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The Triton


Yacht captains say college degree not required


While a college degree isn’t always a requirement or necessarily a deciding factor when it comes to securing a job as crew on a superyacht, captains who have participated in conversations during The Triton’s monthly ‘From the Bridge’ roundtable discussion have often commented that they do take note of degrees listed on CVs because, they say, it shows that a person went through a program and finished what they started.

We started asking random crew about college degrees and found that a majority had at least an associate’s degree. Others ranged from bachelor’s degrees in subjects ranging from economics to anthropology and beyond. When we asked crew about whether they use their degrees while serving on a yacht, a majority agreed that education outside of specific maritime certifications required to work in the yachting industry did add to their knowledge and impacted their work ethic and approach to their jobs onboard.

That’s not to say that crew without college degrees or vocational certifications outside of the marine industry are not just as competent and suited for a life working on a yacht. This month’s Triton Survey wanted to find out from captains their opinion about crew with or without college degrees and if it matters where knowledge comes from or how it is measured.

After all, just one charter season or journey spent working on a yacht adds to the sea hours and experience that only on-the-job training can give captains and crew.

We started by gathering information about our captains’ background in academic education outside of maritime schools and learned that while none of the captains’ surveyed held a doctorate, a majority had obtained a bachelor’s degree. A handful attended high school without finishing and 28 percent of the captains surveyed are high school graduates who entered the yachting industry and rose to the top of the chain of command.

Highest education outside of maritime?

Highest education outside of maritime?

We wanted to compare the captains’ maritime training to the results of the traditional education results and were impressed that of the captains surveyed, more than 73 percent have achieved the highest level of licensing that the marine industry offers.

None of the respondents rated themselves as entry level, but about 28 percent ranked themselves in between the two ends of the spectrum.

With all of those bachelor’s degrees reported, we wanted to find out if most captains went into the marine industry after working in another field and having a career before yachting.

With prior careers ranging from restaurant management, dive store ownership, professional photography to industrial packaging and manufacturing for a family-owned business, those surveyed offered explanations as to why they thought their prior careers helped them in their current positions.

We asked Did you have a career before you entered the yachting industry?

Seventy percent said they did have careers in another field ranging from commercial fishing to U.S. government engineer to serving as a political consultant, photographer, teacher, and military service.

One of our captains played professional football for the National Football League (NFL). Another owned flower shops and greenhouses in Chicago, dozens reported working in the dive industry, some as dive shop owners, others as dive instructors or commercial divers.

Did those previous career experience enhance their skills as captains? We asked If you had a previous career, does that knowledge help you in your yachting career?”

career before

Did you have a career before becoming a captain?

Definitely “Yes,” responded 62 percent while 26 percent felt the question didn’t apply to them and the other 12 percent felt their previous job or career didn’t enhance or better them as a captain.

One captain with more than 20 years of experience in yachting said that his previous job as an engineer made him a better problem solver as a manager of crew and a vessel.

Another 20-year veteran captain of a 101 to 120-foot yacht said that he used his bachelor degree and experience as a beach attendant to cater to  guests and maintain equipment.


One captain who holds a master’s degree and runs a yacht larger than 220 feet, said that his job as a merchant marine captain gave him a skill set that helped him operate offshore vessels and water jet ferries.

A former British Merchant Navy member and shore-based oil industry employee who now runs a  101-120-foot yacht said he learned watchkeeping, navigation and stability from his prior position.  

“I can prepare better food than most chefs,” comment one captain with more than 20 years of experience. He credits his training and experience working in the hospitality/ food and beverage business for that.

A captain with more than 35 years of yachting experience who has a bachelor’s degree said he had a previous career in industrial packaging and manufacturing. “Organizational skills with paperwork and accounting and making sure that the last thing you do is clean your workspace. Psychologically, the last task was positive (you cleaned up your space) when you return, you walk into a clean environment also positive psychologically,” he said.

career helps

Previous career helped yachting career.

A captain of a 81-100-foot yacht with 20 to 24 years experience once owned five ballroom dance studios.  His response was “yes” that this job experience brought knowledge to his current position. The “owner’s wife wants learn to dance,” he explained.

But not every captain felt strongly that their previous job helped them be a better captain. Here’s the explanation why from some of the more than 10 percent who responded “no.” One who has been yachting for more than 30 years said he worked as a professional photographer and that he didn’t see how that skill helped him run a ship.

Next we wanted to know how much weight a college degree carries on a potential crew member’s C.V. at hiring time.

A strong majority, 70 percent, responded that a college degree was not necessary for them to hire crew.

We followed that line of thinking and asked of the crew you have worked with over the past five years, estimate how many of them had college degrees?

Forty-six percent of the captains reported that less than half of the crew members  had a college degree, less than half of the captains, 43 percent said about half of their crew have college degrees and 11 percent of the captains reported that a majority of their crew have college degrees.

Can some college course taken by crew crossover and be considered transferable to maritime training certification we wondered. For example, the question should a business management degree substitute for or count toward maritime leadership training? sparked a lot of comments.

While 16 percent of those captains participating in the survey were for the idea, a majority 84 percent thought it might be a good idea.

