Living with Liveaboards: A Survival Guide

17 November 2008 By Victoria Allman

The alarm rang at 5 a.m., just as it had every morning for the past three months. I stumbled to the bathroom and looked in the mirror at the bags under my eyes. You just have to get through two more days, I told myself. You can do it. It’s almost over. I willed myself to believe the words. Two more days, two more days. The thought ran over and over in my mind like a mantra.

Even if it’s only a week-long trip, there comes a point when every crewmember starts a countdown to the moment the guests step off the gangway for the last time. But what if there's no end in sight? What if you work on a boat with liveaboard owners?

“It’s all about breaking your days or weeks into manageable time slots,” our captain told me. “You have to look forward to your day off on Wednesday instead of focusing on the lingering season that’s months from being over.” Concentrate on the here and now and not on a countdown that will only frustrate and depress you.

As a chef, the strangest thing I had to get used to was repeating meals. I always prided myself on creativity and presenting something new, but day after day with the same guests meant I had to swallow my ideals and repeat things they’d already seen.

It also meant I had to focus on my health. No longer could I drink endless pots of coffee during a trip, thinking it was only for a short time. I had to work both exercise and proper nutrition into an already full day.

It becomes a game of how to keep motivated. One way captains and owners can keep your attention is with bonuses, but sometimes money is just not enough. “I offer extra sleep or early nights off when I can,” our captain said. “I need to keep everyone refreshed and smiling no matter how tired they are.”

When accepting a job with long-term guests, it’s important to look at the whole package. Is there Internet on the boat? Is there compensation for lost days off? Is there any time away from the boat at all? The captains running these programs need to provide incentives to entice good crew to join a tough program.

There are benefits to yachts with full-time guests as well. “I was able to save almost my whole paycheck,” our stewardess said. “I can now head home with a full bank account.”

And don’t forget resumé building. One mention of surviving a boat with liveaboard owners garners you a phenomenal amount of respect from future captains and crew agents. There can even be emotional rewards. Liveaboard owners often interact with crew like a family. The increased percentage of time together creates strong bonds that can make for a more personal and enjoyable experience on the boat. You move beyond pleasantries into meaningful relationships.

From someone who has just survived her first season with liveaboards, the biggest piece of advice I have is to pace yourself. Liveaboard guests are a marathon instead of a sprint.

Do you have a trick to survive extra long trips? I have another season coming up and would love some suggestions.