Have you ever dreamed of working on a boat but aren't sure how or where to begin? Students who take our sailing courses often have questions about how to get a job on a boat, so we asked a friend of ours who has worked in the yachting industry for over ten years to help us create this blog. Jayde Couzyn has spent over a decade working as crew in the BVI, sailed with Delos across the North Atlantic, and also helped Captain her parents boat from Cape Town South Africa to the Caribbean. She did a great job laying out the basic qualifications/courses needed for working as professional yacht crew, how to write a great resume, what visas you may need, how to actually get a job, what to pack, and GO! We've also included Jayde's contact info below if you're interested in taking the leap and applying for a job!
Step 1 - The Basic Qualifications
So, you’ve just taken your first, second, or even your third sailing course (or have other previous sailing experience) and you want MORE. If you’re considering making sailing a career you must start with getting your professional certifications. These certifications will prepare you for a professional sailing career and to work on boats around the world. You cannot work on any commercial vessel, anywhere in the world without the following:
An STCW’95 certificate. STCW-95 stands for Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers. It usually runs for one week or up to 14 days depending on which company you do it with and will cover topics like basic first-aid (including CPR and other emergency life saving skills), basic fire fighting (including the use of extinguishers, fire fighting gear, hoses and essential knowledge to safely evaluate or evacuate a fire) and safety at sea (including how to use a life raft, assist others and significantly increase one's personal chance of survival in extreme circumstances at sea) etc… Regardless of your previous experience, this is the number one thing that you need to get and cannot begin looking for work on the water until you do. These certificates are usually valid for 5 years and need to be renewed at this interval. I personally love this training (especially the Fire Fighting) and look forward to the renewal, these skills can translate into so many other spaces in your life as well and highlight just how important these basic life skills are, especially on the water where you are typically without access to outside emergency facilities. There are a number of private companies in the states and abroad that offer these courses. We’ve linked a few here:
An ENG1 Medical Health Certificate. This is another non negotiable certificate if you want to work on the ocean. ENG1 is a thorough medical exam that checks for your overall health as well as some specialized tests such as your level of color differentiation, hearing and lung health. This is so important for many reasons, the first is to confirm that you are fit and able to run a yacht or react to the best of your required ability in an emergency, but also to ensure that should something go wrong on board, that insurance cannot hold any single person accountable for their inability to respond to marine traffic signs, sound signals and collision regulations. This exam cannot be done by any GP, it needs to be done by a certified marine medical doctor, which you should be able to find on google or by asking your STCW school. It costs approximately R2500 (RSA Rand) or $150 (US Dollar). This certificate will typically be valid for 2 years, if you are in the 40-70 years old range, then it will be valid for 1 year. See schools listed above for this certification fulfillment.
Step 2 - Additional Qualifications
Once you’ve gained the required certifications to bolster the experience and passion you gathered in your sailing course, you may want to pursue other certifications depending on the specific career route you’re interested in and the role you’d like to fulfill on a boat. These additional qualifications are not necessary for every position and need to be assessed depending on what it is that you intend to pursue. This list highlights some of the more common courses that yachties often choose to specify their skill set and make themselves more competitive candidates for good crew positions. They will make more sense once you have chosen a path to pursue.
Powerboat Level 2. The Royal Yachting Association National Powerboat Certificate (Level II) is a two-day entry level course and is recognised by the UK MCA as a certificate of competency for the operation of small powerboats. It is ideal for those seeking a qualification to operate small yacht tenders. It is necessary for any small craft or tender driver, for insurance reasons.
Food and Safety Level 2. This Level 2 course has been designed to help anyone who handles, prepares or serves food in the catering industry to understand their legal responsibilities and know what constitutes best practice in regards to controlling food safety hazards, controlling temperatures, food storage, food preparation, personal hygiene and premises cleaning. By law, all food handlers must have an understanding of the basic principles of food hygiene and know how to work safely so as to protect the food they serve from contamination. Any steward or stewardess that is handling food requires this for insurance reasons.
