The Triton


Experience, comparisons, benefits weigh in salary talks


The interview went well and the captain has made a job offer. What remains is to agree on a salary. Is the offered salary acceptable? It’s a tough question to answer. We never want to be underpaid, but we don’t want to price ourselves out of a job, either.

To determine what your salary should be, consider these points:

  • Am I fresh out of culinary school or do you have several years of experience under my belt? And if you do have experience, is it just cooking experience or yachting experience?

The difference is in the experience. Chefs new to yachting must prove themselves. It doesn’t matter if you graduated at the top of your class. And it doesn’t only matter how well you can cook. Working and living on a yacht is not for everyone and chefs have to prove they can manage both to command top-dollar salaries.

  • Do some research. What do other chefs on similar-sized and used yachts make? Ask around. Perhaps a captain friend can offer some insight. Fellow chef friends may be honest about what they make. A reputable and knowledgeable crew agent can let you know what to expect in a salary package.
  • Besides the money, what else does the yacht offer? Insurance? Any perks? One couple I worked for thought that riding with them on their private jet was a perk. Not meaning to sound ungrateful but that was part of my job as they took me to their estate to cook.

Perks should translate into tangible money, such as 401(k) programs, stock options, paid long weekends, a car, a per diem for meals. What about carry-over vacation time for those seasons when we can’t use it? One yacht I worked on was so busy that we could not take vacation for several years. The owner paid us for that vacation time. It really added up.

Think outside of the box. Perhaps you live far away from where the yacht travels. Will the owner pay for a plane ticket home once a year? Twice?

  • Negotiate your raise structure. A simple bump such as the standard of living increase is not acceptable in terms of a raise for crew, much less as chef. Make sure it is more than that, say 5 percent or better to start. Document what you do with your time onboard. What the captain or owner doesn’t see you doing can be a detriment. Maybe they don’t pay attention, but you do.

Are bonuses offered regularly? Is there a performance-based bonus? Or are there solely tips? If so, what is the chef’s share of the tips, or is it divided equally?

  • Get it in writing. Even if the position is a trial, that does not give the yacht the liberty to use and abuse chefs to do more than is reasonable. I have seen it happen; it’s happened to me. Sure, the chef is expected to pitch in but not to clean the owner’s house or be loaned out to cook for his friends or clean their houses. If it says the chef is to perform “duties onboard or where ever the owner deems necessary”, clarify that. Does this mean you will go to his 20-bedroom mansion and cook three meals for his house staff, too? (That’s what happened to me.)

What exactly are the job’s requirements? Get specific language in a contract and hold them to it, or ask for more compensation in return. If you don’t you may find yourself in a situation that you have set a precedent for and can’t get out of easily.

There are so many options to write into a contract. I suggest consulting with a maritime attorney if you are negotiating a large contract. Don’t do it alone.

  • Believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities, but know your limits. Do you really want that huge yacht with all that extra stress, or can you be happy with six or 12 crew? I remember years ago being asked if I would be the second executive chef on a very large yacht. I had to turn down the offer; the pay was not enough. And there was nothing else offered, either. The hours were too long and I had no culinary freedom onboard to show what I could really do.

Sure, it might look good on a resume but we have to be happy, too, not just the owner. Through hard work and determination, you can be the best chef in yachting, but don’t forget to bring your calculator to champion your cause as to why you deserve more.

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments on this column are welcome at


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About Chef Mary Beth LawtonJohnson

Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years.

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