Breaking into the business

Written by Erica Lay for Yacht Essentials Magazine

So you’ve just learned about the yachting industry from a friend who’s been off living the dream and is back in your home town for a quick visit before their next adventure... either that or it’s a sibling, or your mum’s friend’s son’s girlfriend’s brother etc... Anyway the point is you’re at one of those points in your life where you think “it’s now or never” and you’ve been looking at how to get some travelling done, earn some cash and basically have a new experience 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 oceans. So 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, and by then it’s usually a bit on the late side to get everything sorted.

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. March/April is a good time to arrive. Over in the Caribbean or Fort Lauderdale, the best time to aim for is Autumn; September to November. 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. Over the other side of the pond you want to aim for Fort Lauderdale, Antigua or St Maarten. A bit of research before you go should give you an idea of the best (and cheapest) places to stay, be it crew houses or shared accommodation, or better still – a friend’s place. You want to position yourself well; you’ll want to 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? Well, to start with, an STCW 95. I’m still surprised when I meet people who’ve arrived in the Med “ready” to seek work yet without this very important safety requirement. Over here at least, 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 they find employment. The problem with this approach is that without it, you probably won’t get a job. The yacht won’t wait for you to do this course (they’re often only run once a month), so that eager beaver next in line who already has their certificates in order will get your job.

So step one, STCW 95. Step two – think about what it is you want to do. If you’re going for stewardess positions, have you got a strong hospitality background? If not, then look at a quick stew course which will give you a good introduction to the overall aspects of working the interior. Even if you have great housekeeping and fine dining experience (working not eating it), the reality of working on a yacht is rather different.

If you’re looking at deck work, then consider taking the Powerboat Level 2 course. This will allow you to drive tenders. Which is fun... as well as handy to have! If you’re considering engineering, then do the MCA Approved Engine Course – your first stepping stone into the yacht engineer world. There are also lots of general deckhand introduction courses to give you a taster of deck-life, from varnishing and sanding to showing you how to tie various knots and when to fend on/off – if you don’t have any previous boating experience this will help not only with confidence but will prevent you looking like a wally due to tying off a fender with a granny knot and a bow.

Ok, courses done and dusted, ticket booked, now you need to look at your CV. I won’t harp on too much about this because I’ve done it before and also, because everyone you meet in the industry will no doubt have their own views and opinions on how to create that perfect resume. But please, indulge me for a second because I just want to give you a few pointers...

It’s important to have a good photo. The number of CVs that cross my desk with bad photos on still surprises me – this goes for senior crew too. If you were a captain, would you pick up that CV with the professional looking smiling yacht crew photo on it, or the one that was clearly taken on a night out, with the mojito/hen-nighters/friend vomiting on your shoes (delete as applicable) just out of shot? See my point? Ok so get someone else to take a shot of you in a clean smart polo shirt, ideally outside and even better if it’s in a marina and the sun’s shining, and don’t forget to smile. No scruffy t-shirts, no logos, no randoms in the background and don’t take it yourself either – that’s never a winner.

Jun – Jul 09 MY Bigboat, 54m Deckhand

Job description.....

Try to avoid using too many buzz words. We know you’re a dynamic team player, nobody writes “I hate getting up in the mornings and working with other people makes me grumpy” so you don’t need to state the obvious. Think carefully about your wording, so instead of long drawn out sentences like: “I was responsible for managing a team of three people and leading them to focus on goals in order to meet expectations” something like this would work better: “Managed a team of three successfully to achieve sales targets for 2010”. Less fluff, more punch.

If your previous experience is non-maritime then 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 etc. Sometimes it’s good to get a friend to read your CV and cut out the unnecessary bits; it’s hard to summarise your own life!

Have different CVs – e.g. one for deck work one for stew work. 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, finish with contact details for a few references and very importantly – keep it to two pages. Ok I’m done with the CV advice – you can contact me for more if you want it!

Before you plan your trip, make sure you have your vaccinations and visas sorted out. Get yourself a seaman’s book when you’re able. And a few white polo shirts wouldn’t be a bad idea either.

The tough fact of finding your first yacht job is that most of them will go via dockwalking. Hundreds of new crew arrive each season and walk the docks, so time permitting the yachts will interview and trial people until they find their new junior crew before the season really kicks off rather than pay agency fees. So, yep, you have to trawl the marinas, cap in hand, asking for work. It’s the only industry I’ve ever encountered where this is the norm. You will ask for daywork or longer term work, and you’ll be happy to do anything they can give you. Yes this includes being squeezed into the bilges, cleaning things with cotton buds, or making the engineer cups of tea and handing him spanners. It’s all experience, and it’s all good to put on your CV – at the start everything counts!

I hope this advice is helpful; you now should have enough time to book your courses and write that CV before the next season starts.... So, good luck and happy dockwalking!