One captain liked the idea because a degree showed that the crewmember completed the process. “It speaks to the discipline and “sticktuitiveness” that is required to obtain the degree,” he commented.

Several captains felt that a business course didn’t teach specific maritime skills.

“Should count, but will never replace experience managing a vessel or crew.” one captain in the business for more than 30 years commented.

“Currently a growing problem,” he added.

Another captain of a 121-140-foot yacht with a master’s degree and experience as a commercial vessel captain commented that more than 50 percent of his crew have college degrees and that he thought college business courses should count toward maritime training credit because they gave crew the “ability to solve, challenge ideas. Innovation, creativity, leadership raise fast, usually better on lead positions,” he added.

Another captain commented, “Nothing prepares you for this business more than a proper work ethic, and basic common courtesies to help get along with crew.”

What percentage of your crew has a college degree?

What percentage of your crew has a college degree?

A captain of a 101-120-foot yacht with more than 15 years of experience, a bachelor’s degree and a previous career in international business development commented said she did not think a substitution of business course credits were appropriate for maritime training.  “No, but I think an appropriate equivalency set of business courses should exist,” she commented.

Another captain of the same size vessel with an associate’s degree agreed with the previous points of view and commented, “University is a school of fish while yachting is much more individual. We have a small crew so I look for people who did exceptional things in their life rather than sat through a series of classes. For example I would much rather take a person who used his two years after high school walking across Asia, or taking a bicycle around Europe for a year, or rowing across the Atlantic, or taking a balloon adventure across Africa. That skill set and life experiences are much more reverent to our job than “business law” or some other university course.”

And finally, we wanted to find out how many yacht operations supported and encouraged crew members to advance their education and training.  We asked does your yacht support further crew training?

More than half said yes, at 54 percent and more than 40 percent of those reported that the education or training is paid for by the yacht owner.

 “It’s a line item in the budget, a benefit that is encouraged and promoted when hiring. As such it promotes longevity of employment,” commented one captain.

“Sometimes we pay if the person will stay with us,” another veteran captain of a 141 to 160-foot yacht with more than 35 years experience commented.

“No, frugal owner,” commented another.

Some policies for training reimbursement require that crew stay onboard for a certain amount of time if the owner is going to fork over the money for covering training and certification.  

“Our program will give the time off to go to school and after you receive your certificate for a class,” commented a captain of a 121 to 140-foot yacht. “We will reimburse your course fees after you give us 12 months of further service.”


Does your yacht owner support crew training?

Does your yacht owner support crew training?

Yacht captains explain if crew training is paid for by the yacht owner:

  • We pay for an engineer course to our long-term mate.
  • There is a budget for crew training.
  • We offer reimbursement for classes and time off as our schedule permits.
  • After a year onboard.
  • For established crew, continued employment required.
  • Our program will give the time off to go to school and after you receive your certificate for a class, we will reimburse your course fees after you give us 12 months of further service.
  • This is not something this owner has much appreciation for but we do offer it.
  • Yes, especially if its relevant to the position.
  • Crew pay for training, if they remain on the vessel for 12 months subsequent they will be reimbursed.
  • We pay for courses which are obligatory for crew.
  • After one year of service, we pay for one course up to $2,000. If crew have time to take the course before one year, they pay for it themselves and then are reimbursed at the one year service anniversary.
  • Reimbursed after 12 months.
  • Shipboard firefighting, STCW, economics of yacht operations, Swimming, are sometimes taught away from the yacht.
  • It depends on the program, some do more than others.
  • Any course required to keep our license active the yacht pays for. Class, airfares, time off the yacht, hotels, the works. Anything not required is not paid for. This means when renewing a license the yacht flies me to Europe to take my course, and pays for my licenses. Seems fair.

Words of wisdom:

