Yacht stews who are passionate about their jobs are always looking for ways to learn more and progress in their careers. Unfortunately, once a career-minded stew reaches chief stew, employment advancement is limited.
Some yachts have purser positions that take all the knowledge of a superb interior crew member and add administrative, concierge and management duties, taking a stew’s career to the next level.
“If a stew is skilled with administration and wishes to progress onboard, becoming the purser is a logical progression,” said Jodie Clarke, a former yacht purser who works for Superyacht Operating Systems. “A good purser may be an invaluable addition to the yacht, and may even be able to teach the captain some administrative shortcuts and techniques.”
Superyacht Operating Systems is an online document library of yacht procedures, policies and employment documents, most of which are under a purser’s purview.
Frequently, some or all of a purser’s duties are the responsibility of the chief stew, who works as the liaison between the yacht and the management company. The purser is expected to have a wide range of knowledge about every aspect of guest services, from table setting and silver service, wine and cocktails, to laundry and housekeeping.
In addition, the purser oversees operation of the interior, keeps track of all inventories, purchases and provisions for all departments, handles accounting for the entire yacht, and helps the captain with the ship’s paperwork.
A purser is also responsible for working out the details between guests and crew, and planning guest activities. She or he will provide concierge services, and will be expected to have in-depth knowledge about restaurants, entertainment, and other activities that are available in the cruising areas that the yacht will visit.
Exceptional communication, organizational, diplomacy, and delegation skills are mandatory.
Some yachts hire pursers who have come from cruise ships, however, there is specific experience that a purser on a yacht needs to have, especially for working with builders and contractors in the shipyard and on refits.
A purser also needs to be sufficiently trained in knowledge about various administrative duties that deal with compliance, such as ISM, ISPS, MARPOL, emergency response, crew recruitment, and safe manning rules, to name a few.
At present, however, the only way to become a purser is to be a purser; that is, to do the job. Countless chief stews handle some level of purser duties every day in addition to their normal tasks. It is only on the largest vessels where the workload is so much that a separate position is created.
But maybe that’s short-sighted.
“In light of the ever-increasing regulations, the administrative workload placed upon a captain and his officers can be detrimental to the proper functioning of the yacht,” said Jake DesVergers, chief surveyor at International Yacht Bureau. “The role of the purser, then, would be to support the captain with these duties.”
There are no officially recognized regulatory standards in yachting at this time. The PYA’s proposed guidelines for Yacht Interior Training has a level 4 Management category, but the actual term “purser” is not included in the list of qualifications.
However, the STCW Management Course, accounting and budgets for yachts, and an introduction to safety management course are exactly what purser training should entail.
“This kind of course gives senior crew additional confidence in running their department,” said Alison Rentoul, the Crew Coach. “It also provides highly valuable transferable skills that will help them make the transition to a shore-based role if they choose to go down that path.”
At present, there is a limited number of purser positions in the recruitment pool that actually make it to crew agency job postings. The agents I have spoken with agree that as soon as a position becomes available, it is filled by a stew being promoted from within, or by word of mouth. And not all large yachts have an official stand-alone purser position. However, the demand for properly trained pursers might increase if there were more of a recruitment pool.
It seems to me that it would be helpful to the captain and the management team to have someone with advanced skills onboard who is sufficiently trained and qualified to help create uniformity of the administration process and to assist heads of department and the captain to streamline their admin duties.
According to Clarke, it stands to reason that with the growth of the yachting industry there cannot possibly be enough trained and experienced pursers to fulfill the quantity of 70m+ yachts that are in the industry today, and training is the only way to change that.
“A good chief stew can provide training to junior stews on the job, but captains seldom have the time to devote to training an inexperienced purser,” she said.
Unfortunately, not everyone in leadership positions in yachting agrees that there is a need for additional interior crew training. And worse, there are captains who do not put a premium on the salaries of stews with these skills.
Rentoul sums the situation up perfectly: “The economy of our business is entirely based on the pleasure our owners and guests derive from the yachts. An enormous part of this is what the interior provides to make their time onboard as enjoyable and immaculate an experience as possible. Any training that increases the interior team’s ability to provide exceptional service is an investment in the successful operation of a vessel and successful economic future of our industry.
“On top of this, purser training is an essential complement to the running of the yacht, allowing for a more professional working environment and giving vital administrative support that frees up other crew to focus on their most important roles,” she said. “I think it is extremely short-sighted to invest only in operational, deck-style training, as we are at heart a service industry. While competency in running and driving the vessel is a basic requirement, service training should be the primary focus for business-savvy owners and captains alike.”
Let’s hope that purser courses are going to be an accepted avenue for stews to grow professionally and be fairly compensated for their advanced skills.
Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stew for more than 20 years. She teaches at MPT in Ft. Lauderdale and offers interior crew training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions (www.yachtstewsolutions.com). Download her book, The Yacht Service Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht, on her site or amazon.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.