So you want to get a job on a super yacht but have no clue where to start? I know the feeling!
When I started looking into the idea of working on yachts last winter, I was struggling to find a clear and concise route into the industry. STCW, ENG1, agencies – I heard so many words with no idea of what any of them really meant. Now that I’ve been through the whole process of getting a job on a yacht, I’m hoping to pass on my knowledge to you.
To kick things off, I’m going to start righttt at the beginning and talk about which courses you’ll need.
Regardless of what position you’re going for on a yacht, there are two qualifications you NEED – an up to date STCW certificate and ENG1 medical certificate.
WHAT IS IT?
It’s not a course teaching you how to work on a boat but more a course teaching you how to survive if things goes wrong. You’ll learn how to put out a fire if the boat catches alight, what to do in the case of ‘abandon ship’ or how to perform lifesaving CPR on somebody. It was a very full on week (and probably not the wisest decision booking it the day after I returned home from a ski season) but I genuinely learnt a lot and think it’s something which is so useful regardless of whether you’re wanting to work on a boat or not. It’s not just for yachting where this course is essential – you’ll also need one if you’re looking for work on cruise ships, ferries or commercial ships.
To obtain a complete STCW certificate, you need to undertake 5 modules typically done during a 5 day course – these modules are:
- Certificate of Proficiency in Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting
I found this part of the course the most intense and physically demanding but also the most exciting. At the end of the two days, you’re essentially working towards being able to enter a burning building and put out the fire, whilst rescuing any casualties you come across on the way – and they really don’t sugar coat it.
Half your time is spent in the classroom learning about the causes of fire, different types of fire and the best ways to put them out.
The rest is very hands on – you’ll use different fire extinguishers and a fire blanket to put out fires, test out hoses, get yourself geared up in firefighting ppe (which makes you feel like the real deal) and try out boundary cooling. Where I did my course, they had built a ‘ship’ out of shipping containers stacked together and it was here that they put all of our skills to the test. The firefighters create a controlled fire but nonetheless, it creates one hell of a scene! With smoke pouring out the sides and super hot temperatures inside (not to mention the massive jackets and oxygen tanks we were wearing), our goal was to enter inside with the correct procedures and put out the fire. It sounds simple enough but it’s no easy job! You’ll be trained just like a fire fighter would be, because at the end of the day, if you’re stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean, you ARE the fire fighter. I came home each day stinking of smoke, covered in ash and absolutely exhausted but having learnt so much!
So without going into too much boring detail, that’s just a little summary on what to expect on the fire fighting side of things. Take everything on board, try your best but also treat it as a bit of fun – you’re being supervised by trained firefighters and the fire is always contained so I had no doubt I was in safe hands (even if being stuck in a dark building thick with smoke and facing a roaring fire seemed far from safe at the time!)
- Certificate of Proficiency in Personal Survival Techniques (PST)
This one day module basically teaches you what to do if you have to abandon ship. Half of the day in spent in the classroom learning about devices such as EPIRBs and SARTs which help others to locate you as well as learning about the best ways to survive at sea.
The second half of the day includes a trip to the pool! You’ll dress yourself in immersion suits and use life rafts (which are much bigger and snazzier than I had imagined) It’s nice to be out of the classroom for a bit and put your knowledge to the test.
- Certificate of Proficiency in Elementary First Aid (EFA)
I guess this one is pretty self explanatory really. Even if you’ve already been on a first aid course, I think it’s never bad a thing to be refreshed on your knowledge and this course covers some additional things which are related to the sea such as drowning. You’ll also cover all the standard first aid topics such as CPR, controlling bleeding, treating burns and using a defibrillator. I don’t think you can ever be prepared enough for situations like these – just fingers crossed you won’t be in one!
- Certificate of Proficiency in Security Awareness (PSA)
This module was taught in half a day and it covers the importance of keeping a ship secure and how to respond if there are security threats – for example, what to do in a piracy attack or what your role is if there is an alarm. I’m not gonna lie, this module (as well as the PSSR) were both pretty wishywashy in comparison to the previous few days but still, it’s something you’ve gotta know!
- Certificate of Proficiency in Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities (PSSR)
Just like the PSA, this half day module includes a whole list of things to know regarding your safety and responsibility on board. You’ll be taught about safe working practices, how to avoid marine pollution and how to make sure your looking after yourself onboard (for example: controlling fatigue, keeping clean, maintaining healthy relationships etc) It’s not as exciting and thrilling as the fire fighting or life raft areas of the course to say the least, but it is another step closer to getting your STCW certificate!
WHERE CAN I DO IT?
I did my STCW in Plymouth, UK through the company ‘STCW Training UK Ltd’ which I would deffo recommend but you can do this course in sooo many different locations around the world. Lots of people head to the ‘yachting hubs’ such as Antibes or Fort Lauderdale to do their courses as there are lots on offer and you’re sort of already in the networking loop for when it comes to finding a job but you can find courses pretty much everywhere. The website ‘STCW Direct’ allows you to type in your location and it’ll show you all the course providers nearby.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Prices differ depending where you do it but generally, you’re looking at around £800-£1000 for the 5 day course. It’s not cheap and seeing that money come out of my account when I was working as a seasonnaire (and earning that much in two months!) was a bit of a shock to the system but you’ll earn that money back in no time once you’ve found yourself a job. It’s a worthwhile investment for sure if you’re seriously looking start a career in the industry.
WHAT IS IT?
An ENG1 medical certificate proves that you are fit enough to perform your duties onboard. To get one, you have to pass a medical exam by a specialist MCA approved doctor. It sounds very formal when I put it like that but you’ll basically be checked on your sight, hearing, weight, height etc to see whether you’re fit enough to perform your duties on board. The appointment took about 30 minutes and if you pass, you’ll get your certificate then and there which is valid for 2 years.
