Large yachts require a crew to help operate and maintain them. Smaller vessels, somewhere around 50 or 60 feet or smaller, may be owner-operated if the owner is skilled enough, but as boats grow larger, more specialized staff are required to run the vessel with its increasingly complicated technology and equipment.
Generally, if someone is looking for help to run their boat, the first step would be to hire a captain. If it’s a smaller vessel, a captain may be all that’s necessary to make use of the boat. However, suppose the size is edging into the superyacht arena, and the owner is looking for a more luxurious experience. In that case, they should consider hiring a chef and someone to manage the interior, with subsequently more crew in various departments as the yacht increases in size.
The captain usually guides the vessel’s management style; however, the yacht owner may choose to be more involved.
On larger yachts, the vessel management duties may be shared between the captain and an onshore management company, although some smaller boats may leave the captain in charge entirely.
On some of the largest yachts, there may be as many as 50 or 70 crew members, so the captain has immense responsibility to handle all vessel concerns. But regardless of how many people are employed, the captain is ultimately in charge and responsible for everything that occurs on board.
The yacht owner should ensure the captain understands what kind of experience they’re looking for when on board – do they prefer a casual or formal service style? Would they spend most of the time aboard, or would they explore mostly off the boat? How visible should the crew be? At what level does the owner want to be involved with the ongoing management? The captain has to ensure that they deliver the experience the owner wants.
In the yachting industry, the crew usually live aboard the boats they work on full time. This may mean quite a few people are tucked away below deck in tight quarters.
How many people depends on yacht size and the yacht owner’s requirements – some smaller boats may have different programs in that the crew work aboard during the day but return home at night. Bear in mind that there are minimum safe manning levels for certain boats, meaning a certain number of people are required to be on board to ensure safe operations – these requirements depend on the type and size of the vessel, plus the yacht’s propulsion type and level of automation.
Commercial vs. Private
Some yacht owners choose to charter their vessels, allowing paying guests to help offset a superyacht’s operating costs, while others prefer to keep the yacht for their private use only. While all crew jobs are busy, a charter vessel may see the crew on back-to-back charters for weeks or months without a real break and dealing with new guests every week or two. On a private vessel that does not charter, the yacht owner might choose to spend just a few weeks aboard during the year. Each program is different, so this can vary based on the owner’s requirements.
In addition to the usual salary and benefits, a yacht’s owner is expected to pay for all crew living expenses when the crew lives and works aboard, including food, uniforms, and toiletries. Additional benefits could include excellent leave options, health insurance, paid training, the 13th months of pay to reward longevity, or flights home a few times a year.
Crew tends to work very long hours, sometimes for weeks or months at a time, without a break off the boat, but they are rewarded for that with generally generous pay. As a note, the crew on charter vessels usually also receive excellent tips from guests. A yacht owner could consider a rotational system that allows for senior – or even all – crew to rotate jobs over the year. A package that includes a rotation option would be attractive to many crew members who may be looking to find a better work/life compromise between hectic seasons on board and time off the boat.
A good benefits package encourages longevity, which also reduces turnover costs. An added perk – some guests really take to the crew, and they enjoy seeing familiar faces when they return to the boat, so the captain and crew could be excellent charter selling points.
Although some yacht owners may think the crew has nothing to do when the owner or guest is off the vessel, maintaining and detailing a superyacht to the highest levels is a full-time job. The work does not stop; it’s only when the owner and guests are off the boat that the crew is able to deep clean and perform maintenance and inventory tasks, not possible when guests are aboard.
The captain is in charge of the vessel and all crew departments – the position has often been likened to that of a corporate CEO. The captain reports directly to the yacht owner or their representative. The captain is in charge of hiring crew, planning all maintenance, managing onboard costs, planning charters and voyages, and observing all relevant international, port, and flag state regulations. Above all, he is charged with operating the yacht safely.
The captain can be an excellent advisor to the yacht owner, so it’s essential to hire a qualified captain with the correct tickets for the vessel. When it comes to safety, the captain should have the last word. They need to be a good leader capable of managing different personalities, keeping calm in stressful situations, and making split-second decisions if necessary. The buck stops with the captain – the responsibility for the yacht rests solely on their shoulders. Some captains’ roles are rotational, but it depends on the program.
The Interior Department
A purser, a senior role within the interior department, may be found on larger vessels – those approximately 50 meters plus, but more likely on those 70 meters and larger. The purser reports directly to the captain and helps alleviate some of the burdens – the purser may handle all yacht administration, financial information, and crew management, including customs and immigration, travel and itinerary arrangements, crew contracts, payroll, and more. A purser’s role may also vary depending on whether the vessel is private or commercial, and this person will also likely interact with the management company or yacht owner in somehow.
The steward/ess team interacts a great deal with the guests and is often called the face of the crew. The interior team may be just one solo steward/ess on a smaller boat to a large team of steward/esses reporting to the chief stewardess on larger yachts. Above all, excellent service is required of the interior team, and they are responsible for all beverage and meal service on
Excellent food is a vital part of the superyacht experience, and the chef is crucial to operations. The galley team, which could include a sous chef or crew chef depending on vessel size, is charged with feeding the yacht owner, guests, and crew.
- On smaller vessels, there may be just one chef who cooks for everyone on board.
- Larger boats may have a dedicated crew chef who handles all crew food, and yet other vessels may have a sous chef to assist the chef.
Everything in the galley falls under the chef – they are in charge of provisioning, food budgeting, and galley inventory. Some chefs may have extensive restaurant experience, while others may be self-taught, so it’s up to the owner to determine their needs when looking to find the best chef for their tastes.
The Deck Department
Depending on yacht size, the deck department could consist of several members. The most senior member under the captain is the first officer or chief officer, with the most junior member being the deckhand.
- The deck crew helps clean and maintain the vessel – they are charged with keeping the exterior polished from the topsides and the teak deck to maintaining the tender, the paintwork, and everything in between.
- They also help facilitate the water toys and tender operations from both guests and crew.
Duties can differ depending on the vessel’s size and program. On smaller vessels, the deck crew may pitch in to cover all duties, while larger vessels may have more deckhands to spread the load and jobs may be more specialized. The most senior members of the deck department, like the first officer, may be a rotational role.
The Engineering Department
The engineering department, depending on vessel size, could include multiple engineers, with the chief engineer in charge.
- They are responsible for ensuring the yacht’s engines, mechanical, and electrical systems are operational at all times.
- The chief engineer is also responsible for ensuring the vessel follows all relevant regulations, along with the captain.
Depending on vessel size, there might only be a solo engineer on board, while larger vessels may have multiple engineers reporting to the chief. Some larger engineering departments also include AV/IT, Electronics Engineer, or Electro-Technical Officers (ETO) in charge of the computer, audiovisual and electronic tech on board. Many senior engineering roles on the largest yachts are rotational.