A beginner’s guide on how to get into the Mediterranean yachting industry. And also an attempt to save us all from those pestering “I want to be a yacht stewardess” emails.
This article was originally written on 20 March 2014 and updated again on 09 January 2015. A big thank you to Isobel at Super Yachting South Africa for her generous and knowledgeable contributions. Feel free to add your own recommendations by emailing me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Before you get to town, sign up with the agents and agencies online. The big ones are: Luxury Yachts, Bluewater Yachting, Peter Insull, JF Recruiting, IYC, Edmiston, Camper & Nicholsons, Crew Unlimited, The Crew Network. The one man shows are often as effective (pull up your socks for these ladies): Sarah Plant at Recrewt, Erica Lay at El Crew Co and Sally Finbow at Sally Finbow.
And my two cents worth: Your CV is vital! It’s what will get you the interview. If you have a couple-a Euros to spare, I’d highly recommend having your CV fixed up by The Crew Coach (or you can email her directly: email@example.com). The Crew Coach also does a number of free and interesting job-search talks at the start of the summer season, which are worth checking out.
When you get to town, put on something smart and go visit the agents in person. Most importantly: make appointments with them rather than just “popping in” – these people are professionals and extremely busy. Rumour had it that 2014 saw 5,000 new crew come through Antibes!
Keep in touch and keep your online profiles regularly updated with new qualifications, where you’re based, day work/boat show experience etc. And to make life easier, have all your certificates scanned and digital copies readily available for crew agency sign-ups and interviews.
In most cases, your yachting salary needs to be paid into an offshore bank account. Your salary will be paid in either Dollars or Euros so make provision for both. As far as I understand, Lloyd’s TSB has closed their offices in South Africa but can be contacted online. Standard Bank offers international bank accounts to Standard Bank account holders. You can contact Lynette Marais if you have any questions regarding opening and maintaining a Standard Bank Offshore Account: Lynette.Marais@standardbank.com
Banks generally require a letter of employment before an account can be opened.
There has been some talk about yachties and TAX after new regulations were implemented in 2014. At the end of the day, you should be declaring and paying tax somewhere in the world. To be on the safe side, declare all your bank accounts and assets to the authorities. Money is becoming harder and harder to hide with the globalised economy and it’s just not worth the hassle ten years down the line when they eventually catch up with you. I highly recommend the services of Mitchell Johnson Financial Services for yachties wishing to file tax declarations in France, apply for mortgages and insurance.
All yacht crew working on board charter boats are required to have the following courses/qualifications as a minimum requirement:
1) STCW ’95 (renewable every five years from 2015)
– Make sure this includes a PSA (for interior crew) or SSO (for deck crew)
2) ENG 1 Medical Exam (renewable every two years by an approved doctor)
I have had crew ask me if it is possible to “not do the courses at all and just rock up on the docks”. No, no, way! What world are you living in?
Additional courses that will help bolster your CV:
RYA Powerboat Level II
Basic Food Handling and Hygiene – contact Rosemary.Nelson@mcga.gov.uk for more info regarding approved schools
PYA GUEST Introductory Stewardess/Interior (Silver Service, Wine, Cocktails, Laundry etc.)
PYA GUEST Wine/Spirit Training
PYA GUEST Barista Training
RYA Jet Ski License (PWC)
Game-changing courses that require sea time and more experience:
RYA Jet Ski Instructors License
Advanced STCW First Aid
Advanced STCW Fire Fighting
Advanced STCW Sea Survival
Yacht Accounting – PYA GUEST Purser Course
PYA GUEST Intermediate Stewardess Courses
Management Courses – such as HELM, ISPS, ISM or PYA Head of Department courses
CHEFS – take note that some yachts will not employ you without the Ship Cook’s Certificate and a correctly accredited Food Health and Safety Certificate – read more about this at Bluewater Yachting
For a list of training providers in South Africa and France, see INSTITUTIONS below.
DOCK WALKING & DAY WORKING
This is your best bet if you’re new to the industry. Surfing the web and sitting on your gat all day in a crew house isn’t going to find you work. Dock walk different ports early in the morning (before and around breakfast at 08h00) and again later in the afternoon around 16h00. Working boats stop for lunch at around 12h00 so not much will happen then. And it’s not a good idea to bother crew in their much-revered lunch hour.
Don’t ever approach a boat with guests on board!! You will pick this up by flowers on the aft deck, crew in formal uniform, guests sunning about, tenders/deck furniture uncovered, welcome chair/mat on the dock etc. And don’t ever approach a boat if it’s leaving/entering its berth or if you see crew are still tying the boat down, connecting water/electricity lines etc. It shows you have no perception or any clue how boats work. It happens more than you think and it’s plain annoying.
Walk with a few CVs and business cards in hand and be dressed smart but comfortable enough to day work immediately if you are asked to. I wore Crocs (shock horror) in my first season to save my feet from all that walking. If push comes to shove, there’s a Crocs shop on 21 Rue de la Republique in Antibes.
