I spent 4 years working on luxury superyachts (or megayachts or gigayachts) and every time someone I know is thinking about it I end up having the same conversation with them. I’ve decided to stop doing that and put everything that I’d normally say into this post. This is everything you need to know about working on superyachts, all in one place.
I’m not an expert in this and everything here is my opinion or a gross generalization of the industry. It may not be the same in all cases. I expect you to use more than one source and I expect you to understand my bias’ in the industry. I had extensive racing experience before I left and worked up from the deck to an engineers role on private sailing yachts. I’ve put a very brief summary of my relevant experience at the bottom.
I WILL NOT ANSWER EMAILS ABOUT THIS POST. This is everything that I know. If you want to ask something, contact these guys at theCrewCoach.com or leave a comment below. (If you’re looking for a job, have them help with your CV!)
Working on superyachts is awesome and is loads of fun. No doubt about it. But it’s also lots of hard work, long hours lots of stress small living quarters and not much time off. (See the “Industry of Extreme’s section”) having said that, it is great to do while you are young and is an awesome way to travel while earning cash… (Although some do make a life of it)
Do remember that it’s not so easy to just jump on a boat for a couple of months with no experience earn some cash and then leave. There are tons of kids just like you who also want to get that job. A little bit of experience goes a long way and without it it’s very hit and miss. Your first job could take you 4 months to get. Prepare for that – it’s far better to be pleasantly surprised.
Where to go
Superyachts follow the seasons. In winter (November to May) they go South to the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida. In Florida want to base yourself in Fort Lauderdale (venture to Miami and West Palm as well), from there you’ll catch trips to the Bahamas, and in the Caribbean you want to head to St Maartin or Antigua.
In the summer, the yachts head North. Either up the US coast to Boston, Maine and Newport (Newport is the place you want to be) or across the Atlantic to the Med. The season normally starts in Palma de Mallorca (best place to go at the start and end of the season) and then moves on to France or Italy. Mid-season you want to be based around Antibes, this is because there is a good support network and it’s a short train ride to Monaco, Nice and Cannes. (It’s often better to jump on the train to look for work outside of Antibes!)
*Note: many yachts do world tours and go to many more places. These are only the best starting spots where the boats get work done – i.e. they need help.
As a saffa travelling on a SA passport, I’m going to throw this one in here. Visa’s are a bitch and not having them will often cost you a job. The first thing to do is contact SAMSA and get a seamans book. This will replace vias’s in some countries. #winning
Otherwise for the US you want a B1/B2 visa and you’ll need Schengen or French / Dutch Atillies visa’s depending on where you’re going. One thing to note is that by international law, the yacht is an extension of the land that it is registered in – regardless of what waters you are in. If it’s an American flagged vessel you’ll need other visa’s that allow you to work in America. To avoid tax, make sure that you’re never in 1 country for more than 183 days. Many yachts are registered in Bikini or Malta as they are tax havens.
The only thing you really have to get is an STCW 95. The rest may differ depending on what area you’re wanting to go into (see “Crew Positions” below) As a deckhand, a tender course is handy, as an engineer your AEC or MEOL and as a stew or chef do something in that line.
REMEMBER: Pretty much nothing that you’ve done on land is going to be relevant and it counts for VERY little. (That goes for engineering too) Similarly, most of what you do on yachts will mean nothing in the real world.
Sail vs Power
There are 2 different types of boats you can work on. Owners / guests of sail yachts are generally more relaxed and are there for the journey or experience of sailing. They’re normally more laid back and friendly. As crew you get a lot more slack, can generally use the equipment when the owner is not there and you’ll interact with the guests in a less formal way. (Things like the chef making sandwiches for lunch as the boats heeling while you sail, come to mind.)
With motoryachts, the owner / guest is there for the destination. They want to be treated like kings all the time. They generally don’t interact with the crew and the level of service (read: stress) is a lot higher. It is far more like a floating hotel where everything just has to work. You do get bigger cabins though!