The RYA Marine Radio Short Range Certificate. (SRC) is the minimum qualification required to operate marine VHF radio equipment on a UK flagged vessel. The correct VHF channels (frequencies) to be used for each type of communication. distress, emergency and medical assistance procedures. While this is law in the UK, it is commonly recognized on foreign flagged vessels as the industry standard for Marine Radio certificates.
AEC. The MCA Approved Engine Course (AEC) develops your basic understanding from the RYA Diesel Engine Maintenance course to a more advanced level. I would highly recommend this for deckhands wishing to upskill, or small craft skippers.
Superyacht Stewardess Course. This training provides you with knowledge and practical skills such as food and wine pairing, silver service, detailing, housekeeping and flower arranging. It can be a massive assist to a first job and accelerate climbing of the hierarchy, it is not typically a required course.
Superyacht Deckhand Course. This training provides you with knowledge and practical skills such as line handling, anchoring, detailing, boat care and rules of the road. It can also be a massive assist to a first job and accelerate climbing of the hierarchy, it is not typically a required course. This can be an incredible next step from any introductory sailing course and assist in achieving one’s dreams of being crew for offshore passage making.
RYA Yachtmaster. Internationally recognized sailing skippers license that can be issued with a commercial endorsement. The time of this training is totally dependent on the level pursued and miles logged on a sailing vessel. This is one of the highest and most widely recognized sailing courses that licenses you to skipper sailing vessels with passengers onboard. It is also an incredibly important course option for those looking for captain careers in offshore passage making as well.
Ships Cook Certificate (SCC) is a mandatory requirement for chefs working on commercially registered vessels operating more than 60 miles offshore, and with 10 or more crew on board. While the standard law applies, the course is an absolute essential in my opinion to anyone intending to pursue a cheffing career on the water of any kind. It handles essential skills with regards to hygiene, allergy handling, food safety and care.
Step 2 - Choosing a pathway
Once you get your basic certifications the world of pathways for your professional sailing or yachting career can take you in many different directions. When someone asks me for assistance getting into the yachting industry, the first question I ask them is “Why?”. This question is key to determining which sector of the industry you would like to pursue, as the pathways are aplenty.
The Gap Year. The most common answer is for a gap year and/or to travel the world. If you are willing to work really hard in a relatively low skilled job then taking a position as an entry level (green) deckhand or stewardess on a motor superyacht is usually the job I recommend. These positions entail working either on the interior, exterior or a combination of both. As an entry level yachtie you will most likely be trained on the job by your superiors to build experience and climb the hierarchy over time. With that said, the industry is overflowing with inexperienced candidates, and getting an entry level job without any real passion to pursue the industry is not easy anymore and can take weeks/months of dockwalking (which I might add, is illegal in most large yacht ports). Any additional qualifications or experience that you have such as hospitality, silver service, water sports instructing, personal training, etc will all go a long way in separating your CV to a short list. The more sailing courses and professional yacht industry skills courses you can take before hand will make you a more competitive candidate for these green crew jobs.
The Sailor. There are plenty of different kinds of sailboats around the world and a wide range of jobs depending on the type of vessel. I am most familiar with superyacht sailing (120-160ft) as well as the smaller scale charter sailboat industry, both of which have boomed in recent years. There are of course other sectors such as racing sailing, performance sailing, delivery sailing, etc. but I will focus on the first two. Superyacht sailing is essentially the same as motor yachting but with the additional requirement of having an understanding of sailing. This is where your intro to sailing course comes in! While it is possible to get a range of sailing certificates depending on where you are in the world, my recommendation would be to pursue the RYA Yachtmaster as it is internationally recognized and thorough. While it is of course possible to get jobs on these kinds of vessels without sailing qualifications, especially if your focus is on the interior team it is of significant value to have it and non negotiable for the exterior team. As for the small sailboat charter industry, which became the niche for the “middle class” to be able to charter yachts that would otherwise have been completely out of their price range. I’m referring to catamarans and monohulls in the range typically of 40-75ft. These kinds of vessels are usually run by only 2 crew members, being a captain and chef. The larger of this style may have a deck/stew and a deck/engineer. For all crew, RYA or similar of some level is extremely important. A captain will not be hired with less than RYA “Offshore”. Basic engineering such as an AEC is a huge advantage as well.
