We chatted with First Officer Tom about how he got started in yachting and what a typical day might look like for an exterior crew. (Hint: there’s nothing typical about it!) He’s got some great tales of the highs and lows of working as a deckhand. Let’s dive right in!
Tom, tell us what a day on deck might look like for you when you’ve got guests onboard!
Well, first of all, there’s no normal day or predictable schedule. As an exterior crew member, I’m there to take care of any wish or whim the guests might have -- and to keep the boat clean and polished at all times.
Usually, I’ll wake up early and work on the exterior surfaces, making sure the boat is dry and clean. You’ll get pretty good at working with a chamois, pretty quickly!
Once I’ve set everything up for the day, I’ll review the guest itinerary for the day. Typically, some sort of water sport or beach excursion is on the menu, so I’ll focus on getting the equipment ready.
On a larger yacht, this might look like working with the crane to prep a jet ski or tender.
After the toys are ready to go, the deckhand will usually tag along with the guests. We’re everything from a coach to an instructor to a safety monitor - you’ll find guests will all levels of experience (or none at all) and they’re wanting to operate this big equipment at high speeds, so it can be a little dicey at times! We’re there to help and make sure everyone stays safe.
We’ll come back to the yacht after the main activity, and then most of my job is to be around and available for guest needs. While I’m waiting, I’ll find something to do -- usually detailing the boat. I’ll clean up scuffed surfaces, polish some stainless, or that type of thing.
Once we head into the evening, my duties will be different if we’re at the dock or at anchor. At the dock, I’m on standby again to assist if a guest wants to use the outdoor jacuzzi or pool if there is one. I’ll also help operate the entertainment system.
If we’re at anchor, then the deckhands rotate through anchor watch, monitoring radar and the ship conditions. It’s usually a 4-hour shift before you’re relieved to go rest for the night.
Deckhand duties will vary too depending on the size of the boat. I’ve worked on a 48m boat and right now I’m on a 38m, so at the moment the other exterior crew and I also help cover engineering duties.
WIth a bigger crew, you can cover a little more ground and everyone has more defined tasks; with a smaller crew everyone chips in and you have a bit more contact with the guests as well.
Sounds like you keep busy, for sure! Can you share a funny story or two you’ve encountered during your time as a deckhand?
Sure! There have been a number of funny things along the way.
Once, I was out in the Caribbean along with an owner and his friends. He liked to drive his own tender, but in this case, he hadn’t read the tides and he wasn’t as familiar with the conditions.
His friends were asking him if he’d ever hit a reef before, as it is pretty shallow in this area, and he’d proudly shared his good boating record -- until literally 60 seconds later, he ran into the reef. His buddies gave him a hard time for the rest of the trip, and every time I run into him now he tells me they still don’t let him live it down!
Another time, the joke was on me. The owner of this boat brought his dog along, so the exterior crew took charge of walking the dog and getting him some exercise. Wouldn’t you know every single time I went to walk it down the dock, it would do its business right there on the dock.
I’d be standing there leash in hand in front of other guests and owners. I tried to pass that job along to the other crew anytime I could! No one wanted the reputation of the guy walking the dog that decided to stop and drop right there on the dock!
I’ve had a whole lot of fun and along the way, sometimes you get a bit beat up with handling all of the equipment and toys. I haven’t been seriously injured, but once I had accumulated a bunch of small injuries and was wrapped up in bandages and electrical tape - a bit of a contrast to the nice, sharp image crew like to present onboard. The guests started calling me “Crash Dummy”.
Thanks, Tom - it’s fun to hear some true life stories of what can happen on board! Let’s switch gears a bit - can you tell us how you got started working in yachts?
I grew up on Long Island and the east end of the island has three major yachting ports. So, I was surrounded by boats and the yachting community; every summer I saw the boats coming and going and met so many interesting people and heard about their adventures.
I traveled regularly growing up and wanted to continue doing that. So one day I decided to give it a shot! I talked to some of the deckhands, who told me to go to Ft Lauderdale, do my training and get a license, then hunt for a job.
It was pretty easy once I made the decision and knew what to do -- there is a lot of demand in the industry. I started as a deckhand on a 48m yacht, and today I’m the mate on a 38m yacht.
What’s been your favorite destination so far, and where do you most hope to go?
My favorite place so far is definitely St. Lucia. The landscape is really unique for the Caribbean, with very tall steep mountains right on the beach. It’s so gorgeous there and unlike other spots in the Caribbean.
I’m really wanting to go to the South Pacific area, to see Indonesia, Bali, the Philippines. I’d had a job lined up there last fall, but flexibility in this industry is always important -- a huge typhoon came through just before I was set to fly out and everything in the area, including the marina and many of the boats, were destroyed. So, that position fell through. I still hope to go there for a job in the future.
What advice would you give to new crew or people wanting to break into the industry?
I’d tell them how important it is to network and get your name out there. Once you get your license and certifications, get up and go to as many events as possible.
Get out there and do as much daywork as you can. People will start to know who you are, and it gives you the chance to show off your work ethic and how well you can work with people. Someone will offer you a permanent job once you’re a known entity.
I’d also tell them how important it is to have a thick skin in this industry. Some owners, guests, captains, even other crew, can be very particular and might have unusual requests or ways of doing business.
If you take everything to heart -- you’ll be upset all of the time. You’ll be surrounded by people from different backgrounds, cultures, and lifestyles, and you won’t always see eye to eye. Focus on your own work and your plans, and don’t let one or two people ruin your day or your environment on certain boats.
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