Safety and integrity of interior is stew’s responsibility

Aug 11, 2016 by Alene Keenan

Most yachts compartmentalize interior department duties into three sections: service, housekeeping and laundry. Laundry and housekeeping are often combined on work lists. In addition to service and laundry, stews do regular and detail cleaning. They do daily, weekly and monthly cleaning. There is guest-on and off-charter cleaning. There is shipyard, refit and under way cleaning.

In hotel studies, housekeepers change body position every three seconds while cleaning a room. It is classified as moderate-to-heavy work, with repetitive motion that puts strain on the back, neck, shoulders and arms. It requires strength, flexibility and stamina. Space limitations mean yacht stews will work in uncomfortable positions, as they are standing, lifting, bending, squatting, kneeling, reaching and twisting.

Often, stews work together on lists, which include dusting, vacuuming, washing floors, polishing metal and caring for artwork. Stews clean and stain-treat furniture, upholstery, carpets and draperies. With guests on, add turn-up cabin service in the morning and turn downs at night.

Stews are responsible for guest common areas including the main salon, dining room, pantries, foyers, stairwells, cabins, hallways and lounges. They clean the crew mess, bridge, captain’s cabin, laundry room and, occasionally, crew cabins. Stews clean refrigerators, appliances and vacuum cleaners. They clean air handlers and change filters.

Stews are responsible for daily dusting and vacuuming, keeping windows, wall panels, stair rails, mirrors, glass and polished surfaces fingerprint-free. Stews fluff cushions, straighten magazines, keep track of miscellaneous guest items, water plants and flowers, and gather up wet towels and swimwear. Stews launder, iron and fold clothing, then return laundry and manage closets and wardrobes.

Solo stews and deck/stews do all of this alone, plus work on deck.

The bottom line, though, is protecting extremely expensive surfaces, materials, fabrics and floor coverings from ultraviolet light, humidity, extreme temperature changes, salt air, exhaust, physical damage and chemicals. Materials onboard are expensive and delicate. Some art pieces require an art conservator and permission from the insurance company before they can be touched or moved.

One of my first captains said that much of the damage to yacht interiors is caused by stews. Be careful not to bump into furniture and walls using the vacuum cleaner. Know what products, tools and techniques are safe to use. Always read manufacturers’ instructions.

Protect areas with towels or drop cloths. Never set bottles or cans directly onto surfaces. Many products are too strong or abrasive for delicate interior surfaces. Always use chemicals at the proper dilution. More is not better, and it is easy to make a serious mistake. Spray products onto cloths, not onto surfaces. Watch for overspray that can damage surrounding areas. Always test chemicals on an inconspicuous spot. If unsure, it’s OK to ask.

Successful housekeeping is about working safely by using products and tools correctly, protecting surfaces and protecting yourself. Use proper cloths and sponges to wipe up. Then wash them separately or dispose of properly. Do not use guest towels for cleaning because chemical products will damage them. Work with hygiene in mind to prevent cross-contamination. Use safety and protective gear, and wear rubber gloves. Many boats require that stews download material safety data sheets from the manufacturer’s website for every product carried onboard so the hazards are known.

The safety and integrity of the interior is a stew’s responsibility. She must know what areas and equipment she is responsible for maintaining and caring for, including the rooms, fixtures, equipment, appliances and machines. Protect the interior, and call in professionals for help or advice when needed.

Believe it or not, many stews come to love cleaning and doing laundry. Some won’t admit it, but the best of us develop housekeeping anxiety in public places. The recovery rate for that is high, but I’ve heard that our secret love of ironing is a permanent condition.  

Alene Keenan is lead instructor of yacht interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Ft. Lauderdale. She shares her experience from more than 20 years as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”, available at and on Contact her at


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