By Ben Proctor, author of Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide
Thinking of a career as a deck hand on a Super Yacht? It can be a wholly daunting process; Where to start? What do I need to do? Can I really get a job on one of these incredible yachts? Sometimes it seems easier to stay in our somewhat mundane existences back at home, with the security all around us, however sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone can open a new world, exciting opportunities and memories to last a life time.
I started yachting aged twenty eight. Prior to this I was in a successful job earning an above average salary, however deep down I was not content. I found my work in an office was mundane, and although it was Monday to Friday, nine to five, it lacked excitement, change of routine or dynamism. I realised I was stuck in a rut and no longer living life to the full. Alongside this, I had an uneasy feeling that I was not ready to settle down. I had thought about time out to consider career options, but having had two of these already I knew I would be no further forward and would just end up deeper in debt.
I always loved working outdoors, having enjoyed a couple of summer jobs working on the water and I felt that a career on the super yachts may be something that I would enjoy. I began as all new crew begin, by handing out loads of CV’s through dock walking, visiting agents and networking.
I secured day work on-board a couple of yachts, which was without a doubt how I eventually came to secure my job on the yacht I ended up on for two years. The day work was a real reality check, and it was a time when I seriously considered why I ever had a career change. Days would be spent cleaning and detailing the engine room or bilges, not seeing a drop of sunshine all week. The work was repetitive, often in cramped dark areas but it provided the grounding I needed to get me on the first rung of the ladder in this industry. Although I did not enjoy the cleaning at the time, I look back now on it with a certain strange fondest; knowing that those hours of hard graft opened the gates of opportunity to me.
Becoming a full member of a deck crew was a fantastic moment and an incredible achievement. Having started my journey with limited skills to becoming a fully-fledged crew member was a great accomplishment.
Working as a Deck Hand:
In this job you will be working as part of a team in the maintenance and management of the exterior of the yacht, including all exterior decks, the hull, tender garages, masts and basically everything outside. It also includes cupboards and storage spaces used by the deck department. The deck crew are responsible for all handling of lines when entering and leaving port as well as all anchoring procedures. They are responsible for safe tender driving, undertaking and teaching water sports and as such the vast majority of their time is spent outdoors.
There is a very glamorous side to this work, however the reality of the job is the majority of your time will be spent cleaning and making the exterior of the yacht look good. With the exhaust fumes, salt spray and sea gull mess this is a never ending task. Alongside this, the teak decks on all yachts do not stay that golden colour for long, absorbing anything spilt onto them. The work at times can be highly monotonous, for example one day you could spend six hours up a mast wearing a harness some 30 feet up polishing the stainless mast or a week cleaning the whole yacht and detailing every area. However, on the flip side you may be on charter the following week and spend the bulk of one day taking guests on tender runs and jet skiing in the glorious sunshine of the Mediterranean.
The working hours of deck crew can be long, especially with guests on-board. Working around the clock during charter is standard, and 12-16 hours days should be expected for as long as the guests are on-board with no days off. Cleaning of the yacht continues through the night and as able throughout the day, as well as frequent tender rides and water sports. You will be on call to address the guest’s requirements at any time, even in the middle of your meal breaks through the day. The deck crew definitely in my opinion seem to have some of the most fun with guests doing a lot of the fun things, such as taking guest wakeboarding, water and jet skiing, snorkelling as well as trips on the tenders. When the boat is not chartered, working weeks are normally Monday to Friday, with occasional weekend work. The hours for most yachts are 0800-1700, and much of the work will be maintaining the yacht in a clean and presentable order and carrying out any repairs.
As deck crew you will also be involved in bridge watches; which are incredible on these magnificent vessels. Learning how to interpret the radar and navigational equipment is interesting, as is the docking of the yacht. I always felt a degree of pride when our yacht pulled into a berth with crowds of people watching. As part of the deck crew you will be out on deck for all berthing and anchoring manoeuvres, as well as being taught how to handle lines.
There is a great camaraderie on deck and whilst it is still a mainly male dominated area of the yacht, there are some very good female deckhands coming through the ranks. Having a deck team you get on with is essential making the long days much more endurable! Day work is a great opportunity to assess how well you would fit into crew dynamics.
For me working as a deck hand was the obvious choice. Working outdoors, in the sun and fresh air had a great appeal. The cleaning did get monotonous at times, however the view from “your office” on deck is constantly changing. The destinations visited by these yachts means you will normally be washing in warm climes.
The other excellent side to working as deck hand is the opportunity for career development and progression. With the right attitude, commitment and on-going study, progression through the ranks is a relatively effortless process and the financial rewards more than justify the training costs.
In summary, if you dislike cleaning, working as team, being outside and water-sports then a deck hand is not going to be for you. However, if you love these (and can tolerate the cleaning!) then you are set to have incredible and rewarding time as a deck hand; being in a job that will be the envy of all your friends.
I had an amazing time and saw some incredible sights; from the most amazing sunsets to the brightest night stars, dolphins bow riding the yachts wave and whales breaching in the wake. It is an amazing journey working on a super yacht and I thoroughly and whole heartily recommend working as a deck hand as an excellent career choice.
Qualifications for a Deck Hand:
I would recommend undertaking a RYA Level 2 Powerboat course. For most yachts this is an essential qualification for driving the tenders, and shows a prospective employer that basic skills for tender driving has been achieved. Also of benefit is the PWC (Personal Watercraft) Instructors Qualification from the RYA. This is helpful as guests using the Jet ski’s/PWC’s will be required to have been instructed by a qualified instructor and given a licence prior to using a jet-ski on their own in certain areas. These courses will take at least a couple of days each but are certainly a very valuable asset on a CV.
