As you know, I spent this summer working on megayachts in the French Riviera. I’ve already shared with you How to Get Your First Yacht Job and A Day in the Life of a Yacht Stewardess, but I always get asked about what it’s really like to work on a yacht so I want to tell you all about it! Without a doubt, every time I tell someone that I work on megayachts, their eyes get big and they comment how cool that must be. It’s definitely cool, I mean it beats sitting behind a desk. But it’s also not really glamorous or sustainable. Here’s what it’s like to work on a yacht:
What it’s Really Like to Work on a Yacht
The Days are Long
No, the days are REALLY long. On a private boat when the boss isn’t on board and you’re just doing maintenance, you’re looking at 10 hours a day. On the other end of the spectrum, on a busy charter boat you’ll never do less than a 16 hour day. And in all cases, you live and work on the boat so your life and schedule are dictated for you. You basically wake up and start cleaning and working and you keep going until it’s time to go to sleep again. It’s a hard grind, and depending on how much you’re willing to put up with will partially determine what kind of boat you work on (charter, private, boss on or off, busy or relaxed).
You Rarely Get Time Off
Unsurprisingly, you don’t really get a lot of time off, if any. When I was working as a sole stewardess, I never got a day off but I did sometimes get afternoons off. The bigger the crew is though, the more likely it is that the boat has a rotational schedule so everyone gets an afternoon or day off every couple of weeks. On some big private boats, you can get a rotational gig where you might, for instance, work 3 months and get 1 month off. It all depends on the boat and your individual contract. But it’s definitely not like any land-based job where you get weekends off and all that. Yacht work is as full-time as it gets, and you have to just be happy with any time off they give you.
The Labor is Demanding
Make that REALLY demanding. It’s all physical labor, scrubbing and cleaning and polishing and moving heavy boxes and running around preparing everything for a perfect guest experience. And doing that all day every day can really wear on your body, which impacts your energy and enthusiasm. It can really wear people out and not everyone will want to or be able to put up with it.
The other aspect to this work, and why it’s difficult for people to break into the industry, is the level of perfection that’s expected. Everything has to be perfect, beyond perfect…no dust particles on any surface anywhere, no water droplets on any surface in the bathroom, everything folded and arranged to perfection. It’s all part of the luxury experience that guests are expecting (and in truth, if I was paying hundreds of thousands of dollars or even up to a million dollars per week for a yacht charter, I would expect perfection too). It takes some time to actually train your eye to see the imperfections, and to train yourself to do each task to the level of perfection expected. The first few weeks are brutal, because you’ll spend so long doing a task like making the bed, trying to do it perfectly. Then the chief stew will come in and point out five things you missed and say you need to do it better next time, and twice as fast.
The Guests are Even More Demanding
Besides the baseline expectation that the yacht will look perfect in every way and from every angle (we often squat down or do this funny side-lean to get a different angle to see whether something like the mirror looks perfect from all angles and in all lighting), the guests often have crazy requests. I won’t get into the details of what they ask for, but a lot of preparation and perfectly timed execution goes into creating the perfect guest experience. It’s more manageable when the boat is private because you have the same boss (and his family) all the time so you get to know their preferences and expectations. But when it’s a charter boat you’re constantly working with new guests, trying to make sure they have the perfect vacation and learning what their schedules and preferences are like so you can anticipate what they’ll need and when. The goal is to be there when they need you with what they need, and then to be invisible when they don’t. The chief stew is in charge of orchestrating the guest experience, and she manages the interior crew to execute this plan.
The Scenery is Good
For as much hard work as it is, when you’re not in a windowless room scrubbing the toilet, you are often treated to some of the best views in the world. Yachts will generally cruise the Mediterranean in the summer and the Caribbean in the winter, though the more adventurous boats might go to Alaska or Thailand or Greenland or wherever else the seas will take them. Whether you’re looking out the porthole or you’re off the boat on a free afternoon, the scenery is definitely a major perk of working in yachting. You’ll get to visit places you might not otherwise ever go to. And even though you’re spending the majority of your time working hard instead of out enjoying those places, the benefits can often outweigh the work.
The Money is Even Better
Depending on your frame of reference and depending on the boat you get on, the money to be made in yachting can be very good! The longer you stay in the industry, the more you move up the ladder and the more money you can make. Captains, chief stews, pursers, and chief engineers make the most money on the yacht, but it takes awhile to get there. If you’re just starting out though, you can still make a decent paycheck. For green (new) yachties coming from lower income countries like South Africa, Ukraine, or Bulgaria, the money you make on a private yacht will make you very rich by your home country standards. However if you’re from an affluent country like the UK, US, or Australia, you could make the same money for less work at home. The yachts where you’ll make a bigger chunk of cash is on busy charter yachts, because of the tips. Anyone from anywhere will be dazzled by the amount of money you make on charter yachts. You definitely work hard for those tips, but at the end of the year you can walk away with enough money for a down payment on a house. It also helps that you live on the boat and have very little chance to spend that money you make, but you still have to be smart about saving.
The Crew Will Be Your Lifeboat
When you’re in the thick of a long hard season, you haven’t had a day off in weeks and you don’t have another day off in sight, you rely on your crew to get you through. Some boats have a really unhealthy culture and I’ve seen people be so miserable that they have a big fight and quit midseason. But other boats have an awesome and happy crew that keep each others’ spirits up and they all help each other through the tough days so they can all survive the season. The key is to figure out which kind of boat yours is before you sign a contract. That’s just one of the reasons to base yourself at the port where you’re trying to get a job because there’s nothing worse than flying halfway across the world get on a yacht where you’re miserable and quit after a week. I know people who have even quit on their first day, because they got such a bad vibe about the crew! You want to meet the crew, and do daywork or a trial on the boat, before you sign a seasonal or permanent contract. Finding the right crew is possible, and trust me it’s well worth the wait and extra effort because it will mean the difference between being miserable and actually enjoying this experience.
It’s an Experience, Not a Career
And speaking of which, let’s remember that for 90% of people who work in yachting, this is an experience, not a career. Captains are just about the only people who stay in the industry for the full length of a career. They have the best job in the world, getting paid to drive a big beautiful boat around in some of the most beautiful places in the world. They don’t really get their hands dirty with the manual labor, because they did that for long enough as they worked their way up the ladder to get where they are, and now they just drive the boat and manage the crew. As for everyone else on the yacht, they’ll usually stick around for anywhere from a season to five years. Then they move on. The work is really hard on your body, the hours are exhausting, and you have no life because you’re on the boat 24/7. It’s not an easy lifestyle to maintain for the long term. But it’s definitely doable and exciting for the short term! The friends you make, the stories you pick up, the money you earn, it’s all part of a really cool life experience that few other people will have.
You Learn a Lot
From this experience you definitely gain some life lessons. This is especially valuable for the kids who come to the industry at 18, straight out of school with no life experience and no clue. But no matter what your background, this industry is so unique and particular that everyone will learn something from it. For instance, you learn about doing a job perfectly. And you definitely learn that if you don’t have time to do it right you will have to find time to do it twice. You learn about finding the right tool for the job and not doing anything halfway. You learn about putting a smile on your face and being pleasant even when you’re exhausted and miserable. You learn about customer service and guest relations. You learn how to really work as a team, putting aside differences and arguments in order to get the job done. You learn how to work without complaining. And you learn to commit yourself entirely to a job. I can’t think of a better experience for any young person.
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