NOTE: Some large sail yachts (over 150 feet) act more like motor yachts than sail yachts. This is especially true for builds like Perini Navi.
Private vs Charter
As with power vs sail, there is a similar difference between private and charter yachts. Private owners generally pay a little less, but your quality of life is far greater. They let you use the stuff when they’re not there, they’ll give you plenty of perks and try to keep you around if they like you. (Otherwise it’s like having different servants at your holiday house every time you go – not that I’ve experienced this myself…) They’re more laid back and may interact with the crew more.
Charter guests are paying about $150k – $350k per week. That food better be awesome and those cabins perfect. Not to mention the TV and aircon being exactly right every time… They’re a lot less forgiving, work you much longer hours, but can leave you massive tips at the end of a stay. ($1000 per person per week is the norm – about 10% of the charter fee.) You work like a bitch but get paid like a king. It’s pretty stressful.
Crew and positions
There are 4 main streams of personel. Deck, Engineering, Interior and Chef. The crew size will normally be about 1 per 20ft (sail) or 1 per 15ft (motor). So, a 180ft sailing yacht would have: Captain, First Mate, Boson, Deckhand, Engineer, 2nd Engineer/deckhand, Chief Stew, 2nd Stew and Chef. More or less.
Boys generally start on deck, girls interior. Yes there is a bias for pretty girls (Millionaires like pretty girls around them) so get over it. It’s not that blatant, but it does exist. A trick for boys is to offer to help out in the engine room. It means that you’ll clean the inside instead of the outside, but you get out of the sun and can get paid more.
Your first job
When you’re starting out, send your CV to a bunch of crew agents in the place you are going to. (Yes you have to be there in person to get the job.) Check in with them at least every 3 days in person and ask if they’ve found you a job – this keeps you top of mind and top of the pile. Make sure your CV is only one page. You honestly don’t have enough relevant experience to fill more and it reflects badly.
Every morning at 7:00am you get up, get dressed and you “walk the docks”. (Wear a white t-shirt with kaki / navy shorts and slip-slops) What this entails is you asking every single boat in the marina if they have day work. Most will say no. It sucks, but you get used to it. If you don’t find something, go to a nearby town or marin
a and try again there. Basically, they’ll hire you if they need an extra hand for a day (or week) and you’ll be doing the shittiest of the jobs. You can expect to get about $100 – $150 and lunch for the day.
Your first job is most likely going to come from someone you’ve dayworked for or through a referral from one of them. Make sure you record the yachts you work on in your CV and ask for references whenever you can.
ADVICE: An easy going attitude, not too hungover or grumpy, a big smile and a willingness to do anything they give you goes a VERY long way!
If it’s not working leave. It doesn’t get better. Ever. There is also no such thing as notice period – unless you’re ending on a good note. The general rule for relationships is that you don’t screw the crew. I’ve never seen this end well. It’s OK to join the boat as a couple, but to start a relationship when there are 5 other people living it with you is too much for everyone. Someone always leaves.
Life on board (Added)
There are 3 modes of work on board. Firstly, when you have guests onboard. You’re up form 7:00am till 11:00 (can vary) and spend all your time cleaning and running around after guests and their wishes.
The second mode is delivery. This is when you are moving the yacht to another location and is normally done once the guests leave or to move to another country / place. It normally requires you to be on watch (like 2 hours on with 6 off) where you have to fill out the logs and monitor the trip.
Lastly, you have yard periods. This is where there are no guests onboard and you get to do all the big jobs and maintenance that you need. Often done in a place that has good support services and often take on dayworkers to help you get ready for your next trip. Work is 8:00 – 5:00 with partying on some evenings and on weekends.
The money. The travelling and seeing the most amazing places in the world. Living in the prime locations on the international scene. A month in Monaco, anyone? Days off in these locations rock. Saving money – if you’re wise. No tax. The parties are INSANE! Ocasional heli ride or trip in private Gulfstream 550, but only if you’re lucky.
