Becoming Cabin Personnel on a private yacht or luxury boat

Becoming Cabin Personnel on a private yacht or luxury boat

To work on board of a private Yacht is not impossible for who desires to! If the sea world is essentially masculine (there aren’t many female captains in the industry), the positions assumed inside the yacht are mostly administered by female workers. There aren’t many Chief Stewards, except on vessels of 50m and more. 

To enter this industry, the requirements are:
1.     good level of knowledge of the English language
2.      a certificate referred to as STCW 95, which includes : fighting fire, sea survival, first aid and how to handle individuals in crisis (this includes a week of training and a certain fee).
3.     it is also needed to have a particular medical certificate called the ENG 1, which is only distributed by doctors. This is valid for two years and cost around 120 euros. 

Here are links for more information :
STCW 95:
ENG 1:
Most of the crew teams are english-speaking which makes us, french speakers, highly in demand due to our manners and service even without any former food and beverage training.

It is highly recommended to subscribe with an agency; the best ones are in Antibes and Monaco and there is usually no inscription fee. Very often, agencies may ask for a retainer but won’t provide you with much work.
Antibes: Peter Insulls  http://www.peterinsulls.com/
Monaco: Monaco Equipage http://www.monacoequipage.com/

There are many others, which are often grouped with other booking agencies such as Campers & Nicholson or Yachting Partners International, which are all very highly respected.

The world of yachting is one of those where one can obtain a career without having any specific former qualifications : your learning skills, resourcefulness, good health and the ability to compromise will have you climb the ladder up until Chief Steward or even Interior Manager on vessels of more than 100 meters.

It took me 6 years to grow from junior stewardess (usually cabins and clothes) to Chief Stewardess, responsible for interior and service and is the first link with the Owner and guests.

Positions available range as follow:

Junior stewardess:  (generally without experience or very little, around 6 months) depending on the vessel’s size, this position might include general tasks or a more specialized job description.

Senior Stewardess: at least two years of experience. On the bigger vessels (more than 50m), she will work in service or in cabins; on the smaller vessels she might be needed to tackle a bit of everything because of the lack of personnel.

2nd Stewardess or Head Housekeeper: as indicated by the title itself, she will be in charge of cabins, common areas and the other girls working in these areas. She will also be the right arm of the Chief and may fulfill her role when she is not able to be there. The Head Housekeeper must know everything about service and cabins and may handle responsibilities such as inventories, buying, etc.

Chief Stewardess: She is responsible of the interior. She needs to have a complete adress book as she will act as concierge (ranging from helicopter rental to a magician for kids – she needs to be able to find anything anywhere around the world), she also needs to be very knowledgeable about table manners and service, wine, food and cooking (even if she doesn’t know how to cook !), in cabins, with clothes (a stain on a designer silk dress is no problem – she can also fix a pearl necklace from which the pearls are falling off), she needs to be able to tackle any task with success. She also needs to take charge of her team, work on the inventory, buying (from the crew’s deodorant to the Armani sofa for the guests) entertain the guests by pulling together theme nights, entertainment, table decorations, crew members’ uniforms, etc. The list is never-ending.

She also is the first one in line if the boat owner is not in a good mood. Diplomacy and manners as well as discretion and a constant smile are mandatory.

To add to the charming side of this work, one can’t forget that you will live with the other crew members that you absolutely do not know and with whom you will share rather small accommodations. I might’ve worked on a yacht of more than 58m; I shared my cabin with my 2nd. If I wanted to have a private cabin since I was a superior, I would need to work on a boat
of more than 65m long.

Hierarchy is very important. It is not the army, but there is a high discipline related to it. We wear a uniform and often pins or shoulder pads with our grade, just like on a cruise boat.

Social and private life is completely inexistent. Generally, I will be at home, on vacation, for 2 months during a year. And even then, sometimes I can stay on the water for 11 months before ever going home.

Contracts are usually renewed annually and often automatically.

You do not pay taxes (only exceptionally, if the yacht is based in his origin country), you are well paid, fed and taken care of. You will travel anywhere in the world et earn generous tips.