Another qualification to consider for deck crew is the RYA Yacht Master Offshore qualification. This is an expensive course costing £800- £1000 if you have the required sea experience though more expensive if you need to build your sea hours through the course. This is an excellent and respected course that is detailed and is significantly more time intensive compared to the other qualifications. You will also need to have completed certain criteria prior to undertaking a Yachtmasters, see below link;
The Yacht Master qualification is becoming more requested in the industry and to have this will certainly stand you in good stead. If I was to enter the industry now, I would strongly consider studying for this. It is also beneficial should you wish to make this a longer career option and be more knowledgeable during bridge watches and general procedures. It is a well-respected qualification in the industry and certainly worth serious consideration if you have the time and money.
Day in the life of a deck hand:
I have provided an outline of a typical day for a deck hand working on a super yacht, taken from the recent book I have published “Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide”.
0345: Wake up to alarm from a very deep sleep. This for me is one of the worse parts of the day, leaving my warm bed, (narrower than a single bed) knowing my day starts here. This is when I question why I ever left work at home starting at 9am and giving me every weekend off. I peel myself out of bed and straight into uniform. I opt not to have a shower in the morning as it gives me an extra 15 minutes in bed. I shower and shave the previous evening. Men (and maybe some hairy women!) have to be clean shaven each day when are guests on-board.
0355: I wolf down a cereal bar and head onto deck, collecting my radio (the means to communicate on-board). I radio my crew mate who is on the 0000-0400 shift to relieve him from his duties. The yacht has shifts covering 24 hours a day, seven days a week whilst guests are on board. At this stage I am envious of my crew mate; he is now off to bed and has an eight hour break. He discusses what is left to do on deck, and I take over.
0400 – 0600: The majority of the guests have returned from their evenings out, so the passerale (the walkway connecting the yacht to the dock) is raised when the last tender run is completed. (Tender runs involve ferrying guests from the yacht to wherever they wish to go). Provided all guests are on-board the yacht will be cleaned as needed. The teak decks sometimes need a rinse but often a scrub is needed with cleaning products to remove any stains from food or salt water. It may also involve emptying and cleaning the Jacuzzi. I could also be involved in preparing the water sports room for activities that day as well as re-stocking the cooler bags with drinks and replenishing the towels outside. The whole yacht may need to be rinsed to wash away salt spray from the previous days cruising and dried with a shammy, although hopefully my crew mate on the night shift will have done this. The tenders have to be cleaned also. The time goes quickly. I am working on my own and as there are normally no guests around, this is the time to do the jobs that cannot be done when they are present.
0600-0730: My work colleague joins me at 0600; starting his shift which will run until 2200 hours. He helps me finish any outstanding work and we then prepare for the guests once they wake. All outside seating areas would have been covered when guests retired to prevent dew or rain damaging the cushions. Once the sun has risen we uncover the seating areas, lay out sun loungers, lay tables with magazines, sun cream, fresh water and tissues on them. We place towels rolled neatly on the chairs and loungers. The drains running around the deck are cleaned with a mop, the stainless steel is buffed with a cloth and cleaning products and all tables wiped down and polished. If the yacht had not been rinsed overnight we wipe down all the flat surfaces with a damp shammy to remove any dust or hair that has collected on these surfaces. We aim to have everything set up and cleaned to an immaculate standard before the first guest wakes. It looks unprofessional to have water everywhere and crew carrying cleaning equipment while the guests are eating breakfast and reading their morning paper.
0730-0930: The guests often slowly start rising and the bulk of the work is now complete. We may be putting equipment away from their view or preparing to leave the dock.
0930-1200: Around this time we will often be leaving the dock so all lines will be brought on board and tidied away, fenders deflated and fender hooks put away. This keeps the main deck area tidy should guests come down, and erases any evidence of having been moored. Whilst the yacht makes its way to the day’s destination, we prepare for water sport activities and change into water-sports gear. As we approach our destination for the day we drop anchor. We then set up the swim platform with all the equipment, ringos, banana slide, wakeboards, water-skis, jet skis and launch both tenders which are placed on whips off the side of the yacht. The swim ladder is also put in place and the bumpers slotted in. We keep at least one crew member on the swim platform at all times in case a guest comes down to swim or to use the equipment. Roughly every 30 minutes through the day the deck crew will carry out checks to ensure that all the exterior decks are tidy. This involves clearing glasses, towels, straightening cushions, topping up the jacuzzi, polishing finger marks off the stainless steel or cleaning the teak decks.
1200-1600: I am off duty though not a guarantee if guests want to do water sports. If I do manage I will eat a quick lunch then go to my room/bunk and watch a DVD, read or sleep.
1600-2000: On-going water sports until the sun sets or guests have tired. All the water sports equipment has to be brought back, rinsed and deflated. The jet skis and tenders are also lifted on board and cleaned and the engines flushed with water. The swim platform is packed away, whips put away and the lazarette (water-sports garage at the back of the yacht) tidied. The anchors are lifted and we are underway to our next destination. On the journey I try to take a very quick shower, change into evening uniform (long trousers and shirt) and have a bite to eat. It is then time to prepare the lines, blow up the fenders and put in place ready for docking when all the deck crew are needed. I may not get to bed until 2000 hours though this has been closer to 2200 hours. I will be unlikely to get this time back and will lose sleep.
Once docked, we organise a rota for passerale watch. This involves standing on the dock or yacht ensuring no undesirables enter, and keeping a tally of any guest leaving or returning. When my shift has ended I ask permission from my senior crew to retire to bed, normally around 2000 hours, ready to begin again at 0400 hours the following morning.
Ben Proctor is the author of Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide, an honest account of the industry from someone who has been working within the industry, aimed at those considering entry into the super yacht industry to help increase their knowledge in this highly competitive industry.