Yachting: How To Get Started

I’m often asked questions such as “What exactly DO you DO?” and “Where are you now?”, but the one that I encounter the most is “How do you even get a job like that?”.  The yachting industry isn’t exactly one that is in your face as opposed to other careers, and it’s not like you can major in “yachting” at your local university.  In fact for most people, yachting seems to be an enigmatic industry, reserved for those with piles of money who already have enough summer/winter homes and want to feel like P. Diddy (or are P. Diddy) cruising around the Med with girls in bikinis.

I often consider the idea of making “I’m on a Boat” the theme song on my blog… too cheesy?

However, yachting is a very real and busy industry and if you want to see the world and are willing to work hard then you can become a part of it too (although the only ones feeling like P. Diddy would be the owners, so I can’t help you there).  Unlike backpacking, you are not going to be pinching dimes and you will know where you are going to be sleeping every night (not in the world, but on the boat).  Although on the flip side, often you won’t get to see as much of each place as those who are traveling on the road with all of their belongings in tow.  I ended up getting extremely lucky and finding a job where I do get sufficient time to explore, but know that it isn’t always the case.

View out of my porthole one morning in Fremantle, WA. Yeah, it’s pretty decent if you like that whole beautiful sunrise sort of thing.

If you are interested in this kind of work, the first thing you need to do is get what is called an ‘STCW 95’ which is your basic yachting certification, required for anyone who wants to work on yachts in any capacity.  Courses are offered all over the world, but a great place to take it is in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  Ft. Lauderdale is a major yacht port and every fall yachts migrate from all over the world for the annual Ft. Lauderdale International Boat Show at the end of October.  If you arrive about a month prior to the show, you will have a good chance of finding work, as all of the boats need extra help preparing.  The STCW course covers skills including first aid, basic yacht knowledge, firefighting (yes, I did really say firefighting) and water tests.  I took my week-long STCW course at IYT  (International Yacht Training) and it cost about $1000.  IYT was great as they helped find accommodation with other yacht crew and hopefuls while you are in town as well as with networking to help you find a job and help you with formatting your CV/resume.

that’s me under there, about 5 minutes after recovering from a panic attack and hyperventilating… would you believe that’s how claustrophobic I am?

At this point you should consider what route you want to take- entry level yachting positions are usually either as a stewardess working in the interior, or as a deckhand working on deck (duh, deck-hand).  However, in my course there were also a couple of chefs getting their certifications and I know one of them just finished an exciting season serving up delicious fresh mediterranean fare for charter guests while cruising around the coasts of Italy and France.

flipping over a life raft as part of the water tests and training

After you take your STCW course and have a decent idea of what specifics you are looking for (although don’t be too choosy- you are a newbie), you will want to sign up with as many agencies as possible, which is fairly easy to do as Ft. Lauderdale is teeming with them.  During the month of October the agencies have all sorts of networking parties set up and they are good opportunities to meet with other crew and exchange information (just be careful, the yachting industry is small so if you get wasted and make a fool of yourself, word will get around pretty quickly).  Any place or instructor you take your STCW with will have plenty of recommended agencies for you to look into as well, so don’t worry about knowing any beforehand.

taking photos for my resume… the instructor said to “look smart” (but apparently that’s british slang for “put together”) so this was my interpretation

Another good way to make contacts and find work is by “dockwalking”.  This method entails literally walking around various docks and handing your CV/resume  to any yachts or captains/crew that may potentially need extra help.  Through dockwalking you could potentially find a job or even just daywork which is only temporary but will give you hands on experience, extra cash to keep you stable while looking for full time work, as well as a possible recommendation.  This is another good reason I took my course in the US, because as a US citizen, you don’t have to worry about customs and immigration while soliciting for work.  I know a few foreigner friends who had to be careful while dockwalking, and even heard a few rumors of others being deported (but personally I don’t know anyone who had an issue).

so, this happened. (was actually part of my additional stewardess course at IYT)

There are a bunch of other great resources, one of them being www.dockwalk.com (don’t get too sucked into the gossip forums and horror stories though. They are on there for a reason, and written mostly by those who have too much free time.).  Also, for daywork to help keep your finances in check while looking for work, I logged in daily to www.daywork123.com.  There are a number of books as well written by former “yachties” that you can get some preliminary information from to decide if this job is right for you.  One that a friend of mine read and recommended was “The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess: Confessions from My Years Afloat with the Rich and Famous” by Julie Perry.

Moet on the bow anyone?

