Different worlds: Working and surviving life as crew aboard a charter yacht

With thanks to Fraser Yachts and Burgess

As a hopeful or burgeoning yacht crew member starting out in the yachting industry, you will likely have considered the benefits and drawbacks of working in one of the most glamourous and demanding industries the world has to offer, with no less than five-star service accepted. 

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It’s not all glitz and glamour however, with life in a cramped crew quarters and limited time off really taking its toll. With this in mind, Yachting Pages uncovers the benefits and implications of working aboard a charter yacht versus that of a private vessel, exploring the differing lifestyle that crew will likely experience when working aboard.

Working as crew aboard a commercial charter yacht vs. a private yacht

Working on a luxury yacht offers ample perks, such as travelling to the most exotic locations and thriving yachting hubs, tax-free salaries, meeting new people and having little-to-no living expenses, however it is important to know that the yachting industry itself is certainly no nine-to-five job before walking the docks. But how does life differ for those living and working aboard a commercial yacht rather than a private yacht?

Crew salary and quality of life

Generally speaking, when working aboard a private superyacht, crew members will find that the yacht owner may typically pay less in terms of salary, but that the quality of life is far greater.

It is usual for superyacht owners to interact with the crew more as they travel on board and there are typically more perks of the job when they are not, offering crew the chance to use the water sports equipment, the gym and the pool. Furthermore, if you work well you can usually expect to be kept on for the upcoming season, negating the constant pressure to search for new yacht jobs.

On the other hand, with charter guests aboard, and with commercial yachts often paying around £90k to £200k per week, the salaries are higher, but guests often expect the food to be perfect and cabins to be spotless - not to mention being waited on hand and foot with little interaction. Think of working on a charter yacht much like you would a five-star resort; crew are expected to work hard for much longer hours, however, they should look forward to a larger pay packet at the end, usually including regular tips per trip – typically around 10 to 20% of the base charter fee divided equally between all crew members, on top of a healthy monthly salary!

Stephanie Weel of Fraser Yachts said, “Working on a charter yacht is considerably different to working on a private yacht: Usually there are a larger variety of guests on board charter yachts, plus the yacht normally goes to the most popular charter destinations meaning more time in the thick of the yachting industry with fellow crew."

Crew demands and downtime

When working aboard a private yacht for a period of time, you will likely get to know the expectations and preferences of the superyacht owner. These can of course change at the drop of a hat, but you will likely have a better working relationship with your ‘boss’. In the charter industry, however guests are forever changing, and you have to start afresh each and every charter learning guest’s habits and inclinations.

Georgina Menheneott of Burgess said, "No doubt about it, crew can make or break a charter. It’s about being able to adapt to a client’s wishes, even if it means changing all the plans at a moment’s notice and doing absolutely everything to ensure their time on board makes them want to come back again and again. That means flexibility – what works for an owner, will not work for the five other groups of guests you have on board over the summer."

Furthermore, a private yacht is less likely to be in use as much as a charter yacht, which will often be booked back-to-back throughout the season. A private yacht therefore often allows for a less hectic season, with more downtime in port in between the owner’s periods on board.

Stephanie of Fraser Yachts continued, "A private yacht is more likely to provide a more steady lifestyle and have less trips, which might mean more time in port. However, some private yachts do get used a lot, but then the atmosphere is generally different aboard, as well as the clientele.

“Guests on board a private yacht are usually somehow related to the owner, or know the owner, so they will arguably be more respectful. With charter guests this is not always the case, as they don’t know the owner and do what they want basically. Therefore, on charter yachts your personal skills need to be very flexible, as one week you may have a charter with a family, the next could be a busy party trip, and maybe with only one hour turnaround!”

“Guests on board a private yacht are usually somehow related to the owner, or know the owner, so they will arguably be more respectful. With charter guests this is not always the case, as they don’t know the owner and do what they want basically. Therefore, on charter yachts your personal skills need to be very flexible, as one week you may have a charter with a family, the next could be a busy party trip, and maybe with only one hour turnaround!”

A different world: Working aboard a sailing yacht vs. a motor yacht

Similarly to the above differences between private and charter yacht, crew often enjoy and endure differences in working aboard sailing yachts as apposed to motor yachts, and vice versa. Owners and charter guests staying aboard sailing yachts whether private or commercial are generally seen as being more relaxed, as they’re likely there for the aspect of adventure and the experience of sailing. With charter guests therefore tending to be of a more laid back nature, crew may get to enjoy a more relaxed working atmosphere allowing them to interact with the guests in a less formal way.

Stephanie Weel of Fraser Yachts commented, “Generally the clientele of a chartered sailing yacht are more relaxed. They really enjoy the journey itself and would like to be a part of it. However, guests on a chartered motor yacht are more interested in getting from A to B in the most comfortable way. In yachting the saying is, 'On sailing yachts it’s about the journey, on motor yachts it’s about the destination'.

“In addition, the clientele on sailing yachts have something strong in common with the crew; their love of sailing. That brings a different and more relaxed atmosphere on board between guests and crew.”

Yacht crew tips on charter

Crew tips are a large draw to the yachting industry for many, often subsidising a yacht crew’s salary by some amount each month/year.

When working aboard a private yacht, crew may be lucky enough to receive a tip when the owner is on board, but those working aboard charter yachts are likely to receive more frequent and often far greater tips.

Although a big draw to the yachting industry for many, crew tips cannot be guaranteed aboard either private or charter yachts, and crew are therefore recommended not to expect them to avoid disappointment.

With the high costs of chartering these days, it is unfathomable to some guests to add a 15% tip on top of the base charter fee, as well as fuel, provisions, excursions, etc., no matter how rich they may be.

marina pontoonharbour landscape

American guests live in a tipping society, whereas many nationalities and cultures do not necessarily adopt the same approach, and a smaller tip than expected, or worse, no tip at all may be left at the end of a hard four-week charter.

Ultimately it is down to the charter broker to manage tipping expectations of charter guests, but they are ultimately a gift rather than a given and are at the discretion of the guests themselves. But, regardless of culture and customs, it’s worth knowing that charter guests are always watching. It may therefore be that your hard work goes noticed above and beyond that of the other crew with there sometimes being cases where a stewardess or other crew member is left an extra tip on top of that given to the other crew due to service provided above and beyond that expected.

Crew advice for surviving a superyacht charter

With the hectic lifestyle led aboard a charter yacht, many longstanding crew members often switch between life aboard commercial and private yachts each season, in order to trade off the hectic charter lifestyle and generous tips with a more sedentary life aboard a private superyacht as it travels the world.

Camper & Nicholsons explained, “You must be prepared, always, to go above and beyond the call of duty at any given time and in any given sea condition. When you invest that kind of time and energy into the yacht you are working on, it is easy to understand how this job quickly becomes a part of you. To some this might seem like a nightmare, but in fact, this unique relationship is the most satisfying reward of all.”

The key to a top yacht charter is flexibility. To keep charter guests happy and to keep working on top form throughout the season, Stephanie instructed, “My advice is to stay flexible and on top of your game. Charter seasons are long and intense. Run it like a marathon, it’s not a sprint; work wisely and spread your energy.

“Flexibility is key. At the end of every charter, you need to start fresh again and prepare from the beginning for the next charter. Moreover, each charter brings different guests, therefore different demands and different cultures. The flexibility to switch and change your style of service is very important. An example is that Americans might enjoy connecting emotionally more with crew, whilst Middle Eastern guests tend to want crew to be seen, but not heard.”

Read more yacht charter tips, or search for yacht charter brokers on Yachtingpages.com

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