A Guide To Working On Super Yachts & Sailboats
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I’ve met quite a few “yachties” during my travels over the years. People who work as yacht & sailboat crewmembers for a living.
Today, my friend Katie shares her experience working on yachts, along with tips on how to find yacht jobs. It’s truly a fascinating way to earn money while traveling the world! Here’s Katie:
There are around 37,000 yacht crew members employed on the 6,000+ superyachts around the world. And that doesn’t even count the smaller yachts and sailboats out there too.
I’ve worked in the yachting industry on and off for almost a decade while traveling on my own in the off periods. Yachting helped me travel the world both on and off the boats, “living the dream” as they say.
I initially worked as a stewardess, then began taking jobs as a chef after finishing culinary courses at the Culinary Institute of America, to increase my earning potential.
After learning the ropes on sailing yachts, I also worked as a deckhand on the racing yachts Wild Wings and White Horses, a pair of 76’ modern classic rig sloops in the W class out of Newport, R.I.
Eventually, I also got my Captain’s License and Master of Yachts 200T certification with a sailing endorsement. So this is an industry I know very well!
Getting into the yachting industry is all about being in the right place at the right time. You won’t find a job from your computer at home — you gotta get out there and pound the pavement.
But chances are, if you’re dreaming of a life working on mega-yachts, the ability to travel is one of the main attractions. And it’s a fantastic perk!
Yacht Job Benefits
You don’t have to pay rent when you work & live on boats, and your food is included too, so you can really save a lot of money. But many yachties get lost in the endless party lifestyle and waste their income.
Save your money, and when you’re done, you should have a nice nest-egg.
Another huge benefit is the ability to travel. Hopping around beautiful islands of the Caribean and Mediterranean, and while working most of the time, it’s possible to escape and enjoy these locations during time off.
Many people use the good money they save while working “in-season” to travel for fun in the off-season.
How Much Can You Make?
Inexperienced yacht crew working as deckhands or stewardesses can earn between $2000-3000 a month. With more experience and higher positions, your salary can be between $3500-$6000 a month.
On charter trips, guests typically tip 5% – 15% of the weekly charter fee, which is split between crew members. This can mean another $1000 per person, per week, in tips.
Yacht Crew Positions
As a deckhand, you generally clean and wash the exterior of the boat. You drive the tender (smaller boat that ferries back and forth between the yacht and dock). You take out the garbage, change light bulbs, do maintenance on the tender outboard engine when it needs it, clean the winches, etc.
If you work on a sailboat, there’s a lot more to learn about all the rigging & sails, but that can be done if you’re interested.
As a steward or stewardess, you’re generally on duty in the interior of the boat, as a waitress, a maid, a laundress, sometimes a nanny. You work with the chef to see that dinner happens in a fluid way. You work with the deck crew to plan the guests’ daily outings and pack their day bags.
Most yachts have a chef, and they are well paid, but you will need some prior cooking knowledge & skills. The larger the yacht, the more formal the expectations and entry requirements will be (like experience cooking at high-end restaurants or a cooking degree).
These other yacht jobs are not entry-level. You generally need to work as a deckhand or stewardess first — and need a lot more specialized training too. But you also make a lot more money.
Engineer – Upkeep and repair of engines and electrical components. Requires a proper engineering degree.
First Mate – Second in charge to the captain, helps manage crew and sail when the captain can’t.
Bosun – Responsible for maintaining the exterior of the yacht and managing crew members.
Captain – Sails the yacht. Hires crew members. Requires a captain’s license and lots of sailing experience.
Working On Yachts: A Typical Day
When the yacht owners are on-board, or other people have chartered (aka rented) out your boat for a holiday, you are “on charter.”
Being on charter means you don’t leave the boat, you can’t drink alcohol, you keep to your work duties, and otherwise stay inside your cabin.
You are room service, the bellman, the front desk, their personal attendants, their laundress (washing clothes), sometimes their masseuse, taxi driver, waiter, chef, etc. Get the point?
When the guests or owners are off the boat, maybe sight-seeing in town or at the beach — it’s time to clean, turn the cabins, iron sheets, stock the drinks fridge, etc. Preparing for their return.
If guests stay up late drinking, you take turns with other crew members to wait on them and bartend as late as the last guest.
The yacht’s chef will be up at 5am to start pressing oranges for freshly squeezed juice at breakfast, and with the steward(ess), will set up the breakfast buffet.
