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Stew Cues: Just starting out? Take time to invest in yourself

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It’s that time of year again. Boats are returning to Fort Lauderdale after the summer season and prepping for the next round. November to April is the winter season, and the Caribbean and the Bahamas are the heart of the traditional cruising itinerary. Current crew will get some much- deserved R & R, and newbies will be heading to town to get the courses they need and then look for work.

Yachting offers an exciting opportunity for travel and adventure. With more than 15,000 yachts that need qualified crew, the possibilities are endless. Getting into yachting is definitely a process, and it’s a confusing, overwhelming sequence when starting out.

With so much bewildering information out there, new crew must determine what they really need to know to get started. Assuming everyone is on a tight budget, consider which basic qualifications are mandatory and which ones are nice to get certificates for, but won’t affect the odds of landing a job. The minimum standard requirements are STCW Basic Safety Training, Food Safety and Hygiene, a Security Awareness course to cover your designated security duties, and the ENG 1 medical exam. Every qualified school will offer versions of the same courses.

Now comes the fun part: courses. Choosing a school, getting registered into the courses before they fill up, and then finding a place to stay nearby is the first step. Don’t wait too long. Pick the school first and get confirmed into the courses before they fill up, then investigate and confirm lodging options.

Crew houses are the standard route for new crew coming to town for courses. They are affordable and offer opportunities to hang out and network with other crew. It’s a chance to make friends with kindred spirits and sometimes hear about jobs that are available as soon as coursework is complete. Budget finances carefully, because it may be awhile before those paychecks start coming in.

It’s not uncommon to get hired before courses are complete, so plan ahead. Learn how to write an appropriate CV and start looking for work. Look to reputable services for help, such as www.superyachtresume.com (see tips on page 9), and accept recommendations from industry professionals and crew agents who know what it takes to get a job. Discover any transferable skills and use the CV to communicate them. Have business cards made to use for networking and communicating to prospective employers.

Don’t be shy. Fine dining and hospitality skills are great, but a love for making people happy is just as valuable. Wine knowledge, cocktail experience, customer service, good organizational skills and floral arranging are valuable skills for interior staff. If you’ve got them, flaunt them.

Yachting is all about group effort. There are many moving parts that constitute teamwork on board. For stews, food and beverage service, laundry, and housekeeping are the bare minimum. Light cooking and basic deck work such as handling lines and fenders may also be expected. Successful stews are hard-working, self-motivated and able to take direction well and work long hours without complaining.

There are general standards and routines that nearly every yacht follows, but every boat and every chief stew is different in terms of specific interior preferences and expectations. All want the same outcome though: a winning team that consistently gives the owners and guests the best experience possible. Attitude is important. You will be expected to learn very quickly how to do your job correctly and energetically.

It’s great if new stews can take interior courses, however most will work under a chief stew who will train her team to do things the way they are done on that particular vessel. For those looking to take courses, consider exploring what’s available online. They are a great option and offer an edge advancing your career. Look for courses by qualified instructors and take the initiative to gain a solid base of knowledge that can be applied to any yacht. Investigate Facebook groups such as Start Yachting, Yacht Stew Solutions, and the Crew Coach, to name a few. The Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess by Julie Perry and my book, The Yacht Guru’s Bible, are two books that have stood the test of time and offer lots of advice on how to get a job, and subsequently, what to know to keep that job once hired. 

For more information and for a limited time, visit www.alenekeenan.com to get a free digital copy of my book. While you’re there, check out the online wine course and other options for training.

Take advantage of this exciting opportunity for travel and adventure. Best of luck with your new career.

Alene Keenan spent more than 20 years working on yachts, 15 of them as chief stew. She has been sharing her expertise in the monthly Stew Cues column for more than 12 years on The-Triton.com as well as in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht”. Shore-side, she created the interior department curriculum for MPT in Fort Lauderdale. She now teaches subject-specific interior courses online through alenekeenan.com. Comments on this column are welcome below.

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