When the owners or the clients (certain yachts are chartered) come on board, you need to work 24/7 until they leave. It is not rare that one might work more than 20 hours per day for the entire duration of the stay. Obviously it is impossible to leave the yacht except to make yacht-related purchases such as flowers, newspapers, magazines, etc.

When the yacht is ‘empty’, we usually work from 8am to 5pm with days off on the week-ends except if we are ‘on call’ since, obviously, there always needs to be at least two people on board, sometimes three for security reasons.

Just like the PA you referred to in your blog, working in the yacht industry, unless you are an engineer or captain or sometimes kitchen Chief, is not something you can do for your whole life. The physical and mental constraints are very high and there is a need for a healthy mix of strong personality and ability to compromise in order to survive.


The Three essential elements to become a Personal Assistant !

To become a Personal Assistant defines itself in three essential elements:
Versatility: To be able to tackle all problems or to be able to delegate quickly to someone of higher knowledge, if needed. This calls for a heavy address book. For example: not knowing anything about plumbing but being able to call on the services of someone else quickly.
Flexibility: As opposed to the employees of private or public administrations, the dynamic of this job will certainly include a different schedule with long hours. Also, this flexibility might be asked from you not only because of your tasks but also because of location. Travels might be needed where you need to go in far away destinations and will then call on your necessary flexibility.
Discretion: don’t be surprised if it is asked from you to sign on non-disclosure forms and contracts! It happens too often that house employees ends up revealing confidential information, especially if you are working in the public eye but also when taking in charge the private life of someone.

It is then obvious that the work expected from you will not only need a maximum of competencies (computers, administration…) but also specific competencies obtained through trainings (this will be discussed in another chapter). This includes, amongst others, presentation, movement and the art of speaking.


Training for personal Assistant

Trainings for ‘Personal Assistant’ are focused on the specific task we are supposed to do. It is obvious that a first formation on commercial secretary of administrative secretary is essential. On top of it, a knowledge of computers and tools such as Excel, Access and others is necessary. Having a good knowledge of English is also necessary.
In order to complete your Personal Assistant training, it might be interesting to take over a specific training focused on luxury. These are trainings allowing you to develop manners and know how to use them to score employment with renowned individuals. 
Here are establishments offering the best trainings (click on title to see the link)
1* The International Butler Academy : An internationally renowned school that can provide you with a training allowing you to not only work in the private sector but also amongst societies and cruises.
The Academy will also give you English classes. You will find all the necessary information on their website.
2° SISENIOR in Belgium : Even though it is not a school per se, Sisenior places butlers in many working positions and will give you tips and advice on how to succeed in your position and in privileged families.
3° L'academie des Majordomes et Gouvernantes de Paris : This school of very high level gives a training allowing candidates to easily find their path.
4° Welkom Expertize : This training takes place in the south of France, for butlers as well as drivers or other positions in the field.
If you do know other trainings taking place in Europe, except for Great-Britain, do not hesitate to contact me.


The Art of Diplomacy

Here comes a big word, a wonderful idea apparently on the part of the United States ! In the field we are discussing, as Personal Assistant, assertiveness presents itself under a whole other definition: the art of diplomacy. This art, as it is one, is characterized by two essential principles: the respect of others and the respect of thy self. Is assertiveness something you can learn? Can you learn respect? Some essential techniques, such as being able to say no without causing frustration to the person you are speaking to, or to not diminish thy self in a delicate situation are techniques calling for a thorough work on thy self. For example: you feel guilty when you need to say refuse a task (such as lending your car to your buddy). The ability of saying no while clearly arguing and focusing on impossibility rather than the refusal in itself will allow you to come through as being diplomatic about your decision.

To express myself more clearly: your friend asks for your car and you answer : it is not that I don’t want to, but I really can’t ! If he insists and asks why, you can answer: because I need it! And if he insists still and calls you on as being a poor friend, you can simply answer: yes, I will admit that I can sometimes be. You will then keep your self-respect and the respect of others. The act of acknowledging that you can be does not mean you are, but it will allow you to cut short to the argument. In fact, you just had the last word.

This being said, it is not always easy to refuse as guilt can sometimes take over. However, I can affirm this from experience; the ability to say NO will not only bring you a better image of yourself but also a higher respect from everybody else.

As a personal assistant, this principle will allow you to keep your notoriety with all people you will be asked to work with.