When guests leave their cabins for breakfast, stews (aka stewards/stewardesses) clean their rooms, make beds, and prepare day bags for whatever the guests would like to do that day.
It’s a long hard run of working when you’re on charter. However, if the guests are not the owners of the yacht, often there will be a decent tip at the end of the trip.
Some boats charter (are available for rent) and others do not. If you want to work hard and earn more money, I recommend working on a boat that charters.
If you want to sit back and relax more and take a regular salary, choose a boat that doesn’t offer charters.
When you aren’t on charter, you essentially work a regular 9-5 job, just in some exotic location. The chef cooks a few meals for the crew so you’re taken care of.
Your job is to do general maintenance and upkeep work on the boat (there’s a lot) and are done around 4pm or 5pm each day, with days off.
How Much Does It Cost To Get Started?
To get started working on a yacht, all you need is a plane ticket to one of the international hubs, 2-3 months worth of cash to feed and house yourself while you find your first job, and $1000 – $1200 for a yacht training course or two.
Yacht Training Courses
STCW’2010 (previously STCW‘95) is not a regulatory requirement to work on yachts, but it’s becoming an un-official requirement from Captains and owners for safety and insurance reasons.
Investing in this course is also a sign of your commitment, and will improve your chances of getting hired for your first job.
The STCW’2010 course is a week long and costs about $1000 depending on the country. You learn the basics of safety at sea, and it’s actually a lot fun!
At IYT in Ft. Lauderdale, where I went, you’ll wear real firefighting suits complete with oxygen masks and fight REAL fires on a fake ship and then use survival suits, inflate an emergency raft and jump into a pool. Quite memorable!
To boost your resume and improve your odds over other green (in-experienced) yacht job hunters, consider taking a separate Marine Engineering course for deckhands, or the Silver Service course for working as a steward(ess).
Yacht Training Resources
- International Yacht Training in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
- Maritime School of the West Indies in St. Maarten
- Palma Sea School in Palma de Mallorca
Where To Find Yacht Jobs?
Location is everything in this business. Yachts move around the globe seasonally like migrating birds, chasing the best weather.
There are only a handful of international yachting hubs, and if you want a job, you need to spend time in one of these locations. Ideally 1-2 months.
Winter Season: The Caribbean
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida is America’s capital of yachting, and they kick off the winter season with the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show usually scheduled around October 1 each year.
If this is your season or location of choice, plan to be there in September and have your STCW course done so you’re ready to walk the docks and hand out resumes during the boat show buzz.
Ft. Lauderdale is a decent place to look for work in the winter, but if you don’t have a job by December and want a change of scenery, you can fly down to English Harbour, Antigua or Simpson Bay, St. Maarten (a larger community) and you might be able to snag a job for a holiday trip.
Summer Season: Mediterranean & New England
Most yachts leave the Caribbean in the summer months because of hurricane risk, and because it’s too hot.
Which is perfect because the Mediterranean and New England are wonderful in the summer and host all sorts of mega-yacht races for the sailing elite.
Summer season in the Med (yachtie slang for Mediterranean) begins in May as most of the boats are crossing the Atlantic in April.
The center of the Mediterranean yachting industry is Palma de Mallorca, Spain. Antibes, France is also a hub for sailboats, but it’s a bit smaller.
In the United States, the New England area has a smaller yachting scene, made up of smaller boats and more sailing oriented. Your best bet to find crew jobs here is Newport, Rhode Island.
Visas & Immigration Advice
Always check visa and entry requirements for any country you’re visiting. Depending on your nationality, the laws will be different.
Generally, Americans visiting Europe get 3 months visa-free travel, while Europeans get 6 months in the U.S.
When you fly into a country, make sure you have proof of ties back home, an income source or job that demonstrates you don’t have plans to stay forever.
While looking for yacht jobs on a foreign-flagged vessel in America is not technically illegal, it’s frowned upon and not something you want to tell immigration officers.
Don’t keep evidence of yacht job hunting with you nor electronically when you fly into America. It doesn’t have to be illegal to get you sent home!
Another immigration rule to be aware of, when flying into St Maarten you can’t arrive on a one-way ticket. The notorious “proof of onward travel rule“.
If you are flying into the country to join a boat you’ve already been hired for, the Captain will help you arrange all necessary B1/B2 visas for America, or whatever country, which you’ll show at customs.
If you’re European, Australian, Kiwi or South African or any other nationality, keep in mind that the Jones Act in America limits employment on U.S. flagged vessels to Americans.
