Superyacht Crew vs. Sportfishing Crew

May 28, 2024 by Lauren Beck

How do sportfishing and superyacht crew jobs compare?

The maritime world is multi-faceted. The yachting industry and the sportfishing world intersect and share some similarities, but when it comes down to the crew job, just how different are superyacht crew to sportfishing crew?

Obvious similarities between the two crew jobs include extended periods of time away from home, globetrotting, long working hours, and close quarters. However, it’s the distinct differences that really tell the tale.

There are a few things to keep in mind if you’re deciding which path to choose. 

On the Job

“The biggest difference would be that there are no job titles in sportfishing. You’re expected to wear a lot of different hats,” said Capt. Newt Cagle. He grew up in the sportfishing world and worked in several operations that operated hand in hand with yachts. Cagle is currently the captain of M/Y Big Oh and the manager of the 118-foot Swiftships M/Y Uh Oh.

“In the yachting community, there is a person for every job — you have a chef, you have an engineer, you have a stewardess, you have a captain, and you have a mate and deck crew,” said Cagle. People generally tend to remain in their own lane on superyachts.

 

“Well, in the sportfishing world, we do it all,” Cagle said. “There will be two to three crew, max, on a sportfishing boat. And throughout the course of a day, you will wear every single hat.” The crew might prepare snacks or food, clean the interior, fix a tech issue, make a repair, or just generally pitch in where needed. 

You might have a stew, and that person may also help prepare food or snacks, or cater in food, but there is not usually a dedicated chef on board.

On top of keeping the boat running and entertaining guests, sportfishing crew also have to produce fish. “Not only are you doing all of the yacht stuff — catering to the guests, taking care of the boat, all that stuff — but you’re also having to fish 10 to 12 hours a day. That is the biggest difference,” Cagle said. 

It’s a busy, demanding job, and some would argue more so than being superyacht crew. Sportfishing guests tend to be very active, so you’re always on the go, either prepping to fish, fishing, or cleaning up after fishing.

Lindsey Hanrahan worked aboard both sportfishers and superyachts in her crew career and found both jobs busy, but in different ways. When the boat was busy fishing, it was nonstop, while she found yachting slower.

“I was shocked at the lack of activity [with superyacht guests],” Hanrahan said. “One guest just wanted to sit and sunbathe and be served wine all day, dinner, just hanging out. I was like, ‘Oh, you guys literally just sit around on your yacht.’”

Sportfishing is not a job for just anyone. “Professional sportfish captains and mates require a specific and technical knowledge of fishing and the type of fishing the owner prefers to do,” said Capt. John Crupi, who is now a maritime consultant at Rubicon Marine. Crupi was at the helm of an expedition and sportfishing program for more than 20 years. He also oversaw the build of a Hatteras GT that was the first of its kind to cross the Atlantic and Pacific on her own bottom in tandem with the mothership, the 45-meter M/Y Dorothea III.

“Yes, [sportfish crew] are responsible for maintenance and detailing, but the fishing skills are the priority,” Crupi said.

“I have a lot of fishing knowledge. I’ve fished my whole life,” said Bosun Matthew Miller, who grew up in the commercial fishing and crabbing world and now works aboard the 133-foot M/Y Serenity under Capt. Ryan Moore. “As soon as I started working on the sportfish, [I learned that] this is a whole other world,” Miller said. So much fishing knowledge was needed; he felt like he really didn’t know anything at all.

Miller has been on yachts for the past three or so years. He started his career in yachting before moving to sportfishing and then back to superyachts.

Capt. Jim Hannifan, who has worked predominantly on sportfishing vessels until his very recent stint aboard a 100-foot motor yacht these past few months, won’t hire crew for the sportfishing vessel if they don’t have fishing knowledge.

“They had to be big on the fishing because there’s so many different knots you have to know; there’s different types of tackle, different items for certain species of fish, so you really need somebody who has a pretty in-depth background,” Hannifan said — at least to be the mate running your cockpit. He also finds the yachting side a slower pace, but that would likely vary according to the vessel program.

While newbie crew might need a few courses to get started on superyachts, it’s likely easier to find work and learn on the job as you make your way up the career ladder from deckhand to captain. 

Culture Shock

“The crew on a sportfish are just different,” Miller said. “They’re different people from different walks of life. Yachting is very, very professional. Sportfish guys are kind of loose and relaxed. Almost like cowboys.”

In superyachts, there tends to be more separation between guest and crew spaces, with crew tucked away out of sight below deck. On sportfishing vessels, that separation may be nonexistent. 

