Wise Words From A Superyacht Chief Stew
This post is an interview with a dear friend, luxury service expert, & fellow gypsy soul, Elyse S, to get some insight for new stews coming onto superyachts. Elyse is a yachting industry veteran currently working as a kick-ass chief stewardess, managing a gorgeous 46m custom superyacht, and has an abundance of knowledge and experience to impart on you greenies - so heed her advice!
Hi Elyse :) . Can you give readers a quick summary of your background and your career on superyachts to date?
Hi Laura! Well, for those who don't know our love story, you actually introduced me to the wonderful world of yachting. I worked in restaurants and bars for about 7 years as a bartender or server prior to getting into yachting. I started out as a sole stew on a small 34m yacht as one of three crew. I worked my way up to a 42m where I was one of three girls on board. My next position was 2nd stew on a 46m, where I was promoted to Chief Stew. Now I am Chief Stew on a beautiful 46m Feadship. I've cruised the states, Bahamas, Caribbean, and the Mediterranean. I have extensive charter experience in all those places as well.
What would you consider your favorite parts of working in the superyacht industry? And your least-favorite?
That's a funny question actually. I think my favorite part and my least favorite part about this career is the unpredictability. On one hand, when you join a new vessel, it can be very exciting. What are you walking into? Is the crew going to be fun? What's it going to be like working for the captain? Are the owners going to be nice? On the other hand, it can be frustrating not knowing when your next day off is going to be. It can be insanely exhausting looking at weeks without a day off. Counting down the days until you can sleep in past 8am.
Any destinations you loved in-particular that your yachting career has brought you to?
My first boat brought me to Fantasy Fest in Key West. For those of you that don't know, Fantasy Fest is like Halloween on steriods. We're talking fully naked people walking the street in body paint. It's the most fun people watching you will ever experience, guaranteed.
On another boat we spent quite a bit of time in St Maarten and on a day off I took a ferry to nearby Anguilla. Anguilla is an absolutely stunning island. I spent an afternoon on one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen.
So at this point you’ve met, worked with, interviewed, and hired a LOT of interior crew. What qualities would you say are the most essential for their success?
In my opinion, a positive attitude is the most important quality to possess. This job can be very high stress. Add in the fact that you're living where you work, with the people you work with. Wake up every morning and choose to be happy. That attitude is infectious to the rest of the crew. Likewise, if you wake up grumpy or irritable every morning, I promise that will spread to the rest of the crew. All it takes is one Debbie Downer to derail the entire crew or pit departments against each other. Crew culture is so important. The boat is not always going to be somewhere that you can escape from these people. You may not be somewhere that any of your friends are. So you better like these people and respect them. They don't have to be your best friends, but grabbing a beer with someone after work is way more fun than sitting at the bar alone with your kindle. Additionally, having a smile on your face when guests are present goes a long way towards guest satisfaction.
What qualities/habits do you think negatively affect career development on Superyachts?
I think the biggest mistake new crew make is not realizing or not putting enough effort into their crew etiquette. So, what I mean by that is when you join a motor yacht or sailing yacht you will inevitably be sharing a room with someone. You will be living in a small confined place with many other people, essentially strangers. Because of this, you behave in a way that is considerate to those other people. You close doors quietly, you don't turn on a light when someone is sleeping, and you never ever double dip in the hummus. A lot of new crew make the mistake of thinking that their job performance is more important than their behavior. I can say that its quite the opposite. I am way more concerned with whether or not you're a jerk than if you can load a dishwasher properly. I can teach you how to clean a toilet, or how to make a mojito. I don't care to, nor do I have time to teach you how to be a decent human being. I may be the boat mom but I'm not your mother.
Drugs and alcohol and even smoking are a big one as well. Like any service industry job, yachties like to let loose and have a good time. Even I have found myself in a few situations due to excessive alcohol consumption. My favorite being an an incident involving stealing a fork lift and driving it to a bar in St Maarten. Lucky for us, our captain had a good sense of humor about the situation. My point is that its very easy to find yourself in a situation that may lead to you losing your job. Whether you don't show up to work the next day, or you're not able to perform your duties, or even you injure yourself or others. Drugs, of course, are not allowed on board. I'm not even going to elaborate on that one. As for smoking, to put it simply, nobody wants to live with an ashtray. You smell, your clothes smell, you snore when you sleep, plus you're killing yourself. It doesn't work.
