Life at sea, whilst demanding can be an extremely lucrative and exciting career path. Yacht crew are the heartbeat of the yacht, offering a professional and luxurious service to their guests, ensuring every want is tended to whilst maintaining a cheerful, easy-going demeanour. They are on-call 24/7 and live, eat, breathe their work with their crew and guests!
19 London had a chat with one of our candidates, Megan – who has worked on yachts for over four years. Megan shared her experiences of what it takes to be a “yachtie”, exploring some of the most beautiful locations in the world whilst serving the rich and famous.
Firstly, please tell us a little about yourself and your background.
I was born and raised in Southern Africa, in a landlocked country, Zimbabwe. I spent my childhood going on holidays to wildlife areas with my family, going on houseboat trips (which to us is a mini-yacht adventure) to one of the world’s largest man-made lakes, Lake Kariba, as well as going to the Zambezi River.
One of my fondest memories from my childhood was fishing on the Zambezi River, where fishing for tiger fish is the in-thing. There we sat, patiently waiting, drifting down the majestic yet powerful river, all lines in the water. A reel started running, we were all up with excitement, it was mine! I let it run for a while before I struck, what a good fight. I landed a 7.5kg Tiger Fish that day on my own, at the age of eleven. Although my family were happy for me, jealousy was certainly in the air.
After finishing high school, I obtained my diploma in Early Childhood Development and taught children between the ages of three and four years old at a Nursery school in Zimbabwe. I was then offered an au pair position in America and that is where my love for travel developed.
Tell me how you first got involved in with the yachting world?
When I came home from the au pairing position in the United States, I realized I still wanted to take on the world in search of new and exciting experiences. Looking to change direction and travel to some of the most beautiful destinations I decided to pursue a career in Super Yachting, combining my sense of adventure and travel.
Describe a typical day; what work does it entail, what hours do you work, what problems do you face?
A typical day: Wake up, put on my uniform and go through to the crew mess. Sit alongside some coffee-deprived crewmembers and eat breakfast. A lot of running around and working at high speed, in the various departments making sure everything is spick and span before the guests wake up. Greet guests when they awake and alert crewmembers over the radio that guests are up. Morning (breakfast) service until lunch, the guests are constantly taken care of. Interact with guests and give them a rundown of options for them to do that day. Break time – 2-hour break in the afternoon, usually either speak to the family or have a power nap/relax. Help with lunch service. Clean, clean, and clean, until whatever time the last guest goes to bed: Provide excellent dinner service and help with housekeeping. Keep an eye on guests: where they are, who is still up, and who has gone to bed.
Our schedule varies and can change daily but generally, we work a 13-hour day with a 2-hour break during the day and a nine-hour break overnight.
A lot of plans and schedules change at the drop of a hat, depending on the owners and their wants and whims, which you always have to be prepared for. Behind the scenes, my duties include the never-ending laundry, laughter and keeping crew spirits high.
What would you tell someone who is thinking about joining the yacht industry?
Go for it! My diverse working experiences have provided me with opportunities to grow and shape myself in different environments and has given me the confidence to never be discouraged by daunting challenges.
It is a “work hard, play hard, save hard” industry. What you put in is what you get out, from your attitude down to the hours you work which are by no means “a walk the park”. If you don’t want to get your “hands dirty” and don’t enjoy being a team player then it’s not an industry for you. Your team is only as strong as your weakest link. Your salary has no deductibles, so savings can be incredible as long as you don’t get caught up in the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Like any job, it has its advantages and disadvantages.
What would you say are the key three traits someone needs to do your job?
A positive attitude, dedication and effective communication.
Do you have a stand out memory from your career so far?
My whole career so far has been a stand out memory, there isn’t one that I can pin-point to being one above the other – the good and the bad! It’s all an incredible journey from dock walking and living like a “pleb” in the crew houses to getting a job on your “dream-boat”. The people you work with, the characters you get to know and appreciate, let alone the places we get to see and experience along with the hard work and dedication put into creating the “wow factor” for guests are all stand out memories for me.
How has the yachting sector changed since you started working in it?
It has become so popular over the years and has become a lot more difficult, not only to make a career of it but, firstly even to get into the industry as there are so many people trying and finding it hard to get started.
How has COVID-19 affected the yachting industry and how do you see it changing it going forward?
The outbreak of COVID-19 has had a profound effect on the travel and superyacht industry, in particular, the yacht charter market, which has been brought to a halt by the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions in travel have affected both crew and clients resulting in a downturn season.
Going forward I think it will be a very slow pick-up and the initial focus will probably be owner use and not so much chartering. Medical screening for both crew and guests will carry on and be stricter with this in-order for the safety of crew and guests.