Other. If your answer is more specific to another skillset, for example you are a scuba diving instructor, engineer, culinary trained chef, kitesurfing instructor, video editor, travel journalist, specialist fisherman, marine biologist, masseuse, yoga instructor, PA, etc then my answer would be to make sure that you have whatever appropriate qualifications match the above before applying. The yachting industry has evolved so fast that there seems to be space for all of the above and more.
Step 4 - CV/Resume
The next step is setting up a CV tailored to your yachting goals. There is a lot of information out there, do your research, show your CV to friends in the industry and get quality feedback before hastily sending it out. I will list my personal tips below (from assisting many people into the yachting industry before and give you some examples of what to do and what not to do).
Before sending any CV out, consider the following: If you were in charge of recruiting new crew members to your team on board a yacht, what would you want to see? Recruiters often have 50+ CVs on their desks for each job and will certainly toss out any without a second glance that do not meet the standards.
The photo. I cannot express how frustrating it is to look at a CV that has a photo that was clearly cropped from an outing, a garden party or taken as a selfie. Take the time to take a professional looking photo. Ideally, you would like a head and shoulders (or from just above the elbow), be in a plain white collared shirt (no boat logo), with a plain background. Present yourself in this photo, how you would present yourself at your job on a multi-million dollar yacht.
Personal Information. I receive a lot of CVs that come to me with information both out of order of relevance or including information that is irrelevant. The only things yachts looking for crew need to know on your CV are:
Nationality (Include primary nationality and additional if you have dual citizenship)
Visas (Include all visas and expiry dates)
Seamans Discharge Books ((Include all books and expiry dates)
Phone (Include country code)
Health (you can say excellent/ENG1/non smoker here)
Visible tattoos (None / None Visible)
Availability (The time frame in which it would take you to start)
3. Maritime Certifications & Relevant Yachting Skills and Training. Simply list your relevant yachting qualifications and sea time. You can include other qualifications in smaller text if you consider them valuable.
4. Personal Objective. Next you’ll want to work on your personal objective. Avoid using generic, non validated statements like “I’m a hard worker, passionate and have an eye for small details”. No one believes you, or can validate that. Get straight to the point by explaining your relevant skills, what kind of job you want and why you want this particular job. As mentioned above, if you had to look through CV’s, you simply don’t have time to read through a short story above someone's life.
5. Maritime Work Experience. List any relevant maritime or hospitality experience by giving a short line including the position, the yacht name, the captain's name, the dates worked and a short description of the job. There is no reason for each of these to be more than 3 lines long. You can include here, any jobs that are relevant to hospitality, service, watersports, etc as well but avoid adding any experience that is not relevant.
6. Other Employment, Hobbies. This can be a nice addition depending on the length of your CV which really should not exceed two pages. Be honest and do not exaggerate any skills. If you have extensive experience that is not related to yachting, determine whether or not it is worth putting in. For example - I would mention if you were a nurse, developer, electrician, painter. If the person reading your CV has reached this point then they may be interested more in the type of person you are. This can sit right above your references.
7. References. Include only your top 3 or 4 most relevant references. In order. Do not include your reference letters when sending your cv, simply state that they are available upon request. Always request reference letters from any jobs you do, including basic day work.
Step 5 - Visas and Seamans Discharge Books
When applying for a yachting job, it is tremendously helpful to already have the required visas in hand.
For working in the United States waters on a commercial yacht, you need a B1B2 visa. While this is a tourist visa, not a working visa - it does allow you to visit the territory on a foreign flagged vessel. Most yachts will require you to have this visa. B1B2 visas are issued typically in 5 or 10 years lengths and allow you to be checked into the country for 6 months at a time. You can apply for a B1B2 visa at your local US Embassy either with a yachting contract and boat letter in hand, or a return flight and accommodation to the USA booked and paid for. Be sure to express your desire for a long stay visa.