Although it is not illegal to dock walk in France, it is illegal to do so if you are not permitted to work in Europe (i.e you’re here on a tourist visa and not a working/seaman’s visa or if you don’t hold an EU Passport). There were a few horror stories of dock walkers who were arrested in 2014 for possessing incorrect visas. Make sure you have the right paperwork to seek work in Europe. See VISAS below.
If you get offered day work, take it. And don’t cheapen your skills and piss off hard-working crew from other nations by working for less or “just to get experience”. South Africans are guilty of doing this all the time because we need the experience for our CVs and the Euro is so much stronger than the Rand.
The going rate for day work is €80-€150 per day’s work. Make sure you agree on this at the start. Generally short-term day work is paid in cash and longer term day work (two weeks+) is paid via EFT. Be sure to ask about medical insurance for any personal damages sustained while day working — some boats cover day workers and others don’t.
It’s a once in a lifetime experience and a privilege to be in such a dynamic and exciting industry. Make the most of it.
Some useful and regularly updated Facebook Pages/Groups to keep you in the yachting loop:
Yacht Stewardess Tips
The Crew Grapevine
Saffas Yachties Unite in the Med & Caribbean!
Super Yachting South Africa
The African Yacht Club
Antibes Yacht Crew
The Crew Coach
South African Super Yacht Crew
How many yacht crew are there in the world
Five Star Crew II
Jobs On Yachts Page
At the end of the day, yachting is about making sure your guests are absolutely pampered, their every need is taken care of and that they are kept safe at sea. Guests are what decipher the job of yachties from that of commercial shipping crew.
And unless you’re an engineer, it helps to be a “people’s person”. Become a “yes-it-is-an-absolute-pleasure” person. Go beyond the call of duty and you will grow; give lip and you’ll sink. Don’t become too personal with guests and don’t take difficult guests personally. Yachties often work for the world’s richest people — you’ll be exposed to sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll on the one hand and absolute normality on the other. Whatever guests you’re dealt, remember to keep everything you see and hear absolutely confidential. Keep anything related to your yacht away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.
If you have any experience in the hospitality industry, note it down!! Any waitressing or fine-dining service, bar tending, hostessing, restaurant management, hotel management, eventing or chef experience is gold.
By no means an exhaustive list, here are some of the schools that offer accredited courses in South Africa and France. I have experience doing courses through these training providers and can highly recommend them all:
Click here for PYA’s full list of accredited training providers around the world.
Please note: High Speed Training are no longer approved by the MCA for Food Health Safety courses!
There are so many bullshitters in this industry. Don’t become one of them.
It’s either peace or panic on board a boat. You’re either wet-vacuuming an over-spilled toilet in rolling swell while you’re smack bang in the middle of lunch service (true story) or you’re taking your time on a wash down and listening to good music without any guests on board. Whatever the case, keep calm and level-headed, even in the prickliest of moments. Don’t snap and strop or throw your mood at your crew. Breathe, work hard under pressure and think/communicate clearly without flapping. No one likes “flappers”.
The more languages you speak, the better equipped you are to work in a foreign country and with foreign guests. Brushing up on your basic French is always a bonus when provisioning at local markets and keeping on the good side of port officials. I spent 2014 learning Swedish and have now started to tackle French. I can highly recommend Babbel.com for learning a language from scratch.
Still not sure where to begin? I read this post by Tim Ferris when I first started learning languages and it helped heaps.
You’ll work hard but you’ll also make good money. Best word of advice: don’t spend your money like a guest; spend your money like a pauper. Too many of us get caught in the €2,000 tips and suddenly splurge on things we’d never have bought before. It’ll dry up before you know it. Rather spend your money on experiences like travel and save/invest as much as you can.
It’s a small industry where everyone knows everyone. Piss someone off and it’ll come back to you in some way or another. Be a good person, keep your nose out of other people’s drama and avoid gossip at all costs.
It happens every now and again that boats look for crew with skills supplementary to their traditional yacht training. These roles might include experience as a: beautician, masseuse, pilot, personal trainer, Yoga/Pilates instructor, nanny, nurse, purser, butler, carpenter/plumber, internet technician, dive instructor, etc. I’ve even seen a job opening for professional cyclists.
It’s likely you’ll start out your journey and dock walking days in the South of France. Dock walk these ports and then consider heading out to Italy/Spain for some exposure away from the crowds:
Monaco Bay (Port Hercule/Port de Fontveille/Cap d’Ail), Golfe de St. Hospice (Eze/Beaulieu sur Mer/Cap Ferrat), Nice Bay (Villefranche, Nice), La Baie des Anges (Laurent du Var, Cagnes sur Mer, Port Vauban Antibes, Port de la Salis Antibes), Golfe Juan (Port Gallice, Port Camille Rayon, Port de Golfe Juan), Cannes & Palm Beach (Port de la Pointe Croisette, Port Pierre Canto).
For more detail, visit France South Coast
Generally, you’ll catch the train from port-to-port. In years’ past, dock walkers liked to “jump” trains and pay the 40EUR fine when they got caught but the French have caught onto this and now regularly check tickets over the summer season. You’re an obvious target if you’re dressed in the banal beige shorts and white collar golf shirt!