Do you ever see yourself embarking on a land-based career?
For the moment it is not on the cards, I am really enjoying this career path and would like for it to continue and to work my way up.
What do you wish other people knew about working on yachts?
It is not all the Facebook/Instagram posts you see of Yachties having a great time, it may look glamorous as we spend the year chasing the sun but we sometimes only catch a glimpse of our surroundings through the yacht’s portholes. It is hard work and long hours and performing at the highest of standards and levels of service. We go into guest cabins multiple times daily and they are expected to look like no one has been in there or touched anything. You have to become a perfectionist and constantly spot the imperfections.
You are on call 24/7, and anything and everything is done before the guests’ need it. We clean guest cabins with toothbrushes, toothpicks and cotton buds for the perfect finish.
When you spend your time around the clock, working, eating and living with people you have never met before, sleeping on the same deck in closet-sized rooms there can to be tension with the crew, one person can rub off on the rest of the crew, it is bound to happen. If there are any problems on board you have to acknowledge it straight away.
In exchange for all of this; the downtime we do get, in remote destinations, exploring our surroundings, every moment is made the most of and appreciated – finding a balance is key.
What kind of people have you worked for during your career on yachts?
Working on charter vessels have given me the opportunities to meet and work for people from all over; Americans, Australians, Russians, Pakistanis, Arabians and British to name a few.
I get asked which celebrities I have met and I have been lucky to have met a few.
(They are more like regular people than you’d expect).
How would your crew describe you?
Easy-going nature, positive and friendly demeanour along with a great sense of humour.
How would your clients describe you?
Hard-working, presentable and easily approachable to all guests needs with a warm and professional demeanour.
What is it like being away from your friends and family for months at a time?
I do find this challenging at times as I have worked on busy charter boats. It is hard finding that time to speak to them especially with my family living so far away, a quick hop on the plane to see them for the weekend is not an option. You do tend to get homesick. Being away from home allows for more appreciation of what you don’t have. It is so rewarding going home to visit them after a busy season and spending that quality time with them – feels like things haven’t changed.
What are you most proud of accomplishing?
On my last boat, I had only been on board for a few short months and I proved myself to the team through hard work, leadership and organisation. The Captain and Chief Stewardess saw my potential and approached me, enquiring if I would be interested in the position of Purser along with my other duties. It was a huge step in my yachting career in getting that promotion, I felt honoured and valued. I continued in this role for 2 years and during that time I had completed and passed the Purser Course through the Crew Academy.
What do you do when you aren’t working?
I enjoy travelling, exploring hidden gems and meeting new people. Being brought up in Zimbabwe has made me passionate about the outdoors and being surrounded by nature.
One of my newest favourite hobbies is open-water diving. Health and fitness are important to me and I enjoy working out often. I also enjoy reading and photography in my spare time.
What do you find most challenging about your job?
Not all crew personalities match and can be strained due to stress of being away from home and the long hours worked.
Stowing the interior while you have guests onboard can be a dreaded task especially when there are a lot of expensive breakables that need to be stowed carefully. If you are moving from one place to another (average a few hours of travel) the weather and waves can be unpredictable so it is not something you can get away with. It needs to always be done before picking up anchor and dropping anchor, which can take up time in our busy schedule as you have to stop what you are doing and attend to it. If you are doing an over-night voyage and you have guests on board it is not a complete stow (as we would normally do without the guests) and if you are lying in bed with the rough weather, you tend to worry about the expensive items, thus not getting much sleep.
On the topic of bad weather, carrying the food up and down the staircase while underway makes things that much tougher. There was one instance our beautifully set table was destroyed in seconds by a gust of wind, five minutes before we were supposed to seat the guests with us trying not to act alarmed.
What do you find most rewarding about your job?
Making the guest’s holiday one to remember and creating a homely environment on board for them. Travelling to remote destinations is also a big part of what makes the job so rewarding. We have very high standards on board and working with a crew that works well together to achieve this is very important, but also having fun along the way. “Teamwork makes the dream work!”
What’s one of the most difficult situations you’ve faced whilst working?
Working with a difficult crewmember who made it unpleasant for the whole team although he was very good at what he did, so we all had to grin and bear it! This was a “win-win” situation, as it taught me a lot about myself and being able to “move my cheese” (change my attitude accordingly).
Finally, describe what your future looks like to you.
I feel like my future looks bright; I pride myself on my work ethic, which I believe has formed the foundations of my career so far. I believe hard work is a vital component to succeed in this industry and is truly something I enjoy, always setting a high standard for myself. If I continue to work hard and am persistent, I will go a long way in this career!
If you are interested in getting into the yacht industry as a crew member or looking to hire a crew member for your yacht, please get in touch with 19 London today.