by Pete Green
We are often asked about how you can make a career in yachting with little or basic experience. Phil Wood, Sales and Operations Manager at Halcyon Yachts offers his thoughts and guidance.
Q. How do I get started in the sailing industry? I have done a little sailing and really loved it, but how can I make a career and some money out of it?
A. There are a couple of routes open to you. I will stick to the RYA/MCA route as this is largely applicable to Europe and most of the rest of the sailing world.
The crew for yacht deliveries (when you are crewing in association with a yacht delivery business) are normally RYA Day Skipper Practical qualified as a minimum. It’s usually crews of three people and on delivery you will be expected to hold your own solo watch, by day and night. You can find other yacht delivery opportunities through crewing sites, Facebook or Social Media. For these sailing opportunities you would need to be at least RYA Competent Crew to stand a chance. At that level, you would generally not receive a salary for crewing. All your expenses (travel and food) should be covered 100%.
It has been like this since time immemorial and the markets are very competitive with very narrow margins. The trade-off is, is that you are receiving a great experience, adventure, travel, qualifying miles (for those wanting to get the RYA Yachtmaster Offshore ticket) and informal training. Look at comparative costs to you for mile building courses or joining the Clipper Round the World Race for example. The long and short of it is that as yacht crew, you would be very hard pushed to find paid work to sustain you full time at this level.
RYA Yachtmaster Offshore
To stand a chance of volume paid work and being able to give up your day job, you really need to be at RYA Yachtmaster Offshore level. You can then qualify for paid First Mate positions and Skippers work as you gain experience from there. Qualifying as an RYA Instructor also becomes possible. I would recommend RYA Yachtmaster and RYA Cruising Instructor as a minimum to make a living out of sailing (where it is your sole income). A commercial endorsement from the MCA is required to undertake paid work. This means a medical every 2 years (you can’t be colour-blind) and undertaking a first aid course and a sea survival course. The instructor qualification will certainly help look after you in the winter months. Remember, as a freelancer you will be doing your own sales and marketing. The more you can offer, the better your chances.
A good step that a lot of newly qualified RYA Yachtmasters take is a flotilla season in the Med. There are also bases further afield, but for the first season you will likely start in the med. This is no bad thing. Expect to be exceptionally busy working 6 days a week often 7. You will be running your own (lead) yacht and taking a small flotilla of 3-8 yachts around a week’s tour of your location. It is a mix of skipper, teacher, engineer and holiday rep. However, the intense experience you will gain in a season will set you in pretty good stead for the future. Salary is minimal; around £100-£200 per week. Yes, per week! but you will get all expenses and accommodation paid for. You wont have time to spend your money besides!
This is a different picture. As a minimum you need something called STCW-10, this is a package of 5 individual courses and can be completed in about a week:
- Personal Safety & Responsibility (i.e. personal and general hygiene, close quarters living aboard ship, etc)
- Fire Prevention & Fire Fighting
- Personal Survival Techniques
- Elementary First Aid
- Proficiency in Security Awareness
This is an industry standard and you must have it to work on vessels 24 metre or greater in length.
You should also have an MCA medical either ML5 or ENG1.
Your First Job
To work on Superyachts you will start at the bottom. There really are very few shortcuts, other than perhaps coming through the smaller big yachts/superyachts or being an ex-Royal Navy Captain. This means Deckhand progressing to Bosun. These are all cleaning and servicing jobs. No-one on board is rarely ever above rank of breaking out the Autosol (polish), or less popular, the bent coat-hanger. There is very little glamour at this level.
The positive side is that it pays well and normally tax free. You will then have the money to start undertaking your courses to become MCA officer of the watch (OOW). Use your time and money wisely and complete as many RYA courses leading up to Yachtmaster ocean (and have them commercially ensdorsed as above). It is entirely feasible to qualify as OOW within 3-5 years, or similar for RYA Yachtmaster Offshore/Ocean. You can then become a Deck Officer and start the progression from OOW through 4/3/2/1st Officer (all depending on the size of the vessel) and Captain.
Competition for deckhand work is pretty cut-throat. It basically means walking the docks (dock-walking) every morning in somewhere such as Antibes or Palma and seeing if you can get any day-work, hopefully leading to getting a season on-board. Once you have some experience and good references, then the world really opens up.
Salary guide – Yachts
For smaller yachts, working as a charter skipper, a delivery skipper, RYA Instructor you can expect to charge around £100 to £250 per day. You will get paid more for power than sail. Over a year perhaps looking at £18 to £40k, you are most likely to become self employed and freelance, with the associated responsibilities that come with that. Most of your future work will come either through your contacts or through recommendations. In the early years, really be prepared to take on everything that comes your way, always be professional and courteous, whatever the situation.
Salary guide – Superyachts
Normally paid in Euro or USD tax free. From around 20k to 100k+ and occasionally much more.
Advantageous skills or tips
- Engineering experience is always valuable, some smaller superyachts have mate/engineer positions.
- Get yourself an RYA Cruising Scheme logbook and start logging all of your miles. This can be done retrospectively to some degree. The higher courses and qualifications carry minimum mileage requirements. The logbook will also explain all the qualifications to you.
- Go sailing as often as you can, once you have Day-skipper sign on with delivery companies. In the meantime, use Facebook groups or paid crew services like Crewseekers.
- Fast Track courses are offered by most sailing schools but take the marketing rewards with a pinch of salt. If going the superyacht route, I would certainly recommend the STCW-10 route, you simply do not need Yachtmaster to get a position as a deckhand, start to get some money coming in and then you can start to pay for your RYA or MCA courses. Powerboat Level 2 is useful for tender driving, but you will learn on the job.
- Fast-Track RYA Yachtmaster courses can be a viable route, if you are looking to begin your professional career day chartering in the Solent or taking a season in the Med, or even to start instructing, if you think you are good enough. Just know your limitations. A bit like passing your driving test, you only start to learn, once you have passed your test. If you can gain as much experience beforehand, at worst it could save you a lot of money, at best, it will put you in a good position to be successful.
If starting from scratch it can be expensive to gain all your qualifications, for what is little financial reward initially. Pretty much everyone in the industry, speaking from the small yacht side, is passionate about yachts and sailing. It is a lifestyle choice as much as anything else. If you have the right attitude and are willing to work hard, it can be immensely rewarding. The yachting industry tends to attract like minded people and the potential for adventure is endless.
Halcyon Yachts Ltd is a dedicated international yacht delivery specialist with highly experienced and qualified crew. For more information or to see details of their recent deliveries please visit: https://halcyonyachts.com/