French TRAINS are notoriously useless so be sure to check the latest timetables and delays on the SNCF site or download the app for your iPhone.
I put it in the list because it ticks me off when people don’t spell it correctly: Q-U-A-Y
Remember that yachting is all about rank. Let go of your “spoilt rich kid” attitude and become good at taking orders from the person above you without questioning their decisions or sparring with them. Captain’s orders!! I learned this very quickly on a boat where I challenged the captain and was asked two days later to pack my bags and leave. Egos are fickle and power play is a reality. Put your head down, stay out of the politics, smile and get on with your job. Finished and klaar.
SEAMAN’S DISCHARGE BOOK
You can apply for a Seaman’s Discharge Book through various maritime authorities throughout the world (often it’ll be from the place of your boat’s flag of registration). If you’re South African, you simply should not leave your boat without one. You will need to have a letter of employment and certificate of registry before most maritime authorities will issue a Seaman’s Discharge Book at a cost of around €90 (at least, that was back in 2012).
Once you have it, remember to have it stamped whenever you start a new job or leave a boat. Although you will still require a valid passport and relevant visas to move between countries (ports/airports), a Seaman’s Book is a good indication that you are a professional who is travelling for “work purposes” and often it gets you discounts on extra luggage.
It’s also a good way of keeping track of your time at sea and employment dates.
TRAINING RECORD BOOK (ITRB)
The PYA has just introduced the Interior Training Record Book (ITRB) for interior crew. Although parts of it are tedious and boringly detailed, it serves a good purpose and will further your career later down the line. Use it to monitor your progress and see it as a reflection of your performance and learning on board.
Download the PYA ITRB here.
If you’re on a green mamba (South African Passport), make sure you skill yourself up very quickly on what visas to get and how to go about getting them. Yes, the captain has to shoulder the responsibility when it comes to crew documentation, but that doesn’t mean you can sit back, relax and let him do all the work. I have always managed my own visa, employment and repatriation documentation for the captains I’ve worked for in the past because I didn’t ever want to be that South African on board.
I can’t say much for the USA B1/B2 visa as I’ve always worked in the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans. Regarding the Schengen (Mediterranean) territories however, you will need a Short-Stay Seaman’s Visa at the very least. This can be applied for and renewed in South Africa at the CAPAGO Offices in Cape Town, Durban or Johannesburg. If you are granted a multiple entry visa, you may leave and return any number of times within a six month period but the combined stay in the region must not total more than 90-days.
Most South Africans start off on a Short-Stay Tourist Schengen Visa but — strictly speaking — this is illegal! A tourist visa does not allow you to look for work or to work in Schengen territories, it expires after a maximum stay of 90 days and often you will be given hassles leaving on an overstayed tourist visa or if you’re working on board and caught on land (crew lists give this away).
Added to which, if you’re planning a long-term career in yachting or on travelling Europe again, future visas might be withheld if it’s noted that you have a history of over-staying. Be warned that authorities are clamping down on this!
For seamen and women who return to Schengen areas regularly for seasonal work on the same boat, it may be better to obtain a Long-Stay Seasonal Worker’s Permit at CAPAGO in South Africa and convert it once you arrive in France. This visa (typically a Carte de Sejour Visiteur) is renewable annually in France and requires some administrative upkeep: a visit to the Prefecture and medical test once you land in France. It comes at a great cost (it cost me €600 in 2014) but I’d highly recommend taking someone with you who can speak French and knows the system. For assistance with this seaman visas in France, email firstname.lastname@example.org You must know that the Carte de Sejour Visiteur does not permit you to work ashore (land-based) and also doesn’t allow you to benefit from local medical aid etc.
Check out Capago-SA’s website for the details of what documentation is required for each visa. The Italian and French Embassies in South Africa do not deal with the public directly, everything now goes through CAPAGO.
For more in depth articles on seafarer visas, visit other articles I have written on the topic:
**Please note: Local and international immigration laws are amended regularly. It is solely your responsibility to make informed immigration decisions. This blog and its owner will not take responsibility for decisions made as a result of this article.
WHERE TO STAY
Check-in to a crew house for your first few nights, meet fellow crew and then bunker-up and find cheaper apartments to rent on a week-by-week basis. They say the further out of Antibes you go, the less money you have. In my first year, we ended up at an ungodly place called Les Parc Velusine (€19 per week per person at that time). There’s also the Mobilum (caravan park) in Biot that’s worth a try. Apartments are lovely and a little more expensive but many owners are hesitant to rent out to yacht crew.
As with anything, you either have yachting in you or you don’t. I have friends who lasted a season, bombed out and hated it, friends who loved it for a few years and left at the right time and friends who’ve been in it for over ten years. I suppose you won’t know until you try.
YACHTIE NO NO’s
Laziness, mood swings, stealing, lying, poor personal hygiene, bitchiness, gossip, drama queens, sensitive souls, negativity, lippy, challenging attitude, smoking’s become increasingly unpopular.
Catch up on your beauty sleep now because be warned, you won’t get any of it when you start yachting. Eat when you can eat and sleep when you can sleep because you never know when you’ll get it next.