The space. No seriously, you’re living with someone else in a room the size of a double bed. You have one cupboard, one shelf and a bed that touches both shoulders and tapers at your feet. All your possessions must fit in a suitcase. Living on top of people. You have no idea how confined spaces can rub people the wrong way and there is no cure for cabin fever except to get the f@#% out. Missing your friends and regular Wednesday night poker. Weddings, birthdays, fathers day and pretty much anything else you miss involving your family. It sucks big time.
The Industry of Extremes
I find it very common for people who hear that you work on a superyacht to reply with the, “Wow, that must be the best job in the world!” response. But is it really?
What most people don’t understand is that the pro’s and con’s of being a yacht crew is to live constantly in extremes. On the one hand you have the pro’s like living in the most exotic locations, getting paid (often in foreign currency) tax free, constantly moving and meeting new people, having no living expenses – besides drinking – to mention just a few. But at the same time many of these can be looked at from the other side of the coin.
Getting paid tax free means that you use offshore banking and will get pretty heavily taxed if you ever want to take that money home to buy a house for example. The reason that the boat covers all your living expenses is due to the fact that on many busy charter boats, you may never get the opportunity to go ashore and do shopping on a regular basis and often have no permanent means of transport to do it. The meeting new people part is awesome, but whenever you meet new friends one of you inevitably will have to move on within a couple of weeks. This makes it very hard for relationships with members of the opposite sex as you either only see each other every couple of months or you live onboard together in the same space as about 7 other people. Another bonus is that you have a largely international group of friends that you will bump into around the world. One of the reasons for the high pay compared to regular jobs is the sacrifices that you have to make in living and personal space, although there is also a lot of freedom having everything you own fit into a suitcase and backpack!
Yes, it is great when you get a couple of thousand dollar tip and 4 days off in the French Riviera, just remember that you had to put in 3 gruelling weeks of 18hr days of charter to get there. Too many people are very naïve about what it actually takes to live in the industry and therefore are not prepared for the sacrifices they need to make. But having said all this if you can put up with the con’s – which most young adventurous people can easily handle – you are in for a fantastic time filled with high adventure, good memories and hopefully a house or 2 by the end. At the end of the day it is all about balance and the constant juggling of the extremes.
Yachting can be loads of fun and a great way to save. The most important advice that I can give anyone wanting to start out on yachts is: “Don’t be more trouble than you’re worth.” When you’re starting out, you are very easily replaceable. You’re living right on top of people and getting in their space. Getting along with others and not ever being involved in fights, arguments and politics can make you indispensable – it’s more important than what you know or how hard you work. Don’t be a dick and good luck.
My time on yachts: [Added]
I’ve been racing dinghy’s and small yachts since I was 10. In Jan 2005 I dropped out of my 3rd year doing engineering at UCT and left to sail the Cape to Bahia race on a Benneteau 47′. I stayed on the yacht and went up to the Caribbean, stepping off in Antigua. After 4 months of intermitted daywork I got a job as a deckhand on a 137ft ketch. Within 2 weeks they offered to train me up as an engineer. A 6 month yard period at West Palm followed and a trip to the Bahamas for Xmas.
After that trip the whole crew left as the owner didn’t want to move the boat and I went back to Antigua. I got a job as a Deckie / 2nd engineer on a 140ft ketch and sailed to Palma. After the crossing I left, and joined another 92ft sloop in Egypt as mate / engineer. 6 months of hell with a russian owner and I left again to join my last boat, a 170ft schooner as deckhand. Moved into a 3 month rotation with the chief engineer after a couple of months and stayed onboard for another 2 years.
In 4 years I went to over 100 countries, done 7 ocean crossings and logged 48 000nm – twice the distance around the equator. I miss it like you’d miss university – It was awesome, but I’m glad I’m not there anymore.
Please do not email me any questions. Leave them in the comments below… Alternatively, I highly recommend that you get in touch with The Crew Coach as they have great advice and I’d strongly recommend having them help put together a killer CV. Good Luck.