So You Want to Work on a Yacht in the Caribbean

Maybe you live in a cold climate and dream of a career on warm tropical seas. Or, perhaps the Caribbean is home, but you’re stuck behind a desk and yearn to work on one of the yachts that cruise by your office window. Either way, you’re in luck. There are many opportunities to work on yachts in the region. What is key is to be prepared.

Positions Aplenty

“There are two types of jobs on yachts: at sea and shore-based,” explains John Duffy, president of the Antigua-based Caribbean Marine Association (CMA). “Those at sea will include captains, first mates, engineers, stewards and stewardesses, deck hands, chefs/cooks, and even nurses and masseurs, all largely dependent on the size of the yacht.

For crewed charter yachts, “we seek couples, or a better word would be ‘teams’ – a captain and a chef/mate We need folks that are already comfortable working together in close quarters,” explains Dick Schoonover, manager of CharterPort BVI, in Tortola. “For a chef, a week-long sample menu is important to see. This shows that someone can plan for a week, and (theoretically) translate their menu plan into a shopping list.”


Captains and crew work hard but there is always time for fun. Photo courtesy of CharterPort BVI


In the sport fishing profession, “jobs here are mostly for deckhands. Very occasionally, and usually temporarily, a captain may be required,” says Gary Clifford, captain and owner of True Blue Sportfishing charters, based in St. George’s, Grenada.


Preparing the baits ready for next day – Mates on sports fishing boats require strong stomachs. Photo: Dean Barnes


Shore-based jobs are typically in the maintenance and supply industries, according to CMA’s Duffy. “These range from painting, carpentry and engine maintenance to electronic repairs plus the supply of goods and provisions.”

Sean Devaux, general manager of IGY’s Rodney Bay Marina, in St. Lucia, agrees and adds: “Boatyard jobs include technical work such as welding, woodwork, sail repairs, hydraulic and engine repairs, air conditioning repairs and all other basic repairs.”


There are many jobs ashore in boatyard for those who would like to work on boats. Photo courtesy of IGY Rodney Bay Boatyard


Landside positions on the charter side are for charter brokers and central agents, according to Ann McHorney, founder and director of Select Yachts, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based yacht charter, management and sales company. “These positions require a good knowledge of yachts, logistics, maritime regulations and, of course, computer skills.”

Qualifications are Key

There are ‘must have’ qualifications needed in every marine-based position, as well as ‘extra’ skills that can mean the difference between landing the job or not.

“Captains must possess the requisite level of certification necessary for captaining a large vessel with guests on board,” says Ian Pedersen, marketing manager for the Americas for The Moorings, in Clearwater, Florida. “Past experience is a huge positive, as perhaps no other industry can properly prepare you for hosting guests from all over the world aboard the close-quarters of a yacht for extended periods of time. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the individual’s personality is key, as they are ultimately the ambassador not only of the company, but of the destination the guests are visiting as well. It is our hope that our skippers make our guests’ vacation memorable for all the right reasons. Being able to properly welcome guests into the entire yachting experience and lifestyle, rather than simply getting the boat from A to B, is our aim.”


Photo: Courtesy of The Moorings


Charter yacht crew applicants must have their STCW Basic Safety Training International Certificate of Competency, says Select Yacht’s McHorney. “Additionally, prospective crew should present applicable skills in their CV. Any watersports, computer, technology and mechanical skills, travel experience, personal training and fitness, ​​​massage therapy, ​​restaurant work, family cruising, childcare; so many things are applicable if they present it in a positive light. Employer references or previous captain references are a plus.”


On sport fishing boats it’s not only about fighting blue marlin. Photos courtesy of Hackshaw Charters


In charter fishing and day tours, “we prefer experience, however many of our most successful staff members came in with no experience,” says Chris Hackshaw, owner of Hackshaw’s Boat Charters, in St. Lucia. “We look for people who are willing to learn, have good social skills, able to work flexible hours, and having a love of the ocean does not hurt! Once someone meets this, we see how they work and what line of work best suites them. Some may be better suited on the sport fishing boats, while others on the whale watching boats.”

For a boatyard position, “reliability, experience and qualifications” are most important, according to IGY Rodney Bay Marina’s Devaux.

Advice from Insiders

Patience is key, says The Moorings Pedersen. “There is a delicate balance between being the captain responsible for the safety and maintenance of the vessel and everyone on board, and recognizing that the guests on board are there to have fun and experience a special vacation.”


Photo: Courtesy of The Moorings


Yet, crews need to keep the word ‘work’ in mind. “Owners spend heavily on their investment. Therefore, crew need to be fair in providing the work for which they are paid. Creating a good mix of work combined with personal time is the best way to go,” recommends Select Yacht’s McHorney.

For those who don’t call the Caribbean home, there are often employment restrictions regarding non-nationals.

“Don’t come here to work unless you have a job lined up in advance,” says the CMA’s Duffy. “You are not permitted to seek work when you are on a holiday entry visa. If you do work ashore without a work permit you will be deported. If you wish to work either on a yacht or ashore, check the internet. There are plenty of jobs available and there are legal ways of getting employment.”


Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.