Former Deckhand James Tate wished he had a guide book when he broke into yachting eight years ago. To help new crew learn from his mistakes, he recently wrote “The Deck Handbook: A Guide for the Super Yacht Greenhorn”.
“It’s about how to look good and not embarrass yourself,” 32 year-old Tate said, by phone from his home in Brooklyn, NY. “I learned most things the hard way. I was surprised at the detail of the job.”
Growing up in the port town of Fremantle in Western Australia, Tate felt like his career options were limited.
“I packed my bags in 2007; it was either go into mining or go to Ft. Lauderdale,” Tate said.
Like many other young crew, he started in crew houses, taking day work, and eventually landed a job on a 140-foot Feadship.
Tate doesn’t claim to be an expert on all topics, but said he learned as his career progressed. He earned his yachtmaster while on his second boat, as well as his ordinary seaman license.
“I guess I am an expert deckhand,” he said. “I started taking notes a few years ago and wrote about what I wanted to know.”
The book is half an introduction to the industry and half about the surprises new deckhands may encounter, such as small living quarters and close work with strangers.
“It would shock anyone,” Tate said with a laugh. “It’s not a natural thing to do unless you’re in a war or in prison.”
His book shares tips for radio etiquette, how to anchor and dock, day-to-day tasks, and what’s expected of deckhands. Plus, he highlights lessons he learned about personal behavior and relationships.
“I wasn’t clean and organized; I was told to clean my cabin and put tools away,” Tate said. “I learned how to deal with guests and crew relations, important things like how to keep the peace onboard.”
A few of Tate’s tips to prepare for life as a deckhand include:
— Get used to missing personal milestones and holidays. “Of the six years I spent working on yachts, I didn’t spend one Christmas or birthday with family.”
— As the newest crew member onboard in an entry-level position, expect the worst bunk in the smallest cabin.
— New crew also will most likely bunk in “the pointy end” of the yacht. “Right up the front, in the bow. A lot of the seas and swells will be hitting just outside your wall.”
But he also shares some of the benefits to spending some time working on yachts.
“I have friends from over 20 countries that I still stay in contact with,” he said. “I am offered a place to stay when I visit any of them and they have a place at mine. We have shared experiences most people can’t comprehend.”
Even though there are challenges,Tate said they are worth it. While working as a deckhand he met a scientist on one of a yacht’s charters for a research company.
“Stick with it and you won’t regret it.” Tate said. “She’s now my wife.”
Dorie Cox is associate editor of The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com.