WHERE CAN I DO IT?
You have to make sure you go to an MCA-approved doctor – you can’t just get this done at your local GP. Luckily, there are so many of these doctors around the country. This website shows you where your local one is!
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
Appointments in the UK will cost no more than £105 – I went to St Thomas Medical Group in Exeter and it cost me £95.
NON ESSENTIAL BUT USEFUL COURSES
Although your STCW and ENG1 are the only two essential qualifications you need, there are loads more courses you can choose to do to enhance your CV and make you stand out from the rest!
HELPFUL COURSES FOR A STEWARDESS/STEWARD
LEVEL 2 FOOD AND HYGIENE
One course which I would definitely recommend for a stewardess is a ‘Level 2 Food Safety and Hygiene’ certificate. During service, you’ll be coming into contact with food and so having knowledge of food safety is looked upon very favourably by employers. You’ll cover topics such as safe food handling, different types of contamination and how to avoid food poisoning. It’s a very popular course and you’ll be able to find classroom lessons in all the yachting hubs. However, I actually did my course online on a website called ‘Virtual College’. It cost £12 and took around 2-3 hours.
Now I haven’t actually taken any specific interior courses and I wouldn’t say it was necessary when you’re starting out (you’re spending enough money on courses as it is!) However, if you are wanting to push your CV to the next level, popular interior course topics include:
- Wine, Bartending and Mixology
- Floristry and Plant Maintenance
- Barista and Hot Beverages
- Silver Service
- Laundry and Linens
- Wine and Food Pairing
- Valet/Housekeeping Services
Again, a quick google search will bring up where you can do them close to you but, if I were going to do them, I would probably go via ‘Bluewater’ – I’ve heard nothing but praise for them!
If you have the cash to splash and really wanna stand out, then you can go for a full stewardess course which will include a variety of courses as well as your STCW. ‘Flying Fish’ is a popular option – it’s very expensive at around £2300 (and that’s excluding accommodation) but this will actually work out as much cheaper in the long run. But again, I really don’t think it’s necessary when you start out, especially if you already have a background in hospitality.
Personally, I’ve worked in the hospitality industry since I was 15 and, although I was never trained to the 7* standard I’m working at on yachts, I did have a good grasp of how to make a bed properly and serve guests. This massively helps when looking for stewardess work so make sure you highlight this on your CV if it applies to you too (but even without this background, you’ll find something if you try hard enough!)
There are some other skills which are looked upon very favourably by yacht recruiters and if you have any of them, 100% put them firmly on your CV – you’ll be in a very strong position I can guarantee! Some useful additional skills for stewardesses include:
- Personal Trainer
- Yoga Teacher
Some of these skills can even be made into a full time job – for example, lots of the big big boats recruit ‘stew/masseuse’s’ who’s job could have a very heavy focus on massage work when guests are onboard and housekeeping when they’re off.
HELPFUL COURSES FOR A DECKHAND
Now this is a department I’m not so familiar with so I’ve enlisted some help from my crew (and for those of you who may be unsure, working on deck includes jobs such as making sure the exterior of the boat is all clean by washing down, sanding and polishing, helping with mooring and anchoring procedures, driving the tender to bring guests onshore etc)
I feel like courses have a much higher importance with the exterior crew and, to progress through your job and get into higher roles through time, taking more and more courses will help you greatly (whereas in the interior, you can work your way up to chief stew without necessarily needing any additional certificates) Nevertheless, you don’t need to spend a ton of money on lots of courses when you’re starting out – but here’s a few which my crew said would be very beneficial if you’re looking for work on deck.
POWERBOAT LEVEL 2
If you’re looking for work on a smaller boat, having a powerboat licence is pretty much essential. This will allow you to drive the tender (a much smaller boat which is used for getting to shore when the boat is at anchor) The big bigggg boats often have designated tender drivers whose sole job is pretty much to drive the tender and so some deckhands may not even need to use it. Nevertheless, I’d say deffo go ahead with getting it – there is so much competition to find yachting jobs and deckhand jobs are often the most sought after. Having this on your CV will help a lot!
A very popular powerboat course is this one.
One of the main things that guests do when on board is have fun in the water (you are surrounded by it after all!) Having any watersports training will give you a massive advantage as a deckhand. A few popular courses include:
- RYA Personal Watercraft (Jet Ski)
- PADI Open Water Diver
Having these qualifications are by no means essential but having them on your CV will make you shine above the rest. Even if you haven’t done the course but still enjoy doing watersports activities in your spare time, then make sure to include that in your CV too.
Just like with the interior, there are a few skills which are looked upon very favourably when working on deck. These include previous sailing experience, carpentry, painting and photography.
ARE THERE ANY OTHER DOCUMENTS I NEED?
Another thing which is important to remember is that some countries where yachts are cruising to will require you to have a visa.
Luckily, myself and fellow Brits are able to work in Europe visa free (for now at least but let’s not bring up the B word). If you’re from outside Europe, I’d recommend having a search online for other websites explaining the visa process as I’m afraid I can’t help you there!
During summer, the majority of yachts will be located in Europe for the ‘Med Season’. However, in winter, a lot of boats cross to America and the Caribbean which was the case for my current boat. This meant I had to get a visa – a B1/B2 visa is the most common choice for yachties. I know much more about it now that I have it but it’s still all a bit confusing – I found this website the most informative and I think that she can explain it all better than me!
I remember how much of a confusion all the courses malarkey seemed to me before I got started in the industry but hopefully I’ve managed to clear things up (despite my rambling tendancies, I apologise) It is pretty expensive to get started but, once you’ve got your foot in the door, you’ll earn that back soon enough. For me, it was an investment well spent and I am so happy to be doing the job that I do!