“Sportfishing boats are typically a much more relaxed environment where the crew and owners mingle in all aspects of the operation,” Crupi said. “There is typically much more interaction between crew and owners on the sportfishing boats and a camaraderie that does not exist in yachting.” 

 

Crew may find themselves eating dinner with the guests or owners ashore or even rubbing elbows down below. Cagle shared that sometimes, crew and guests would share bathrooms aboard, so he still looks for crew who are polite, respectful, and clean up after themselves. How much space is shared depends on the sportfishing program as some may be day trips only, with no guests staying on board, while others may be overnight trips.

Miller points out that sportfishing vessels tend to be smaller than superyachts, sometimes a lot smaller, so your crew quarters can be tight or nonexistent.

“Honestly, I miss the sportfish side because it is a little bit different. It’s a lot more relaxed. But I switched over because I want to be a captain. And I feel like in the sporty world, you kind of peak pretty early,” Miller said. It’s also tough dealing with so many more crewmembers on a superyacht, Miller said. It makes for a lot of personalities in a small space.

But one area where he loves the superyacht lifestyle? Having a full-time chef on board. You really can’t beat that, especially since he “can’t cook for crap,” Miller said.

Money Talk

While salaries on both yachts and sportfishing vessels can vary depending on the vessel’s program, the crewmember’s experience, background, and credentials, the perception is that superyacht crew make better money.

It seems the answer is not so black and white, however. Hannifan, who has worked predominantly in sportfishing, has always been paid exceptionally well on his sportfishing vessels and has found his pay comparable on both.

Miller noted that he took a pay cut moving over to yachting. He always made decent money, and with fewer crew on board their sportfishing vessel, any tips or prize money went further amongst the crew. 

Hanrahan, on the other hand, said she received better pay on motor yachts.

Charter crew on both sportfishing vessels or superyachts can earn charter tips, and sportfishing crew on vessels that participate in fishing tournaments may also receive a share of any prize money won, after expenses. According to Cagle, this could be as much as 60% of the prize money. “I’ve heard of all kinds of different stuff, but I would say, on average, the crew normally gets 30 to 50%,” he said.

Choosing Your Path

It’s likely easier to get started in the yachting industry. There’s more established infrastructure, for one, Cagle said, with training and placement services. Not so in the sportfishing industry. There are no conventional requirements, no set path, and no true guidelines. “Yachting has a roadmap for success,” Cagle said.

“When it comes to hiring somebody fresh or green, I hire for desire, that they’re hard-working, clean cut, and they’ve got good manners. They want to be there,” Cagle said. “You can teach anybody how to fish, and you can teach anybody how to work on a boat. You can’t teach personalities. You can’t teach a work ethic — they either have it or they don’t.”

 

He would hire someone from yachting who was looking to make a change, although he thinks starting from no experience might be an easier transition. “Someone with the right attitude and the work ethic [would] be no problem,” Cagle said.

“I think if you’re coming from sportfishing into yachting, you would find the routine, rules, and interactions quite rigid compared to the typical sportfish operation,” Crupi said. 

Miller believes it’s easier to get started in yachting, but if you’re transitioning from one industry to the other after some time, transitioning from sportfishing to superyachts is easier. “Trying to go from a yacht with very little fishing experience to a sportfish, they’ll weed you out. They won’t hire you,” Miller said. 

Moore hired Miller and is happy to sing his praises. “It’s always a gamble taking on a sporty because they come from a more relaxed program, where it’s more laidback where, at the end of the day, they can sit back with the owner and have a beer or whatever,” Moore said.  

“I’ve been running boats for a while now. And one of the hardest things to find in crew is yacht etiquette, especially if they’re coming from a commercial or sportfishing background,” Moore said. “There’s a certain standard that you have to adhere to when it comes to everything being immaculate. I’ve always found that this is more of a learned skill.” 

Moore believes crew have to learn that higher level of attention to detail that comes with working on a superyacht.. It’s essential to yachting success and must be embraced by sportfishing crew making the switch. 

Ideally, you should follow your passion. “If you’re going from the yachting side to sportfishing, you better love to fish,” Miller said. Both Miller and Hannifan, who currently work on the yachting side, miss the sportfishing world and would go back. Miller might go back once he becomes a captain. 

“I believe that someone with fishing skills may enjoy a yachting program that tows and fishes, but it’s typically not with the same intensity that you would find in a world-traveling and/or tournament fishing sportfish program,” Crupi said. “If that’s the level of fishing you are accustomed to, then the yacht that has a fishing boat is not going to satisfy the drive, desire, and intensity on any level.”

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