As for my experience, I did everything I just detailed and had a bit of a hard time finding work, I’m not going to lie.  I saved about $3,000 (after paying for the course ahead of time) and also took an additional stewardess-centric course offered by IYT (which was an additional $500 or so that I paid for ahead of time as well).  The $3,000 went towards my accommodation which was fairly priced at about $100-$150 per week, depending on where you stay (for the sake of giving advice, I had an awful experience with the Neptune Group Crew accommodations, but was very pleased with Smart Move accommodations).  It also went toward other basic expenses like food (and drinks…).  After a few months, when it had quieted down from the boat show chaos, jobs were more available as much of the competition had left for other yachting destinations.  Really, it all comes down to how hard you are willing to look for work, along with a little bit of luck.

And if you ever get discouraged, the CVS in ft. lauderdale has 3 for $10 bottles of wine. Trust me, it helps.

My job is a bit of a strange one even in the yachting world as our itinerary is worldwide and our crew is somewhat relaxed.  We have a small crew for our size yacht, but it means we really work hard and have less of the large crew drama (read the book, look on dockwalk.com- you’ll see what I mean).  Also, we hardly ever have owners on board and we don’t charter to paying guests.  I could go on forever as there always seems to be two questions for every factoid I offer, but this is a blog post and not a novel so i’ll leave it here.  If you have any questions at all though, I’m always happy to help and give my two cents (my main resource was a friend in the industry and his insight was invaluable, so really- ask me anything).

The job definitely has it’s perks. This is from a particularly relaxing afternoon spent anchored off the island of Lombok in Indonesia.

Fair winds and following seas my friends!

and I will leave you with this picture of an amazing sunset on the equator


22 responses to “Yachting: How To Get Started

  1. Absolutely perfect blog! What an amazing experience you have found for yourself! So pleased and happy for you Arielle! Sounds like way more fun than joining the Navy!!!!

    • Thank you thank you thank you! I’m having an absolute blast and feel really lucky (and a little bit proud of myself) for making it all happen. Plus, I’m getting to spend December at home for the holidays! Thanks for reading 🙂

  2. This is SO helpful! Thank you so much!! This is a wonderful guide for how to start! (As I had no idea!) Luckily I live on the west coast, so shouldn’t be too hard to find an STCW 95 course. 🙂
    Did one of the agencies help you find your job? Do they tell you about nanny-type jobs (like yours)?

    • Glad I could help! I actually found my job posted on dockwalk.com in the career/job section but I also had come across a few others with one of the agencies. They are definitely rare to find, especially the situation I’m in but it’s definitely worth looking into and it helps if you have a lot of previous nanny/babysitting experience like I did. Good luck!

  3. This is a really useful and practical resource for people looking at yachting and not knowing where to start! I have always liked the idea of being a nanny as a way to see a country – but I’m not very good with little children so I totally rebuffed the idea haha!

    It’s very enviable to know that the view from your window always cast light to new scenery….

    • thank you! I always feel a little lucky that I was so in the know about this industry going into it, having a friend who had paved the way before me. I want everyone else to know that it exists as well! It’s hard work but has such great perks. Thanks for commenting and happy travels 🙂

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  6. I never really paid attention with employment on yachting before but your account made me notice that yes, there are really people who makes a living in this industry and it’s so good of you to detail how to get into it. 🙂 You sure have an amazing job, you know that? 🙂

  7. Great post! It’s really interesing to see how others go about finding ‘out of the ordinary/run of the mill’ careers. Bravo! I’m intrigued: if the owners are hardly ever on the vessel and it’s not chartered out, why does it travel so much? Why not leave it in dry dock?

    • Thank you! Yes, it’s definitely not an ordinary job- which is why I love it so much!
      The boat is a new build and was built in Western Australia, so we have taken some time bringing it back stateside which is where our owners are located. Because of visa restriction and taxation laws, we have had to move around a bit along the way, which is why it’s taken some time and some fun detours!

  8. Your blog is really informative! I’m not sure how much you know about this, but is the process the same to become a deckhand/captain?

    • Thank you! Yes, initially any crew member must take the same steps but after your STCW there are different course tracks you may want to look into… Any good yacht certification school will offer them… I loved IYT personally 🙂

  9. I stumbled across your blog and I absolutely love it! Very inspiring, and traveling is something I must achieve when i’m done with college! So awesome.

  10. Hello! I’m loving reading your blog! I work as a nanny and was thinking of heading overseas and wondering if there are many opportunities to work as a nanny on a yacht?? Thanks for your help!!

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