What are the top three things you take notice of when you’re reviewing CVs for one of your Junior Stew positions? Any red flags?
First- any grammar or spelling mistakes. To me, that looks like you didn't put in a lot of effort, or worse- you don't care all that much. Any adult has spent some time using Microsoft word so, in my opinion, there's no excuse for this.
Second- a nice layout. Microsoft word has sample templates you can use to create your CV or if you could pay someone to create your CV if you're into that sort of thing. I get minimum 20 CVs every time I look to fill a position. Set yourself apart from the crowd with an appealing looking CV.
Third- prior service experience. Regardless of whether that service experience was working in a high end hotel or restaurant, or Applebees. Prior service experience tells me that you've worked long hours on your feet and you're not scared to do it again.
Red Flags: 1- Boat-hopping. You've worked on multiple boats for a few months at a time. To me, this means you don't take this job seriously. Or you don't have what it takes to stick it out. When you're new, unfortunately, sometimes you need to stick it out on a boat that isn't ticking all the boxes. It isn't helping you at all to leave after 6 months. Every crew agent, every boat you interview with after will ask you why you left.
2- Contact info that hasn't been updated. If I try to contact one of your references and their information is wrong, whether that is a phone number or email, that is a giant red flag for me. My opinion would be that you don't have a great relationship with that person if you don't have their most current information.
What job components do you think green stews struggle with the most?
This season in particular I've dealt with girls that think they know everything. When you're just starting out, listen, and take everything in. It's not the end of the world if someone explains something that you already know. Maybe they do it in a different way than you've been taught, and maybe that way is faster or more efficient.
Another struggle would be the desire to move up too fast. It's so important that you get experience in all departments. You can't move up the ladder and not know how to do the laundry. Its important to know how to deal with problems as they arise. Otherwise when your juniors come to you with a problem, you could make it worse, and potentially damage the yacht or cause unnecessary damage to the owners possessions. Probably the worst mistake or attitude you could have is, "they can afford it". Yes, a superyacht owner can absolutely afford to fix something thats been broken or damaged. BUT, they shouldn't have to. You should be caring for their things and their home on the water as if it were your own.
What do you feel are your greatest challenges as a chief stew?
One of the greatest challenges being chief stew is liaising with other departments. Inevitably, I have to ask the engineer to fix something. Or I have to be the one to tell the chef that one of the guests is gluten free or they don't like a dish. Finding the proper time can be like difficult. Sometimes you work with another head of department that is difficult or that thinks their job is more important. I've worked on several boats where interior projects have been constantly looked over or never fixed at all. That can be frustrating, especially when I am the person who gets to speak to the guests about why something is broken. I can't go to them and say, "well I told so and so to fix it weeks ago and they never got around to it". I can't nag someone, they'll be more likely not to help me out. My motto is kill them with kindness. I find that when you're nice to people or when you go out of your way to do nice things or helpful things for someone, they will return the favor.
Which of your own characteristics do you think aided most in your success on superyachts?
By nature I've always been super relaxed and very chilled. So I made having a good relationship with my superiors a priority. Whether it's the captain or the engineer or the chef or the chief stew before I moved up. It is so important to get along well with others. Go out and grab a beer with them after work. Find some commonality. Naturally I've always been a bit of a leader. I've always been ambitious and I've always been keen to do any job I've had to the absolute best of my abilities.
Any final words of advice you have for greenies who are breaking into the industry?
Stay positive. You'll get a job, but it takes time. The first one may not be perfect, but maybe it will. Once you have experience, the next one will be better. And the next better. You'll look for something more adventurous or maybe you'll earn more money. You'll get there, but be patient. There is no instant gratification.
Get ready to work hard because you're going to be doing to dirty work. And don't forget that you're the bottom of the ladder. Use that as motivation. You won't be at the bottom forever.
Voice your ambitions. Tell your chief stew you want to be one. Ask her to teach you things. Ask for more responsibility. Ask her for advice. Ask her to mentor you. Talk to your captain and tell him you want the responsibility. Become knowledgable about the deck and engine room. That way when a space opens for you to move up, you'll be considered. And never stop asking questions.
Save. Your. Money.
Take time off between boats and travel. Backpack Asia. Get scuba certified in Mexico. Recharge and come back with a refreshed attitude. Experience new things. Do things that you never would've been able to accomplish if you weren't yachting.
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