First day challenges for stews

Feb 4, 2013 by Alene Keenan

Before starting a new job, learn why the position is available. It’s possible that a new role has just been created or, just as likely, someone left and needs to be replaced. If the latter is the case, it’s important to know why that person left.

The answer to that question gives some insight about the atmosphere on the boat. Know what you are stepping into before you arrive. It’s important to know that so you’ll know how to proceed more effectively.
You are probably going to be a little nervous preparing to begin a new job. Keep in mind Murphy’s Law: anything that can go wrong will go wrong, so be conservative in planning.

Arrive on time; arriving late is unprofessional. It’s not fair to the rest of the crew, and believe me, they will notice. On the other hand, if you are always a few minutes early, you show your enthusiasm and establish that you’re reliable.

There is always a lot of activity in the morning, as each department organizes its schedule for the day. Your first day will not be any different. It is easy to be overlooked in the confusion, but don’t take it personally. You may already feel shy and self-conscious; I know I do. On the first day of any job, there are many unknowns, including whether someone can show you around.

You may work for a captain who is not communicative, so open a dialogue with him. Captains often expect you to know what is required to do the job well. Beware, because this is one of the gray areas of yachting: The truth is they may not know or be able to verbalize what the specific requirements are.

One way to handle this is to check in with the captain and give a progress report occasionally to be sure you are on the same page. Always ask for clarification of anything you are unsure about.

If you are shown around, ask intelligent questions, but don’t be overbearing. Take notes about rules and regulations, and scan for organizational gaps.

If there is no one to show you around, just jump right in and get to work. Take your own tour, familiarize yourself with the layout, look in all the cabinets and make notes of what you want to work on. Eventually, a stew needs to clean and organize all cupboards and storage areas and create an inventory and storage spreadsheet, but not on the first day.

With any luck, there is an inventory of items on hand, and where they are stowed. Unless you join a yacht in a complete refit, there will be dishes, glassware, cutlery, sheets, towels, and table linens for guests and crew on board.

You may think that the items are insufficient or unacceptable, but keep these thoughts to yourself for the time being and simply deal with what you’ve got. I have heard so many stories about stews rushing out to buy a ton of new stuff only to find those very same items later, stowed away somewhere on the boat, in storage somewhere off the boat, or even at the owner’s house.

Be conservative in your expectations at first, then improve things as you go.

So where do you begin? First, find out the schedule of the boat. If it is in the yard for repairs, your tasks will be different than if it is at a marina preparing for guests or if it is preparing to reposition for a new season.
Having an immediate situation creates deadlines, and there are specific things to be accomplished in a particular order. For instance, if preparing for a trip, there might be dry cleaning to pick up, flowers to buy, wine to be ordered, provisioning to be done. Prioritize tasks to accomplish this by a definite time before you leave the dock or the guests arrive.   

Near the end of the day, talk to the person in charge to be sure you have finished what is expected of you. Changes may be needed before you leave, so be sure that your pay for any extra time is approved. If you’re moving aboard, you have more flexibility with your hours and can work as long as you want. But don’t sell yourself short by working too late, and don’t cut yourself off from the rest of the crew.

These first few days are important for socializing and bonding with your new crewmates. Take care to make a good first impression by maintaining friendly but professional boundaries and by showing your excellent work ethic.

Remember that this is only the beginning, and you have time to accomplish all the things needed to make things work efficiently and smoothly, just the way you like it.

Alene Keenan has been a megayacht stewardess for 20 years. She offers interior crew training classes, workshops, seminars, and onboard training through her company, Yacht Stew Solutions ( Comments on this column are welcome at


About Alene Keenan

Alene Keenan is a veteran chief stew, interior training instructor/consultant, and author of The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht.

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