This doesn’t mean it isn’t worth going to Florida though, there are tons of foreign-flagged vessels to make the job prospects real. And many American owners register their boats offshore, for tax reasons.
Informal Networking For Yacht Jobs
Make sure you stay in/on the right part of the island or city you choose to base yourself. As close to the marina as possible.
If you see the line drawing of a yacht on someone’s shirt, and they’re wearing khaki shorts and flip-flops, they probably work on a yacht — go talk to them!
Sailors are drinkers, so don’t be afraid to hit the local sailing bars!
Yachting is one of the oldest industries in the world and still runs largely in a social context — the more people you meet, the better your chances.
Crew housing is always a good place to meet other crew and hear about new jobs and day work.
There are crew-specific hostels too, so ask around, some hostels are regular pick-up spots for day-work. If you sit out front every morning at 8am… Mates and Captains often stop by looking for day workers.
Yacht Day Work
What is day work? Work one day, get paid in cash. Simple. It’s a great way to earn a bit of extra cash and network with other yachties! Day work can often turn into a full-time crew position.
What will you do day-working? Clean. And if you want to keep getting work, clean with a level of perfection you never dreamed possible. If you’re in the interior, think maid on speed. Use toothpicks, q-tips, soft scrub, whatever is necessary to make every nook and cranny sparkling clean.
If you’re on the exterior, expect the same detail and attention, but with boats you’ll have to dry everything you wash. Chamois chamois chamois! (Pronounced shammy; if you don’t know what it is… you soon will!)
Working With Crew Agents
There are probably 30 crew agencies between Palma and Ft. Lauderdale, dozens of Facebook groups, social media and online sources. They help boat owners find crew.
It’s a good idea to register yourself with as many crew agencies as possible. Exposure is key. The first job could come from anywhere.
When meeting with crew agents and interviewing with captains, be sure to iron your clothes, have groomed hair, be clean, awake and presentable.
Working for mega-wealthy yacht owners means you must be presentable and dress conservatively.
It might be wise to cover tattoos, remove face piercings, apply fresh nail polish, trim your beard, and tie back your hair too. Some owners don’t care, others do.
Popular Yacht Crew Agencies
- Ft. Lauderdale Crew Agents
- Elite Crew International
- Crew Unlimited
- The Crew Network
- Northrup & Johnson
- Crew Finders
- Nautic Crew Worldwide
Motor Yachts VS Sailing Yachts
You don’t actually have to be a sailor to work on a sailing yacht (especially if you work the interior), but you have to be willing to learn.
There will be more to your boat, in rigging, maintenance, and sailing. Some find it fun, while others find it intimidating. You must see if it suits your passion.
Pay can be higher on motor yachts, but not always. My advice, work a year on both and see which you prefer.
Sailboats tend to have a more relaxed vibe. From the cities sailboats tend to dock in, to the captains and the owners who have a passion for the sport. The joy of sailing is what draws them all together.
Sailing is a sport, a hobby, and a lifestyle.
Whereas “white boats” (motor yachts) tend to be a bit more status oriented and have higher standards of service from their crew. These boats are a status symbol, they are essentially a private floating resort.
They want the highest level of service and attention to detail.
Having staff at the beck and call of all their personal whims is what the ultra-wealthy one-percenters are all about. You have to be ready to suck it up, put your ego away, and be a servant.
But if you can fit the persona of a servant when guests or owners are on board (which is usually only 2-8 weeks per year), and you can clean like a maniac, you will make great income traveling the world on mega yachts.
Living The Yachting Life
The sea will forever be a part of my soul, and sailing through those starry nights with a 360-degree horizon is a meditative place I return to. I have been forever changed by my time at sea.
I have young kids now so it’s not possible to leave for weeks on end. But once they are older I will take them sailing, and cross oceans once again.
The sea calls me back. And I hear the call.
Working on yachts can give you an exotic life of adventure, world travel, beautiful beaches, and a glimpse of what luxury living is like… all with a pretty damn good salary.
Just know that working on yachts can be hard, and it’s not all glamorous.
But if you can handle the workload, you’ll return with great memories, new friends, and a fat savings account. ★
Thanks for sharing your experience with us Katie! I’m sure it will help those who have been contemplating working on yachts in order to travel more. ~ Matt
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Have any questions for Katie about working on yachts and sailboats? Drop her a message in the comments below!