Mermaid On Board – How to Become a Chief Stew on Super Yachts

Or why I went back to work as Chief Stewardess on super yachts for a summer in the Mediterranean after many years in Luxury Hospitality on land.

Corona ruined all my plans. I had perfectly organized my life, spending winters working for Ski Resorts in the Alps and summers working for Surf Resorts on the Atlantic Coast. In the off season I was supposed to travel to far away lands and surf in Sri Lanka, snowboard in Georgia, road trip in Norway, island hop in Croatia, etc. Then March 2020 took it all away from me. And even I couldn’t travel. Not to mention all my jobs in Hospitality Management were GONE overnight. Contracts cancelled, income down to 0, no future. Now what?

Well, Corona slowed me down and I had to reinvent myself once again and switch professions for like 138th time in my life or 5th major change in last 5 years. I took a good look at what was available in terms of jobs out there (which industries were still operating) and knowing I couldn’t stare at a computer screen any longer, I chose to stare at the ocean and went on to renew my boating certificates and reenter yachting after many years on land.

Most beautiful port of the summer – Portofino, or as I call it Porto Pricey – €4000 nightly docking fee

How hard is it to work on Luxury Yachts?

It is a 12-15 on a scale of 1-10 depending on the crew and guests. It exhausted me physically beyond the breaking point (my legs needed surgery after 3 months of 16hrs daily on my feet), it depleted me emotionally to where I was an insecure, crying mess and my hair started falling off, but it strengthened me mentally beyond belief – if I could do THIS every next job will be a piece of cake and a meager 2 on the scale of 1-10!

What do you need to become a Chief Stewardess on super yachts?

1. Certificates

You will need to take a number of certificates with an internationally recognized maritime authority. You can do it in the international yachting centers of Antibes, Palma, etc. or you can check if there is such a training center in your home country. I was lucky that I was able to renew my certificates in Varna, Bulgaria and the whole process took me 2 weeks.

  • STCW95 or STCW10 – this certificate needs to be done in person and takes the longest so I suggest you start with it.
  • PDSD (for yachts over 50m) – PDSD can be taken online once you have STCW95 and usually takes 2 days.
  • Food Safety & Handling L2 – you need this for galley and interior work but it can be done online in 1 day.
  • ENG1 aka Seafarer’s Medical Certificate – take the medical exam in the same town you get your yachting certificates as centers who know what tests to perform and how to issue internationally recognized certificates are limited. It is a VERY comprehensive medical exam, takes a full day and you need to be in good health to pass it.

2. Hospitality experience

Working as a stewardess on super yachts wasn’t my first Hospitality job. I have a B.Sc. in Hospitality Management and I have worked in different roles (Waitress, Bartender, Receptionist, Resort Manager, Operations Manager) in Luxury Hospitality for many years – Wedding Venues, Top Tier Restaurants, Luxury Ski Chalets, Yoga Retreats, Surf Resorts, across the USA, in Europe, around the world, you name it I’ve done it.

3. Never ending energy

I am an energizer bunny on land an no one can keep up with my enthusiasm, yet even I collapsed after multiple 16 hour days on my feet running up and down 3 decks and attending non stop to the most ludicrous guest requests.

4. Mental strength

I am a rock, bring it on, nothing can shake me… well even I crumbled to sand after a week in the wrong company. The work is hard, the hours are long and when you get 0 recognition and non stop criticism, you quickly lose touch with reality.

5. Organization and planning skills

If you are not UBER organized you will have to do things twice and I already work 16 hour days. So I had to use all my brain power and know at any given time where every single item was on the boat and how many we had of each. No, I won’t climb up 2 flights of stairs AGAIN just to check if we have enough of something or to count inventory 🙂

What is my favorite part of the job?

  • The sailing – if there is something I love more than going on road trips, it is lifting anchor at sunrise and sailing away in the open sea. “Drive her like you stole her, Captain” as I used to say to my favorite captain! I like observing the ocean, learning about navigation, nature, boat mechanics and driving the boat (on auto pilot) under supervision.
  • The travel – developing itineraries, exploring new corners of the world, researching adventures, finding the best local restaurants. What normally is done by captains, I adore participating in. And as an adventure travel blogger you can count on me to find the best options on land for our guests while the captain develops the best course at sea!
  • The guests – I absolutely adore my guests and I claim to never have had a bad guest – even the most demanding ones have been super sweet and kind with me and most have remained friends for life. I am the type o Stewardess that doesn’t use captain’s references because I have written guest references to back me up.

What is my least favorite part of the job?

  • The housekeeping – they call me Chief Stew but mostly what I do is make beds and clean heads 🙂 The Chief Stew title sounds a lot better than the job responsibilities actually look – you are an overqualified (and overpaid) housekeeper. And if you are a Sole Stew the only Chief thing you are is a Chief Housekeeper. Considering yachts are cleaned top to bottom at least 2-3 times a day and napkins and uniforms have to be ironed non stop, don’t you think the Chief Stew doesn’t wipe, polish, vacuum or do laundry. Daily, non stop, till exhaustion, and then more!
  • The long hours – you work a minimum of 16 hours a day every day during busy charter season. No matter if you are in pain, if you get seasick (thankfully I didn’t), if you have period cramps or if family / friends send you sad news, you keep on keeping on. I only had time to sleep, NOT to exercise, NOT to read, NOT to catch up with friends and even I (usually not a napping person) started taking naps (in uniform) if guests left the boat in the afternoon.
  • The lack of personal space or time for anything, even a shower or a shave. The living quarters for the crew are VERY small and the crew cabins are most often shared. YES, you have space to store your clothes and to eat your meal, NO you don’t have space to turn around in the shower, wash your hair properly or shave your legs. Forget about privacy for yoga, meditation, watching a movie or reading. Who got time for that anyways?!

What is the most difficult part of being a Chief Stewardess?

You may think the hardest part are the long hours or the physical exhaustion or the housekeeping… But actually, the most difficult part is getting along with the crew. Yes, you heard that right – THE CREW! They may end up being your best friends or your worst enemies (and unfortunately it is usually a little bit of both) but working and living with the same 3, 5 or 10 people in very small shared spaces and on very busy schedule makes you totally lose your mind. Finding a good boat with kind and considerate owners and crew to fit your personality and lifestyle is like spotting an unicorn – almost impossible. There is always someone getting on your nerves, not doing their part of the job or treating you like shit for no reason even when you are trying your hardest and working crazy hours already.

So after 3 months at sea working 3 contracts on 3 different vessels and new crew monthly, this physically exhausted, mentally broken and emotionally depleted Mermaid went surfing – and never came back! Still surfing, 2 months later…

Will I do another season?

We all say “never again” after a busy charter season and we all go back to it next year. So perhaps I will take another contract, even if not immediately. (But it is SO HARD to say NO when you get a good offer…) I hope I will be wiser next time around and focus more on outlining my job responsibilities, finding a good crew and achieving better work / life balance than going after great pay and fantastic charter tips 🙂 Yes, I can do 24 hrs turnovers on anchor, I can clean cabins during crossings, I can provision for 7 days at sea with tender, no I do not desire to deploy that skillset or speed ever again. And housekeeping 3 times a day every day I shall NOT DO ANY MORE.

1st night at port in a week – got an hour off to walk around after I finished evening shift at 12am

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