The next step for the US waters is to apply for a C1D visa. This can only be done with a boat contract and a boat letter. This visa is specific for “yacht crew” and allows you to be checked into the country for 30 days at a time, when entering on a yacht you must leave on that same yacht in order to use this visa. The advantage of this visa is that firstly, you get a stamp on a little piece of paper called an I-95 which is issued to you at the passport control office, rather than your passport which can save tremendous amounts of passport space. Secondly, on commercial operations to mainland US - immigration will require a C1D instead of a B1B2.
It is a good idea to get both if you are going to be yachting in this territory.
For working in the Mediterranean territory or in any EU owned islands (such as St Maarten, Guadeloupe, Martinique) you require a Schengen Visa. Regardless of how long your visa is issued for, as a South African you are typically only allowed in the territory for an accumulated 90 days within each 180 day cycle in the span of your visa. The circumstances in which you will be allowed to stay for longer than 90 days is only when you are added to the crew list of a yacht. When you step aboard the yacht you work on, you will need to request this from your superiors, the yachts agent, or go to the police station with your passport and the boat paperwork and get stamped “out” of the Schengen territory and “onto” the yacht. By doing this you are no longer using your Schengen days, you may stay in the territory and you will be given a shore pass that allows you to stay within a certain distance of the yacht port you are in (this does NOT allow you to travel the Schengen territory, in order to do this you must check “off” of the yacht and back “into” the Schengen territory).
In short, this is how you use Visas to operate in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. Feel free to message Jayde with any questions and she'll do her best to clear them up.
Step 4 - Getting a job
Okay, so you’ve done your sailing courses, your professional courses, you have a beautiful CV, you have applied for and received as many visas as you are able to, and now you're ready to look for a job. This can be the tough part. The industry is unfortunately saturated with green crew and so getting your first job can be tough. Being persistent and good natured is key here. Taking opportunities that will give you experience, even if they are for little pay is worth it in the beginning. Any experience at all, or contacts in the industry are going to separate you from the crowd.
There are hundreds of yacht recruitment groups on facebook, yacht agency recruitment websites and yachting schools that can help you to get your CV out there. In certain areas of the world, dock walking is still possible. Personally, I’ve never seen any of the yachts that I’ve ever worked on pursue yacht recruitment pathways in order to find crew. Most crew are hired by contacts or word of mouth, and by being present and immediately available. The industry may be world wide but it is also tight knit and specialized - so contacting people directly is always my recommendation. Once you have your first job, getting the next one is easier. Once you have years of experience, getting fantastic jobs on fantastic yachts is no problem. Just like any career, to be taken seriously, you must take it seriously. Be willing to start at the bottom and put in the hard work to work your way up. The industry can be tremendously rewarding in many ways.
Step 5 - Packing
There are a very few short tips that I’ll give you for packing. The first and most important is to PACK LIGHT. Yacht cabins are small and more often than not you will be sharing that very small space with either one or two other people. Collapsible luggage is non negotiable on board yachts as storage space for your bags will be slim and lastly I would actually highly recommend watching the first episode of Marie Kondo's television series “Tidying Up”. In a nutshell, she instructs you to put every single one of your belongings into the center of the room, pick each one up separately and put into the “donation pile” anything that does not spark joy in the same way that holding a puppy does. It’s fantastic and you’ll find yourself letting go of many years of less loved, once loved, costly or sentimental items. She also teaches you remarkable ways to fold and store your belongings that will make packing and living out of a cramped yacht cabin significantly easier.
Final step- Go!
Now get on your flight and bring a fantastic attitude. Be kind to your coworkers, allow small living spaces to make you humble instead of cruel, take lots of photos, watch as many sunsets as you can and, most importantly, RESPECT YOUR YACHT.
Good luck and fair winds!
Feel free to contact Jayde at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions, she is always recruiting new yacht crew!