  • Feel free to share any other thoughts you have about further education, traditional education and its role in a successful career in yachting.
  • A good percentage of crew does not have enough knowledge towards safety or an emergency that may occur on board a yacht.
  • In yachting, almost everyone has a Yacht Masters ticket – yet they cannot tie a bowline, splice a rope or plot a position. How can this be?
  • Education is great, lays a foundation, but experience and drive are really what I seek in a candidate. If they are looking for a job, I am not interested, I want candidates that are looking to further their career.
  • I generally do not want someone with a college degree.
  • Respect everyone especially those on the dock! You never know who you are talking to!
  • I worked aboard yachts throughout my college education. I worked parttime and full time during the summers and holidays. The work made me a better student,
  • The owners and leaders of the industry should stress the value of education to the younger professionals. Only a small percentage stay in yachting for their full career so it only makes sense that they prepare for any eventuality in their profession. More education provides options in the future.
  • Certainly solid, routine and increasing levels of technical education in a solidly managed maritime school is part of a progressive successful maritme career.
  • Intelligence, work ethic, and a curious mind are more important.
  • Any education counts because it helps us become better human beings. It encourages and enables us to keep on a path of continuous learning throughout life.
  • Work on yachts require an ongoing training program, this includes from captain on down.
  • I think you don’t need a degree in this industry, if you start early enough you can work your way up, learning as you go.
  • Once finished with school, I found myself needing further education to progress in my career moves.
  • Take advantage of any and all educational opportunities that are presented to you. /chances are good that more education can’t hurt – it can only help.
  • I think the licensing system is antiquated and more practical training should apply.
  • I believe that the right captain with a proactive mentality will have a better yacht crews. Motivation, common sense and safety.
  • The more education the better.
  • There should be a bachelors or masters program available for the yachting industry.
  • I think any training and education is great and necessary, however, the maritime training schools are to entrenched in USCG policy making it a conflict of interest! Additionally, most of the classes could be offered online and would help reduce the time and financial burden on seafarers. Furthermore, the courses that are required to meet IMO standards are offered through various countries / conduits and are IMO approved, but the USCG will not accept them because they have not paid to be approve by the USCG. The schools in the US are lobbying hard to keep all the training inhouse, not accepting other countries certificates and continue to line their pockets with seafarer’s hard earned wages.
  • Any crew desiring further education shows a desire to learn and improve their position in life. It sure beats them partying away their money.
  • Learning is a continuous process, there is constant flux in the technical developments within the industry and unless a concerted effort is made to stay astride these changes it is easy to get left behind. Sadly the traditional side of the boating industry gets neglected, there is an irreversible dilution of knowledge caused by zero to hero mentality.
  • A small yacht requires less schooling and more experience or you may get by with less schooling . Larger yachts will require all necessary schooling and simulator time in order to have a full grasp on ship management and maintenance. You also have to deal with more varied personalities on the larger yacht.
  • All trades skills are welcome. Business and life skills are great. People skills/friendly…
  • To much wasted time in human resource training. Classes could be cut by 50 percent.
  • We learn forever to catch up with western yachting pros.
  • Education at any level and exposure to teachers who care about your success as a person in any field are great role models go life.
  • Silver service training.
  • Traditional education has little value in the yachting world, specialized training is required.
  • Poorly educated captains are self evident.
  • There are a lot of people with degrees coming out of college who have no clue about what they think they know. Basics like reading, many do not understand plain English or Spanish when they read. Basic math also suffers. It seems that lately, people are not taught in school.
  • Nothing beats time served and experience. Watering it down does not help the industry it just raises the expectations of the crew who are already expecting too much for too little.
  • Any schooling after high school is good.
  • Take as many upper level maritime courses as you can.
  • Technical field work is practical for more self-confidence.
  • Traditional education is learning in the industry from masters, and I think we have lost too much of that. Crew, and employees in general, were once an asset that one nurtured, now they are commodities to be used up.
  • Continuing education is very important in any field.
  • Always take the time to listen to others, you don’t have to agree, but new ideas/insights are sometimes helpful.
  • Never stop learning, especially when you retire.
  • The industry has advanced and as such, so should the level of crew hired. Unfortunately having a degree does not ensure common sense.
  • Crew just need to follow their dreams and work as hard as possible
  • More important than college education, I make it my preference to hire veterans from Navy or Coast Guard. They have the desired training
  • to follow change of command
  • We asked captains if they would do anything differently about the way they accumulated their knowledge so that future crew could heed their advice Here’s what they offered:
  • I would have attended Mass or Maine Maritime as opposed to a traditional university.
  • Nothing. I spent 20 years in the commercial world before coming to yachting. Fluffy yachties should do the same and learn to be sailors first.
  • Definitely went to college. However financially it may not have helped due to yachting pay scale. I would have started my formal mariner training at a much earlier age.
  • University study.
  • I would have started in yachting earlier. College today is indoctrination into limited thinking and liberal bias. The best yacht crew I have known were very open minded and held highly positive attitudes. It’s difficult to find a school that teaches these two character skills. It is an easy inferrence that they may come primarily from parenting.
  • When I was in 2nd year of a 4 year college, I still had a great continuing financial aid package. A number of years later, when I tried to go back and get my degree, I could not afford it, and could not get the same aid.
  • Nothing. I learned by doing and from others who shared knowledge and experience with me.
  • Today there is substantial benefit to hands on training, simulator training and real experience but there is far too much “theory”, interpersonal (HELM) and useless feel-good courses required, most of which are a result of school and government lobbying.
  • There is no logical reason that you need to be certified in ECDIS and still learn celestial. If you hold an unlimited radar observer endorsement, proving you can do the calculations without ARPA, why do you need to go through the money and time to take an ARPA course to learn how to push the “plot target button”?
  • I would have taken more time to achieve a higher level of education. You have your whole life not to be a student.
  • Got the MCA Y1 Engineer instead of Captain 3000.
  • My English degree is worthless, I was a fool….. Engineering would have been a better choice.
  • Probably would have sat for an unlimited master’s license when I was in my 30s.
  • Stayed on to get a degree.
  • I think I would have gotten a license much earlier. I waited for many years kind of bucking the system thinking my amazing skills would outshine the need for a license from the system. In the end stopping and getting my license was a HUGE career boost.
  • Stuck at it, become wealthy and own the yacht not work on it…from what I have seen so far this year, learn to fight fires!

Suzette  Cook is editor of The Triton. Comments on this survey are welcome at


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