How to get a job as a Yachtie

23 March 2009 By Kelly Sanford

The bars and blog-spots are suddenly full of chatter about breaking into the yachting industry, not to mention’s ongoing Forum,“Getting Started.” A reoccurring conundrum for newbie crew is what exactly constitutes “experience?”

It doesn’t matter what position you are looking for, whether it be deckhand, stewardess or chef, when industry insiders talk about “experience,” it’s whether or not you have experience with yachts. We know. It’s an exhausting paradox. If “experience” really means experience on yachts, then how does anyone break into this industry?

See, here’s the problem: The hard part about working on yachts is not the job itself, like making beds or scrubbing floors. But when you have to do it on a yacht, everything changes. Sure, it seems pretty straightforward from the outside looking in, but once you are in, you’ll get it.

Captains are rightfully concerned that your 10 years of culinary experience won’t do anyone a bit of good if you are curled up in a lovely green ball in the head while the guests are waiting to have lunch. It doesn’t matter how many cruises you’ve been on or how many times you’ve been out on a boat; there’s really a limited percentage of the population who are able to handle working on a yacht. So when a captain takes on untested crew, well there’s a real risk that they won’t work out and the rest of the crew will have to shoulder the extra responsibility. This happens so often that just about everyone in the industry has done time with a “one-trip-wonder.”

Now before you start thinking, “Well, I just have to prove that I don’t get seasick….” No, it’s not just that. To do well on a boat, particularly in an entry-level position, Capt. Michael Sundquist says, “You have to be a really good subordinate.” You are expected to do as you are told (even if you were asked to do it differently just the day before). You have to be socially malleable and tolerant of the eccentricities not only of your guests but also of your fellow crew. You must quickly learn to be meticulous to the point of a borderline obsessive compulsive disorder.

Chefs, you may be great in a restaurant, but do you really know what it’s like to pack two weeks worth of provisions for 12 guests and six crew into two household-sized refrigerators and not run out of anything? You’ll screw up a few times before you really get the hang of it, and no captain wants to be the one to watch you move along that learning curve.

There are a lot of great resources for learning some of the ins and outs of being yacht crew. If you have the money, training classes do help. However, the best way to get training is on the job. There is no yacht-life simulator; you have to do it.

Marcy Williams of Northrop and Johnson Crew Placement says, “Since competition for jobs right now is high, consider letting the placement agencies know that you will be willing to start or do a freelance trip for a reduced rate just to get onboard and get your feet wet…. It may even be worth doing a short trip as an unpaid apprentice.” It might not be the best-paying job you’ve ever had (an understatement), but at least you’ll get some requisite experience for your CV.

Do two or three “starter trips,” do them well, take orders, make friends, and chances are you will connect with people in a very good position to help you get that first real job on a yacht.