Training puts crew on top

Aug 6, 2013 by Alene Keenan

After attending the premier party for the new Bravo series “Below Deck”, it is easy to see why training is so important. Although I enjoyed the show and especially the meet-and-greet with Chief Stew Adrienne Gang of the cast, some of the stews portrayed on the show are in desperate need of education.

Interior training would be a good start, but how do we know that training has been a success?

Training in and of itself is not enough. It has to be properly implemented. Britta Fleischhack-Norquoy of Conundrum lists the top three issues in implementing training as:

1. There is no regular check-up of progress.

2. There is no pressure to continually improve.

3. Often, there is no reward for improvement, whether monetary,  or by acknowledgement from the captain, the owner, or the industry.

I completely agree, and she went on to say that one of the biggest issues is time management. One captain I spoke with said that part of the problem with time management lies in getting newly trained stews to work faster and still get the job done properly.

To be a great stew, you have to learn time management, self-discipline and motivation. You also need strong willpower. Once you know what to do and how to do it, put your work in perspective, learn to complete your work better and faster, and motivate yourself to keep at it until the job is done. There won’t always be someone to check up on you, to exert pressure, or reward you. But there will always be 24 hours in a day, and you have an obligation to make the best use of your time.

Without good time management skills, you simply won’t make it as a yacht stew. You can develop better time management skills by learning goal-setting techniques. Many stews work from lists of what has to be completed each day, and the goal is to complete the list. In order for this to work, you have to determine what the most valuable use of your time is.

First of all, learn to prioritize, and complete important and urgent tasks first, before working down the list. This takes willpower and self-discipline. It is easier to do the simple jobs first and keep crossing things off the list, but it is inviting disaster to leave the most challenging jobs for last. There are already plenty of occasions to be thrown into crisis mode as it is without throwing poor planning into the mix.

I like to use a technique from a book called “The Power of an Hour”  that is a great tool for chief stews to use in training. It  goes like this: Set a timer for 45 minutes, and then start working on the highest priority item from your list or project. Work as quickly and as thoroughly as you can.

At the end of the 45 minutes, stop right where you are and make a detailed note of your progress. Write it down in your log or calendar. Now take a water break, a bathroom break, or just catch your breath. This whole process of logging your progress and regrouping must take no more than 15 minutes. And now get back at it.

Taking a break is an important aspect of learning time management. When you take a quick break or recover from interruptions, you have a chance to flex your self-discipline and willpower muscles by coming back to the task at hand and continuing until the job is done.

By using the data you’ve recorded with this technique you create a record of what you have accomplished and how long it took you to do it. Next, work on improving your time and precision. Remember: If you do not take the time to do it right the first time, when are you going to find the time to do it again? You must motivate yourself and summon the willpower to do it the best you can the first time, and every time.

It takes self-discipline to be a great time manager, because it means doing the things that have to be done, when they need to be done, whether you feel like it or not. Sometimes the most difficult part is just getting started. It is surprising what you can accomplish if you use the timer technique and simply get started working, no matter how unpleasant or boring the task is, or no matter how long you have been putting off doing it. Often you will summon the energy and enthusiasm to keep going longer and finish the task, but don’t rule out time checks and progress logs completely.

Let’s consider where motivation fits in. Working better sometimes means working harder, because when you are learning something new there is a “learning curve” you must figure out.  You must motivate yourself to continue to improve until you master it.

However, there comes a point when you have a good grasp of the job and now you must learn how to work smarter, not harder. Whether or not someone is monitoring you and inspecting your work, you have to set your own goals for improvement, and then motivate yourself to work faster and better. It takes strong willpower to do this.

If you are the chief stew and working on training, remember to inspect what you expect, and insist that everyone performs to the highest standard. The guidance and outside force that you exert helps stews develop willpower and motivation.

Motivation is characterized by incentive, enthusiasm and commitment. People may be motivated by outside forces such as money, recognition or praise, or by internal forces such as the feeling of gratification or pride you get from doing your best. Motivation is powered by desire and ambition, and therefore, if they are absent, motivation is absent, too.

Motivation is strengthened by goal-setting, once you realize that giving your all and finishing what you start is gratifying. Persistence, patience and the willpower to discipline yourself to keep going and never give up help motivation grow.

Goals are easy to attain when they are broken down into steps and when time is managed well. All of these elements tie together to help you be a stellar stew, one who stands out from the crowd and one who will always be at the top of the list with captains, owners, and fellow crew.

While there may not always be someone to check on your progress, exert pressure or reward you to improve, at the end of the day it is up to you to be your personal best, and do all that you can to use your time, training and resources wisely.


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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