Breaking into the Yacht Business

So, you’ve just learned about the yachting industry from a friend who’s been off living the dream and is back in your hometown for a quick visit before her next adventure. Either that or it’s a sibling, or your mum’s friend’s son’s girlfriend. Etcetera. The point is you’re at a time in your life when you’re thinking “it’s now or never.” You’ve been looking at how to get some traveling done, earn some cash and have some new experiences before settling down.

You’ve probably just discovered that it’s a way bigger industry than you realized; people actually do work and make a living on those massive floating hotels out there cruising the world’s oceans. The question now is: What are you going to do about it?

My reason for bringing this up mid-season is that normally we talk about how to get into the industry at the start of one of the seasons, but by then it’s usually a bit on the late side to get everything sorted. Now is the time to really get ready if you hope to break into the business.

The best way to find your first job on a yacht is to get where the action is. This means arriving in the Mediterranean in the spring. Over in the Caribbean or Fort Lauderdale, the best time to aim for is autumn. This is just before each season generally kicks off.

If you’re going to the Med, you should base yourself in Antibes or Palma de Mallorca. On the other side of the pond, aim for Fort Lauderdale, Antigua or St. Maarten. Plan well ahead and make sure you have your vaccinations and visas sorted out. A bit of research before you go should give you an idea of the best (and cheapest) places to stay, be it a crew house, shared accommodation or, better still, a friend’s place. You’ll want to position yourself well and make friends and contacts as soon as possible, as jobs more often than not go through word of mouth.

The fun part comes next: dockwalking. But before we get to that bit, you’ll need to be prepared pre-arrival. What will you need? To start with, a STCW 95. I’m still surprised when I meet people who’ve arrived in the Med “ready to work” without this very important safety requirement. Most yachts won’t entertain you without your STCW as an absolute minimum. It’s a four- to five-day course covering four modules: Personal Safety and Social Responsibility, Sea Survival, First Aid and (the fun one) Fire Fighting.

I’ve heard a number of new crew telling me they’ll do the course “if and when” they find employment. The problem with this approach is that without your STCW you likely won’t get a job. The yacht won’t wait for you to complete the course – they’re often only run once a month – so the eager beaver next in line who already has this certification will get your job.

Step two: Think about what it is you want to do. If you’re going for stewardess positions, do you have a strong hospitality background? If not, look at a quick stew course to give you an introduction to the overall aspects of working the interior. Even if you have great housekeeping and fine dining experience, the reality of working on a yacht is rather different.

If you’re looking at deck work, consider taking the Powerboat Level 2 course. This will allow you to drive tenders, which is fun as well as handy! If you’re considering engineering, do the MCA Approved Engine Course – your first stepping stone into the yacht engineer world. There are also lots of general deckhand courses to give you a taste of “life before the mast,” from varnishing and sanding to showing you how to tie various knots and when to fend on/off.

Once the courses are done and the tickets are booked, you need to look at your CV. I won’t harp on too much about this topic because I’ve done it before and also because everyone you meet in the industry will have their own views on how to create that perfect resume. But please, indulge me for a second as I give you a few pointers…

It’s important to have a good photo. The number of CVs that cross my desk with bad photos still surprises me. This goes for senior crew, too. If you were a captain, would you pick up the CV with the professional-looking photo, or the one with the snapshot of the mojito-swilling guy at the bar? Get someone to take a photo of you in a clean shirt, ideally outside and even better in a marina. And don’t forget to smile.

As for the rest of the CV, keep it short and punchy. Use bold to draw the eye to the essential stuff (e.g. your work experience): Jun-Jul 16, M/Y Bigboat, 54M, Deckhand, Job Description.

Try to avoid using too many buzz words. We assume you’re a dynamic team player – nobody writes “working with other people makes me grumpy” – so you don’t need to state the obvious. Think carefully about your wording; instead of long sentences like “I was responsible for managing a team of three people and leading them to focus on goals in order to meet expectations” use “Managed a team of three successfully to achieve sales targets for 2016.” Less fluff, more punch.

If your previous experience is non-maritime, think about transferrable skills. A yacht captain probably isn’t too concerned about your telephone manner but will be interested to hear your proven track record in dealing with difficult situations, working under pressure and the like. Sometimes it’s good to get a friend to read your CV and cut out the unnecessary bits. It can be hard to summarize your own life.

Have different CVs for different positions and focus on your strengths for each. If you’re going for a stew job, but your CV harps on about your deck skills, the captain might think you wouldn’t be committed to an interior role. Finally, include contact details for a few references and, very importantly, keep it to two pages.

Before you leave on your trip, get yourself a seaman’s book. Register with agencies and keep them informed of your movements. Touch base when you arrive. If you have interviews, turn up on time and looking smart (a few white polo shirts never hurt anyone). Agents will be your representatives – if not now, then in the future – so first impressions are important.

The hard fact of finding your first yacht job is that most of them will go via dockwalking. Hundreds of new crew arrive each season to walk the docks, and time-permitting, yachts will interview and trial people rather than pay agency fees. So, your best bet is to trawl the marinas, cap in hand. Ask for day work or longer-term work, and be happy to do anything they give you. This includes being squeezed into the bilges, cleaning things with cotton buds, and making the engineer cups of tea and handing him spanners. It’s all good experience, and it’s all good to put on your CV. Remember, at the start, everything counts!

I hope this advice is helpful. Start now and you should have time to book your courses and write your CV before the next season starts. And you can always contact me for more advice, if you want it. Good luck, and happy dockwalking!