New to crewing? Here’s what you need to know to break into the industry, make a positive impression, and build the foundations for a successful yachting career...
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already found your way into working on yachts. In which case, congratulations. It’s no easy task to complete all the requisite training, nail the interviews, land that first job, and learn the ways of this weird and wonderful industry. But it doesn’t stop there. Once you’ve got a foot in the door, how can you ensure you’re on the right track to make a successful yachting career? How do you find your next job on a boat where you really thrive? And how can you avoid making stupid mistakes and create a sterling reputation?
We’ve asked the experts — from recruiters to senior crew — for all the details on how to thrive in yachting. They’ve shared what’s worked for them, what not to do, and what they know now that they wished they knew then. Read on for all the insider tips on landing your dream yachting job, acing life on board, and finding career contentment.
Manage Your Expectations
Nowadays, most people are introduced to yachting through social media or TV. Seeing the glamour of yachting from afar, would-be crew can get the wrong idea. “Maybe they’ve seen Below Deck and expect life on board to be like that,” says Liam Dobbin, managing director, wilsonhalligan crew recruitment. “But not every boat is a charter boat, and not every guest will talk to you.”
Starting a crew career means doing your due diligence and researching what the job really entails. “Find out as much as you can about the industry before doing any courses,” says India Thomson-Virtue, Dobbin’s colleague at wilsonhalligan. Meet with multiple recruiters and build a rapport. It could be as simple as jumping online to watch videos on table service and napkin folding, or reading crew blogs about how to pack for life on board and set up your finances. Such seemingly mundane research, says Thomson-Virtue, can help ensure you understand the job and are going into yachting for the right reason.
Because the fact is, new crew often underestimate how physically demanding and exhausting the job is. “It’s not all Rosé and beach days, spending your tip money,” says Elise Ciappara, former chief stew on yachts from 35 to 90 meters and current Head of Yacht Expeditions for Pelorus. “It’s also scrubbing floors on your hands and knees, working 18-hour days, and smiling when being asked for absurd things.” It can also be downright dull. Owners or guests might not be on board often, so instead of providing service, you’re just housekeeping. Or there might not be a lot of time off in cool locales because the boat isn’t in port.
James Stockdale, captain of 66-meter Lürssen M/Y Elysian and founder of Pinpoint Works, echoes this sentiment. “Ninety percent of the time, your job will probably be cleaning,” he says. Stockdale points out that green crew often have a preconceived notion of the job — high wages, big tips, amazing itineraries, and time off in exotic places. “You will be lucky if your first job meets just one of these criteria,” he says.
Make a Good Impression
Making your way into yachting might not always be a straight line. Dobbin recommends gaining experience in hospitality, working at a ski chalet, in private aviation, or at a high-end restaurant or hotel. “Even six months working in a high-end hotel would be great for your CV,” says Dobbin. Of course, you want to make sure your CV is spot-on (wilsonhalligan has a template on their website) and make sure your profile photo is a professional headshot and not one from a night out.
“Sell yourself and remember to always add your land-based skills,” says Alexandra O’Connell, Deck Recruitment Consultant at YPI Crew. “Never leave anything out that seems ‘irrelevant’ — to a captain, chief stew, or client, that bit of information could be the ticket to landing a job.” Be sure to include hobbies — YPI Crew points to one of their clients who wanted all his deck crew to be keen cyclists so they could join him on tour when going ashore.
Presenting yourself professionally in person may be obvious, but new crew often don’t. “We’ve had green crew doing their nails at the reception!” says Anna Horak, engineer recruitment consultant at YPI Crew. “Some have come to introduce themselves after a long beach day still in swimwear and flip-flops, and couples have been holding hands while being interviewed.” These overly casual faux pas are a big no-no.
Crew should treat the interview process seriously, which means dressing the part. Wear the sort of business attire you’d don for an office interview — an ironed collared shirt, a simple dress. “A guy turned up in a shirt and tie once, and that was a good impression,” says Dobbin. “Just doing that little bit extra can get you noticed.” These standards apply to video interviews too — dress well, make sure there’s no clutter in the background, and test your connection ahead of time.
Protect Your Reputation
Your online presence can make an impression long before you get a chance to do so in person. Horak notes some interviewees who had WhatsApp profile pictures from a crazy night out or have social media posts overloaded with party pictures. Candidates have lost out on positions because of a photo or post. “Captains, agencies, and management companies research your background thoroughly, especially if you are just starting in the yachting industry,” says Horak. “Yacht owners are very careful of who they allow on board, so make sure you come across professionally on social media.”
This rule goes double once you’re employed. “A big mistake new crew make is partying too much and putting everything on social media,” says Julie Walker, Meridian’s Employer Division Manager. The yachting industry values confidentiality, and the privacy of an owner comes first. “New crew don’t realize how small the yachting industry actually is, especially in the hubs like Antibes and Palma. You really need to know that there are eyes and ears everywhere,” says Horak.
In yachting, you are never truly off the clock when it comes to representing yourself and your vessel. “A common mistake is overdoing the ‘work hard play hard’ mindset and going a little too far on a night out,” says Thomson-Virtue.
