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Climbing the Ladder

Many people have asked me how some of these crewmembers in their 20s and 30s have gotten all the way up to captain or chief engineer already, and more importantly how can they do it too. The short story is start your training and sea time documentation early and keep up with every upgrade you can as you go.

Of course there is more to being a captain or chief engineer than just having the right piece of paper. Nothing takes the place of experience and training. However the more training you get and the sooner you get a ticket, the sooner doors can start to open up for you in terms of promotions or additional responsibilities that can lead to advancement or better prepare you for a leadership role.

This is true for officers as well as supervisory roles onboard the yacht such as Chief Steward or Purser which do not necessarily require a coast guard license but do look for advanced training, experience, organizational skills and leadership qualities.

The toughest part of course is where to start. Many people worry about the viscous circle of not being able to get a job without the qualification but not being able to get the qualification until they get the experience. It is the “which came first the chicken or the egg?” syndrome.

But there is a solution. First, when you are new to the industry or as soon as possible if you have been in it a while and haven’t started your progression yet, you will want to obtain all of the certificates and training needed for one level above where you are currently serving. The purpose of this is to show your vessel’s management that you are ambitious and serious about staying in the industry and about investing in your own education.

These are important these days. They also give your captain or chief engineer or direct supervisor the ability to start giving you more watches or a higher level of responsibility. They will like this because you become their right hand, you take some of their workload off of them and at the same time you are gaining valuable experience so that when you do get the promotion, you are actually ready for it.

So, you wonder where to start. Well let’s look at a few examples of possible crew members and the potential career ladders they could climb. If one of these is not you, and you need some guidance, contact me and I will be happy to help you outline some possible steps to take to increase your rate of progression up the ladder.

Crewmember Number 1:
American, new to the industry, hospitality background, worked at high end restaurants for several years, wants to travel and learn the yachting industry. She is applying for a stewardess position, she has no training.

Training Solution: Take the Basic Safety Course, the Super Yacht Crew Course (or something similar with basic watchstanding, etiquette, and tender operator), take a Silver Service Course designed for the Yachting Industry. Perhaps a course in advanced medical care, massage, in wine or in bartending, or child care, something extra to set you apart.

Experience Solution: Start on a yacht that is big enough to have multiple stews, preferably charter, and work as hard as you can alongside the more experienced stews and chief stews. Pay close attention to the schedule and what the expectations of a variety of guests are looking for.

Where will I go from here? You will continue to gain experience and as you do, you should take it upon yourself to enroll in a Chief Stew or Interior Yacht Management style course, estate management, and possibly other management style courses. You will want to assist the Chief Stew as much as possible and eventually apply for a position as Chief Stew on a private yacht with a smaller stew staff and then work up to a charter yacht or other larger yacht with a larger staff and more responsibilities and management of budgets, etc.

Crewmember Number 2:
South African, new to the industry, scuba background, small boats, loves the ocean and looking for a yachting job. Applying for a job as deckhand, has had no formal yacht training other than scuba certification.

Training Solution: Take the Basic Safety Course, the Super Yacht Crew Course (or something similar with basic watchstanding, etiquette, and tender operator), designed for the Yachting Industry. Perhaps a course in advanced medical care, Yacht Rating, Day Skipper or Ship Security Officer. If you have mechanical background, also consider getting your MCA AEC (Approved Engine Course) as many smaller yachts hire deckhand/mate/engineer positions.

Experience Solution: Start on a yacht as deckhand and work alongside a more experienced deckhand and offer to stand watches with one of the mates on your off time to gain more experience. Choose someone who likes to teach as much as possible. Be professional, obtain books to help you prepare for your yachtmaster and officer of the watch classes that you will be taking in the near future, most require prestudy and now is the time to do that. Don’t wait until the pressure of the course and exam are upon you. It will help you now and later.

Where will I go from here? You will continue to gain experience and when you are a good boat handler and have had some lead watch experience you can take your Yachtmaster Coastal or Offshore course. There is a great DVD program to help you study for this that starts at the very beginning. Then you will start taking your Officer of the watch courses and later upgrade to Chief Mate and Master, all along the way working in capacities on the boat that require a higher level of responsibility. It could take you about 6 months to get to your Yachtmaster and 5 calendar years to get to OOW and about 2-5 more years to get to Master 500-3000 ton. You should always be studying for your next certificate when you finish an interim step. This way you never have to cram a lot of courses and financial burden into a very small window of time off.

Crewmember Number 3:
American, relatively new to the industry, family had boats on the great lakes, loves the idea of working on the ocean and looking for a yachting job whether local or traveling, not sure. Applying for a job as deckhand, has had no formal yacht training.

