets. Not only is the captain responsible for the vessel’s safe navigation and operation, but every soul on board falls under their command, even the guests. Much like a ”sea-based CEO,” the captain oversees the entire operation from the exterior to the interior. They spend a significant amount of time in the wheelhouse navigating, but the role also requires a great deal of financial management, hiring, appraising, and dismissal of crew. Captains have an extensive amount of maritime experience, training, and seafaring knowledge, as well as a solid grasp of administration duties and accounting. On smaller vessels, the captain might be required to be more hands-on, but on larger vessels, s/he will be assisted by a number of supporting roles, such as the first officer.

First Officer

The role: The captain’s second in command

Responsibilities: Navigation, overseeing docking procedures, managing deck crew, maintenance of deck equipment, watchkeeping

Reports to: Captain

The first officer, also known as the chief officer or first mate, is the second in command and serves as the right-hand man to the captain. Their roles are similar with some duties shared but this can vary from vessel to vessel. The first officer will have a thorough understanding of the bridge and navigation systems and should be able to step in the captain’s absence. They will oversee all deck operations and maintenance and manage the deck crew as well as a long list of administrative duties. The first officer will also have knowledge of all safety procedures on board in case of an emergency.

Second Officer

The role: Supports the first officer and captain

Responsibilities: Managing deck crew, maintenance of deck equipment, navigation, watchkeeping

Reports to: Captain/First Officer

Most yachts will have a first officer but larger yachts might employ a second or even a third officer. This role is often filled by a former senior deckhand who is working their way up the ladder to become a captain. Essentially, the second officer acts as an understudy to the first officer and is jointly responsible for navigation, bridge watches, and management of the deck team. The second officer may also be the designated security, safety, or medical officer on board.

Chief Stewardess

The role: Responsible for the interior of a vessel

Responsibilities: Managing the interior team, food and beverage service, cabin preparation, liaising with guests, interior detailing, training of interior crew, upkeep of inventories and provisioning, orchestrating guest activities

Reports to: Captain

The chief stewardess is the head of the interior team and often the first point of contact for guests during their stay on board. Reporting to the captain, the role involves the maintenance and presentation of the interior as well as the training and management of a team of stewardesses. Chief stewardesses have an expert eye for detail and are able to deliver a seven-star luxury experience by going the extra mile for guests and keeping an impeccable interior. They must be able to anticipate the needs of guests on board as well as being able to delegate duties to their fellow stewardesses. A chief stewardess is a superb organizer and is often tasked with arranging guest activities ashore, planning themed evenings, and throwing parties.

Second/Third Stewardess

The role: Responsible for maintaining the interior

Responsibilities: Housekeeping, interior detailing, food and beverage service, flower arranging, party planning

Reports to: Chief stewardess

The second and third stewardesses report to the chief stewardess and are responsible for the execution of all interior duties from guest service to bartending, cabin detailing, and laundry. This is a role that requires a high degree of organization, attention to detail, and discretion. 


The role: Responsible for overseeing accounting and managing operations and administrative work

Responsibilities: Overseeing the accounting and budget, crew HR, port clearance, guest concierge

Reports to: Captain

The purser is both an administrative and managerial role and more commonly found on larger vessels. Often filled by an experienced chief stewardess, the role of a purser is to manage the accounting and operational budget, customs for the vessel and goods, immigration for crew and guests, and handle trave logistics and itinerary management. They are also in charge of crew HR, including payroll, leave, crew travel, certificate management, and contracts. They can assist with procurement and will ensure all items are shipped to the vessel and delivered on board. The purser is the first line of contact for shoreside suppliers, agents, and management.

Chief Engineer

The role: Responsible for the engineering department and technical equipment

Responsibilities: Overseeing the vessel’s mechanical and electrical systems, managing and supervising repairs, managing and training a team of engineers

Reports to: Captain

Day to day, the chief engineer is responsible for the maintenance of all the mechanical and electrical operations. As such, the chief engineer will have detailed knowledge of all systems on board the vessel, from engines and generators to air conditioning, refrigeration, electronics, and hydraulics. Troubleshooting is an essential skill for any engineer working on board a yacht and the chief engineer will manage or supervise any repair work required. Where repair work requires an external operative, the chief engineer will be responsible for coordinating with shore-side engineers. He or she will also be required to manage and train an entire team, which on larger vessels might consist of engineers, electricians, and ETOs (Electronic Technical Officer). 

Second/Third Engineer

The role: Support the chief engineer in the maintenance of all onboard systems

Responsibilities: Maintaining the vessel’s mechanical and electrical systems, repair work

Reports to: Chief engineer

As the size of a yacht increases, so does the number and the complexity of systems on board. A second or third engineer might be required to pick up some of the maintenance work required.


The role: To maintain the exterior of a vessel and manage the deck crew

Responsibilities: Managing the deck crew, overseeing, assisting with and executing maintenance work on deck, line handling

Reports to: First Officer

The bosun is often an experienced former deckhand and leads a team of exterior crew. He or she is responsible for the maintenance of the exterior, from cleaning windows and daily washdowns to painting, caulking, and other basic repairs. As one of the more experienced members of the deck crew, they play an important role in communicating with the captain and first officer during docking procedures and are usually the first to get behind the wheel of a tender. The bosun will have a working knowledge of the toys on board and will supervise guests.


The role: To maintain the exterior of a vessel and assist with deck operations

Responsibilities: Wash downs, polishing, assisting the bosun in maintenance projects, supervising toy use, line handling, tender driving

Reports to: Bosun

Naturally, the bigger the boat, the larger the number of deck crew you have, which might consist of a lead deckhand and junior deckhands. The deckhand will support the bosun in executing maintenance and repair projects on deck and will assist in keeping the exterior of the yacht in immaculate condition. You can spot a member of the deck crew gripping a brightly colored chamois in one hand. 


The role: Responsible for food on board

Responsibilities: Provisioning, menu planning, preparing meals, budget management

Reports to: Captain

The chef plays an all-important role on board and is responsible for preparing and delivering meals to the highest possible standard. The superyacht chef will typically have experience working in restaurants or hotels or as a private household chef, with detailed knowledge of local and seasonable produce, food and wine pairings, and the ability to prepare menus with limited availability. A yacht chef will have often had extensive training with the ability to execute meals with precision and creative presentation and be able to adapt to any dietary requirement with ease. On smaller yachts, the role might be absorbed by a stewardess, while larger yachts may employ a sous chef. 

Sous Chef/Crew Chef

The role: Supports the chef in provisioning and preparing meals

Responsibilities: Provisioning, menu planning, preparing meals

Reports to: Chef

Bigger yachts might have a sous chef to assist in the execution of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for guests and crew. They will have similar knowledge of produce and menu planning with the ability to execute meals with detail. Some yachts will even have a dedicated crew chef who cooks for the crew only.

*Roles and responsibilities may vary from vessel to vessel

More advice for new crew


More from Dockwalk