Acclimate to Life on Board
One of the biggest challenges is adjusting to tight quarters and working in a high-pressure environment with long days that don’t fit a 9-to-5 schedule. “Trying to mentally wrap your head around this before starting can be helpful in acclimatizing to the situation — especially on very busy boats,” says Capt. Stockdale. “Finding small pockets of time and space for yourself and being mindful of giving your crewmates space where possible can go a long way to feeling comfortable on board early on.”
Adjusting to life on board also means considering how other cultures do things. Ciappara remembers a time early on in her career when she and another British junior stew were sitting in the crew mess whining about being tired. “As Brits, we tend to moan as a form of bonding, but I quickly learned that other nationalities don’t work like that,” she says. Their chief stew, who was from New Zealand, told the girls off for bringing down crew morale. “We were creating a negative impression with the rest of the crew,” she says. “I really took that to heart and learned to look on the bright side much more, which in turn, made me a better crewmember.”
New crew should take the time to learn the dynamics of their new boat. While you want to build trust with your fellow crewmembers, Walker recommends avoiding building an alliance with anyone too quickly. “Many times, a new crewmember will buddy up with an existing crewmember, not realizing that they are on their way out the door,” she says.
It’s also best to avoid getting too cozy with your fellow crew, romantically speaking. Capt. Stockdale puts it plainly with this rule: “Don’t screw the crew,” he says. “The majority of relationships started on board don’t end well. Relationships with fellow crewmembers is a guaranteed way to cause drama and stress within the team.”
Mindset is Everything
Perhaps the most important thing a new crewmember can bring to their work is humility and an open mind. Embrace a principle of Zen Buddhism known as the “beginner’s mind” — letting go of your expectations and preconceived notions to see things with fresh eyes, which enhances learning experience and improves job performance. If this isn’t your first yachting role, steer clear of constantly referencing your old boat and how things were done. “I used to hate the refrain of ‘on my old boat...’ from crew who had been on maybe one or two yachts before ours,” says Ciappara. “What matters is how your chief wants something done, not how it was done on a different boat with a different setup.”
Dobbin shares an example from his last boat, where a new crewmember didn’t listen to current crew about putting air freshener in the vacuum. Turns out the owner didn’t like the scent and was annoyed by it. “New crew should go in with an understanding that they don’t know best,” says Dobbin. “Listening is key. It’s always great to bring new skills to the boat, but you need to sit back, blend in, and listen to those who are more experienced.”
“Everyone will start at what feels like the bottom. However, every job on board is important and when all jobs are done well, it leads to a smooth-running team,” says Louise Overend, Interior Recruitment Consultant at YPI Crew. You might find yourself doing long hours in the laundry and feel you’re not progressing, but the skills you learn and master at this stage will be what helps you progress to Head of Department (HOD) in the future. “You’ll need to be able to teach all these skills to the next generation of junior crew, so be patient, see every task as a learning opportunity, and always ask your HOD if there is anything more you can do to help,” she says. The surest way to fit in on board is to be a team player. Help out your fellow crewmates, even if they don’t ask.
Plan for the Future
Don’t focus on the first job being your ideal one. Perfect “unicorn” jobs do exist, but they’re generally reserved for crew who have done their time and have exceptional references. All the more reason to start your crew career on the right foot.
“My biggest advice would be committing to a yacht for at least a year, preferably two or more,” says Stockdale. “If you stick with a program for long enough, the captain and HODs will be more inclined to invest in the development of you as a crewmember and should assist you in any professional development opportunities along the way.”
Those who want to advance their yachting careers can get on the right path as early as the interview stage. Asking what crew longevity is like on board or if there are any training packages shows you’re career-minded, says Dobbin. New crew should plan to save money for courses and trainings that aren’t provided by their boat.
Although the last thing you might be thinking about when you start is your inevitable exit from yachting, it’s really the best place to start. When you’re making a good salary and have minimal expenses, it can be easy to spend too freely, especially when you’re influenced by the owners’ lavish lifestyle. “I wish I had saved more!” says Ciappara. “My handbag collection is fabulous, but I regretted my spending habits once I came ashore full time.”
Save or invest that “extra” cash. Dobbin, who says he spent way too much on watches and nice cars, says new crew today seem savvier about saving. “Some are really switched on about cryptocurrency or buying houses and preparing pensions for themselves,” he says. Walker agrees that yachting is a fun and lucrative career path, but she wishes someone had told her to start thinking about what she wanted to do after yachting.
It’s never too early to start planning your future, and Overend advises junior crew to make a career plan at the beginning. “Do your research, read job descriptions of all positions on board, and decide where you want to be in the future — perhaps it’s Head of Service that appeals or a purser position, then work backwards on how best to get there. By seeing what experience, qualifications, and skills are in demand for your dream position, you can put these stepping stones in from day one,” Overend says. “Boosting your skillset with training courses will improve your knowledge and confidence, add to what you can offer your yacht, and make you a super appealing candidate. But another plus to continuing your education throughout your yachting career is for the day you decide to return to a land-based job and your qualifications and experience will surely make the transition easier.”
This feature originally ran in the October 2021 issue of Dockwalk.