Curious about how you can break into yachting with no experience?
Today, we're sharing some great tips from an expert! We sat down with Suzanne Porta, a former yacht stewardess who went on to launch her own crew placement agency. She was happy to talk with FreshYacht to share her experience, explain the three most important characteristics for a new crew member, and give her best advice on how to network successfully!
Suzanne, thanks for chatting with us today! Can you start off by telling us your story of how you came into yachting, and what you do now?
Like many Americans, I came into the yachting industry by chance. I grew up in New York, and was working in Manhattan in the high tech industry. After the World Trade Center came down on 9/11/01, I donated my nearby apartment to first responders, and I moved out to stay with family in Sag Harbor, New York.
Sag Harbor is a charming little town that’s an absolute hub for boats in the summer. I opened up a restaurant, and started to meet yacht crew passing through. They came to know me and my background in hospitality, and invited me onboard.
I started working as a stewardess on a 200 ft vessel. From the beginning, I was hooked on being on the water. I recall one trip where we sailed through Long Island sound and down the East River, through all 5 bridges and around the harbor by the Statue of Liberty. This was just a normal day in the life for the yacht owners and the rest of the crew, but for someone new to the industry like me, it was incredible.
As I advanced in my career, I sought out team positions with my partner, who was also a yacht crew member, but eventually we started thinking of starting a family. I switched to a land-based career and began to build my current business, working with ready, willing, and able young people eager to work on yachts.
My work today is all about empowering people -- to believe in themselves, to work hard, and to achieve their dreams. Yachting is an incredible industry and has amazing opportunities for those willing to do the work.
What are your best recommendations for an inexperienced candidate?
The best thing an inexperienced candidate can do is to be prepared with the basics. Take the mandatory training like STCW, make sure your passport and visas are in order, and develop a strong resume and list of references. Yachting doesn’t require as much specialized training or education as many fields, so breaking into the industry is very possible for people who are motivated and have the drive to work.
Of course, it’s always more difficult to be hired without any experience, but everyone starts somewhere. Say “yes” to as many opportunities as you can. Take dayworking gigs, show up for interviews, talk to agents and yacht crew members about your skills and interest and learn about their positions.
Also, don’t talk yourself out of opportunities. You might be invited for an interview on a boat that’s not your first choice -- but take the interview anyway. After all, you can’t decline a job you haven’t even been offered, and you might learn something useful or gain a good new connection just by showing up for the interview. Don’t waste anyone’s time, but embrace the opportunity when it’s given. The more you can talk to people working in the industry, the more you’ll learn in the process.
What is something that might be surprising to newcomers to the industry?
Well, some of the hiring practices might be unfamiliar. For instance, many international yachts may want more personal information on a C.V., such as a photo, age, or height/dress size. U.S. job seekers aren’t accustomed to providing this type of information, and in some cases it’s not legal to require it due to U.S. anti-discrimination laws. However, different regulations may apply elsewhere, and some owners will still hire based on a certain look that’s desired for their boat.
In some cases, hiring practices are not about discrimination, but about the physical working environment. If the crew berths are only 6 feet long, for instance, the owner can’t responsibly hire a very tall engineer or deckhand. Other demands of the work might exclude certain people from safely completing their duties. It’s important for newcomers to the industry to be aware that like any specialty industry, certain restrictions or special considerations may apply. The best way to prepare for these types of circumstances is to be honest with yourself about your strengths as well as your limiting factors, and realize sometimes it’s not personal.
What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?
I typically find young and inexperienced crew are happier working on larger vessels. The work is generally more defined and restricted to specific tasks, and they have the support of a larger crew as they build their skills. It’s also a more social environment, which can be desirable for younger crew members.
I’d also tell newcomers to the industry not to believe what they see on reality TV, as these shows and stories are sensationalized. The actual work of yachting is often less glamorous than it may appear, and you’ll be working long hours or even days without breaks. This industry is incredible, but it is hard work, and people need to be prepared for this and show up with a good attitude.
If I were to break it down and give three main pieces of advice, I’d say that to be successful on a superyacht, you need to be driven, be honest, and be a hard worker. If you can say “yes” to these three things, you’ve got a great career ahead of you.
What is your top networking tip for our FreshYacht Insiders?
It’s important to make sure you’re physically getting out there and meeting people. From industry networking events to social gatherings with crew, it’s critical to meet face to face and get your name out there in front of people.
If you’re at a networking event, make it easy. On your nametag, write your name, the position you work (or are seeking), and whether you’re for hire. This way anyone can see in a glance that you’re available for daywork, a specific job, or just file away your background and availability for future reference.
And like I just mentioned, be honest. Don’t claim skills you don’t have -- but DO express an eagerness to learn and a willingness to take on new tasks. Depending on the job, this might be enough to earn you a chance, and that chance might be all you need.
Ultimately, the more people you talk to, the more you can share your story. One of the best things about this industry is that people genuinely want to help others. They know that you have to gain experience somewhere, and they’ll remember when they were new to the industry. Everyone needs to start somewhere.
Show up on time, work hard and with a smile, be conscientious, and be the last to leave, and you’ll make an impression that won’t be easily forgotten.
Thanks so much for sharing your story and your great advice, Suzanne!
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