Training Solution: Take the Basic Safety Course, the Super Yacht Crew Course (or something similar with basic watchstanding, etiquette, and tender operator), designed for the Yachting Industry. Because of your family boating history, you may also qualify to get your 200 ton Yachtmaster which would be recognized more internationally and helps to get an experienced deck hand job, along with a dual certificate from the USCG for Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels or Master up to 100 gross so that you could run small dive boats or yachts locally. If you have mechanical background, also consider getting your MCA AEC (Approved Engine Course) as many smaller yachts hire deckhand/mate/engineer positions.

Experience Solution: Start on a yacht as deckhand and work alongside a more experienced deckhand and offer to stand watches with one of the mates on your off time to gain more experience. Choose someone who likes to teach as much as possible. Be professional, obtain books to help you prepare for your yachtmaster and mate classes that you will be taking in the near future, most require prestudy and now is the time to do that. Don’t wait until the pressure of the course and exam are upon you. It will help you now and later.

Where will I go from here? You will continue to gain experience and when you are a good boat handler and have had some lead watch experience you can take your Yachtmaster Coastal or Offshore course. There is a great DVD program to help you study for this that starts at the very beginning. Then you will start taking your mate courses and later upgrade to Chief Mate and Master, all along the way working in capacities on the boat that require a higher level of responsibility. It could take you about 6 months to get to your Yachtmaster and 5 calendar years to get to mate and about 2-5 more years to get to Master 1600/3000 ton. You should always be studying for your next certificate when you finish an interim step. This way you never have to cram a lot of courses and financial burden into a very small window of time off.

Crewmember Number 4:
Short time in the industry, worked as deckhand, shoreside mechanical background, loves the idea of becoming an engineer. Applying for any job that will help him get his engineering ticket, has had no formal yacht training.

Training Solution: Take the Basic Safety Course, the Super Yacht Crew Course (or something similar with basic watchstanding, etiquette, and tender operator), designed for the Yachting Industry. Because of your mechanical history, you should consider getting your MCA AEC (Approved Engine Course) as many smaller yachts hire mate/engineer positions that can lead to good experience towards an engineering qualification.

Experience Solution: Start working as a mate/engineer on a smaller yacht or as a third engineer on a larger yacht. If these positions are hard to come by, start again as a deckhand and offer to stand watches with one of the engineers on your off time to gain more experience. Choose someone who likes to teach as much as possible. Be professional, obtain books to help you prepare for your Y4 engineer, (actually take the Y3 classes, then the upgrade is simple and quick from Y4 to Y3 and this will set you apart from the other crew with Y4 tickets) maybe also consider a dual certificate from the USCG and possibly your yachtmaster for the mate side too. Don’t wait until the pressure of the course and exam are upon you. It will help you now and later.

Where will I go from here? You will work as mate/engineer, third engineer, second engineer and eventually chief engineer. It could take you about 1 month of experience to get to your AEC qualification after the course and 5 calendar years to get to Y4 and about 2-5 more years to get to Y1 Chief Engineer. You should always be studying for your next certificate when you finish an interim step. This way you never have to cram a lot of courses and financial burden into a very small window of time off.








Crewmember Number 5:
American, lots of experience in the industry, worked as mate and captain of yachts up to 112 feet. Holds USCG Master 100 ton license. Looking to upgrade, not sure what he qualifies for.

Training Solution: You need a career counseling session. If you have 1440 total sea days in your life and at least 720 of them were on a boat over 100 tons with your license, you could jump all the way up to Master 1600/3000 under the current system. You have asked this question just in time because the system is about to change similarly to the MCA system which will require you to get your Mate / OICNW and work on that for a few years and take interim training along the way. Maybe you review your sea time and find not quite enough for 1600/3000 tons but if you have 1080 total sea days with 720 with a license and 360 of them on a boat over 50 tons, you can go to Master 500 tons which in the new system will be able to be renewed but no new 500 tons will be issued so it is critical for anyone qualifying for this certificate to get it now. Really, do not pass go, do not wait, upgrade now. This is a short term opportunity, the new rules have already been laid out in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. I am happy to provide a copy for anyone to read that is interested in the pending legislation.

Also, consider taking your MCA Certificate of Equivalency or getting recognition from the Marshall Islands the Cayman Islands or other Flag states to make you as versatile as possible.

Experience Solution: Upgrade now and get a great job!!!! You have good experience but you never upgraded your license to reflect your sea time.

Where will I go from here? You will work as the Captain or mate of any size yacht anywhere in the world or you could get a shoreside job in a management or broker position. Then every few years, take some continuing education and any new stuff that comes out or refresher training as needed.