The Best Job Ever? Cooking on the High Seas
Working on yachts can be a challenge, but it is rewarding like no other job.
I am often asked questions about working on yachts. “How did you get started?” “What is it like?” “Is it exciting?” “Do you have fun?” “What are the challenges?” “How much do you make?”
My life as a yacht chef began six years ago. I am the owner in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA, of a small freelance personal chef and catering company. We’d had an inquiry from a chef for a job, and on her resume were listed numerous yacht chef jobs. I asked why she would want to leave what seemed like an exciting career and settle down. Her reply was she was not interested in full time employment, but wanted “fill in” jobs while she waited for her next charter. I asked her many of the same questions I listed above.
There are a few steps that you need to take in order to start working on charter/private yachts. Having a passion for food, a culinary degree and experience in restaurants are just the beginning. In fact, restaurant experience in many cases is not necessary, nor is a culinary degree, but they certainly help.
There are certificates that are mandatory to to acquire in order live and work aboard charter yachts. These are regulated by an international agency called the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC) and specify that work aboard cruise ships and charter yachts need an ENG1/ML5 (The ENG1 is a basic medical examination, carried out by an MCA certified doctor, confirming that you are in a fit condition to work on board.), STCW 95 or 2010 (Standards of Certification and WatchKeeping), and Proficiency in Security and Awareness (PSA) or Proficiency in Designated Security Duties (PDSD). On yachts over 55 meters a Ship’s Cook Certificate (on top of your degree, if you have one) may be required. All of these will ensure that not only you will be safe, but you will know how to keep others safe. The STCW includes the following training: Fire Prevention & Fire Fighting (you train with the fire department), Personal Safety & Social Responsibilities, Elementary First Aid, and Personal Survival Techniques (in case your yacht ever sinks or you need to abandon ship in the middle of the ocean).
If you are still interested, here are a few other questions to ask yourself:
- How do you feel about working in a very small compact space? Some kitchens (“galleys,” as they are called on boats) have less than 30 centimeters of prep space. Do you believe in putting things back where you get them from? Can you clean as you go?
- How creative are you? In some remote spots it is hard to find more than a wilted piece of lettuce and a moldy piece of ginger. You have to be able to think out of the box and use what you can find when you are on a tiny island and it’s the only place to “re-provision.”
- Can you put something tasty and attractive on the table quickly? Charter guests and weather can be unpredictable. The weather may be too rough for cooking, and you may have only what you have already prepared.
- Are you willing to give up the notion of working 9 to 5 with scheduled breaks? Most yacht chefs work a minimum of 12 to 18 hours straight, seven days a week, for three to five months during the height of the charter season. It’s seldom you have a full day off.
- Are you a drama queen or a temperamental chef? Can you get along with your shipmates for extended periods of time in extremely close quarters? (Your bunk is a single and yes I said bunk. You will share with another shipmate.)
- Do you get seasick? Can you work your shift even when you have motion sickness? Find out before you begin.
- Are you willing to perform routine seamanship duties in addition to cooking? (These might include dropping the anchor, helping with fenders, and doing “heads and beds.”)
- Are you able to work alone as chef for guest and crew — purchasing supplies, writing menus, entertaining the guests and working within a budget? Can you bake breads, desserts, butcher, clean and prepare fish? Are you familiar with special diets and adaptable in your menu planning?
- Are you single or able to leave your husband, wife, or “significant other” for extended periods of time? Are they supportive of your decision?
- Can you “roll with the punches” and be tolerant of different personalities and cultures? Yacht crews are international. Remember: you have nowhere to go when you have a different opinion from your work partner and cabin mate.
If you can honestly say yes to 95% of these you may be a “Yachtie,” and qualified to begin the process.
Where do you go to get started? There are only a few places in the United States and worldwide to get your ENG1/ML5. In the USA, follow this link: MCA Approved doctors overseas 26 September 2017. In the UK, follow this link: MCA Approved Doctors in UK 1 December 2017.
For the STCW and other related courses you may need, follow this link: https://www.stcwdirect.com/. No matter where you are – especially if it is a yacht destination – you will most likely find a school that offers courses. Most yacht employment agencies will have links and an information page to help you out.
The best way to find employment after you have all of your qualifications is to register with an agency. All will have multiple locations around the world. The majority require an in-person interview with you before accepting you as a client. Many will even give you basic insight on how to write your CV/resumé.
Once accepted, you will receive emails with jobs that meet your preferences. Do you want to work on motor yachts, sailing yachts or both? How large of a yacht do to want to work on? Do you want freelance, seasonal (many yachts are dual season – Mediterranean for the summer and Caribbean for the winter; others are world cruising or are only in the Pacific), or are you looking for full time? If you go to a yachting hub there are bars and pubs which are frequented by “yachties.” Go and hang out. Have a drink. Stay sober and talk to the people in there. They often will be talking about which positions they need to fill. If the captain is there and you make a good impression it is almost a shoo-in that you will be hired. It doesn’t hurt if you are recommended by the crew either.
Here are some of my favorite yacht recruitment agencies. Be aware that you have to manually update each site with any new relevant experiences. Luxury Yacht Group, Bluewater, The Crew Network, JF Recruiting, and for daywork or short term freelance Day Work 123. These are but a few, and all handle job postings internationally.
Some of the captains or owners may want an in-person interview. Others will do a video call or phone interview to get a feel about the applicant. Some will consider only candidates “local” to the area, while others search worldwide. All that search internationally will fly you into the port where the yacht is docked. If it is a short term or seasonal gig you will be flown to and from your location.
Working on yachts can be a challenge. The quarters and are often cramped. The crew is quite diverse, but if you are like me there is nothing like it and you wouldn’t trade it for anything. The thrill of putting out Michelin level meals when the menu has been changed 30 minutes before service is rewarding like no other job. We are proud to be “Yachties”, and know our hospitality skills and attention to detail are almost unparalleled.