As an experienced superyacht ETO (Electro-Technical Officer), I wanted to share some insight into the role for anyone wanting to get into the superyacht industry.
From fixing the captain's email account to troubleshooting an engine fault, the role of an ETO is extremely broad and the job can be very fulfilling. Travelling the world and playing with the latest and greatest tech equipment is a hobby in itself, and usually a proven ETO will work towards a rotational position, typically two months on, two months off, so they can enjoy some well-earned downtime.
The position is expansive and comes with a lot of high expectations. You are responsible for the front end of the charter where you will make sure everything is in optimum condition in regards to AV/IT and electrical systems and, depending on the vessel, this usually involves interacting with guests and owners, which may have you helping guests with their movie selection or creating a video to present their latest trip. On the other side, your responsibility extends to the unseen parts of the vessel, keeping the engine room and main switchboard ticking, maintained and up to standard.
And now for the good, bad and ugly...
The job satisfaction of fixing a failed system is fantastic! Picture the following scenario: you’re called to a scene where a system is broken down, and the ship needs this particular system up-and-running asap. As an example, the X-Band Radar has failed. You start to make some logical checks, you find the fault and react by repairing it. You power on the system, and an LED begins to blink, the scanner begins to spin, the echo is now displayed on the monitor! The equipment is running as it should be - now the vessel and the captain can navigate appropriately and in a safe manner. Situations like this don't always come stress-free, and you may have a billionaire shout at you from time to time, but the best way to handle any onboard fault is to stay calm and composed. Did someone touch it? If so, they probably introduced the fault.
Getting the right crew - the pros will always show
Hiring the right crew members is vital to achieving success as an ETO. Obtain proven, tried and tested professionals who know how to manage a vessel properly. Getting on with your fellow crew members and having a positive outlook on life can go a long way in making your onboard experience more enjoyable. You need people who can follow the rules, regulations and even curfews - it can be like going back to school and, for some, this is hard to accept but it's part and parcel of being a yachtie.
It’s not all work at sea though. Sometimes it can be like living in a floating youth hostel with people from all around the world who want to work hard and play harder. It’s also a great place to get involved in water sports and fishing, and there will be plenty of fun times. Providing you perform well in your role and get along with people, you should have a job for life, working for half the year and getting to see different parts of the world.
A well-oiled team
The ETO department is part of the engine room team, but we have a unique role within that department that many people will not be familiar with. Nearly every vessel I have worked on has had the luxury of a 2nd ETO. So much more work can be achieved with two, as all menial jobs can get wrapped up instead of being added to a long list. With an extra set of hands to keep on top of the systems more efficiently, keeping documentation in order, logging the history of equipment, daily diary, and labelling and tidying up every system. There’s always plenty of work to do but there’s a middle ground somewhere between both extremes.
I have always found a well-trained interior team to be extremely helpful to an ETO, as they can operate the AV/IT rather than seeking us out for simple tasks, which also avoids guests having to wait around unnecessarily. If the team know their way around the AV system I encourage them to use it as much as possible so they can find any potential issues before a guest gets a chance to. A well-oiled interior team goes a long way to making guests feel comfortable and in good hands as the crew appear competent and confident in what they are doing. Running a busy charter with an untrained interior team can be extremely tough, especially without a second ETO, so be fair to the crew and they will, in turn, be good to you.
Recording is essential
At the end of the day, the yacht is an amazing piece of engineering, however, it’s all about having the right crew for the boat and the owner. Without the right team, the ship can quickly spiral out of control and accidents can happen. Good crew members will make sure systems are well maintained and up to standard, safety procedures are in place, and maintenance tasks are performed regularly and recorded. It’s critical as an ETO to cover your tracks and to take videos, photos and details of your onboard systems during day to day events. Record as much as possible during shipyard periods and the build phase, as equipment may later be covered up beneath ceiling panels or walls; this evidence will be so beneficial when you have a fault or are looking to upgrade in the future.
I have worked on ships for over two decades and typically I see the same problems on every ship. One thing in particular is seeing equipment squeezed into inappropriate places - all crew members will agree with me here. This can lead to numerous headaches and can be a general hazard. Poor location can result in a lack of maintenance for the particular part; vents may get clogged with dust and equipment may overheat. I do appreciate that every square inch is important space on a yacht, but common sense should be applied when installing equipment.
The crew's personal IT guy
As the technical guy on board, some crew use ETO’s as the go-to guy for all their tech needs, relying on us to fix their personal devices. Being stuck at sea, who else do they ask right? However, ETO’s generally have enough on their plate already without the extra workload, so this can be a delicate subject. I would recommend that you trade some tasks with others and start as you mean to go on, otherwise you will have no free time to yourself, which is invaluable while you are on charter. But everyone’s different; some ETOs will mind more than others.
Passwords and credentials
There’s nothing worse than joining a boat to find out there is no password organisation, and you have to struggle to log in to various accounts. Working off a scratchy notebook that’s been passed around, or a badly organised spreadsheet can turn a simple task into a nightmare. I would recommend using a password management system with 2-factor authentication for all your usernames and passwords.
This applies to drawings and documentation records. I cannot stress enough how important it is to get these in a logical order. Let’s not worry what the previous occupants should have done; it’s our mission to leave the boat a better place than we found it. The ETO world is tiny and you are only as good as your last job, so it’s best to leave it in tip-top condition to maintain a good reputation. Some may argue: ‘well that’s how I found it’ or ‘why should I make it easier for my replacement when I leave.’ What goes around comes around and bad news travels quickly in this small industry, so it’s best to give it your all and be remembered as a good ETO instead of an average one.
Knowledge is power
In contrast to supporting the next crew on board a vessel, some individuals will actually withhold information to make themselves look better (including chief engineers, captains and even your back to back ETO partner). This is the mindset of insecure individuals who just look after themselves. We are a team on board, and it’s our task to make our crew and our rotational partner's life more comfortable by passing on information. Never go down to their level, they will get found out one day. Keep doing a good job, record what you do and be totally transparent, and you won’t go far wrong.
Inheriting a can of worms
So you nailed the interview and you have been selected for a new role as an ETO on board a vessel. Great!, you start your new role on the superyacht full of hope, and then bang...reality kicks in. You find out the vessel has been poorly looked after and neglected for years. Unfortunately, we see this time and time again. The owner doesn’t want to spend money on the right personnel or maintenance costs, or contemplate the price of an upgrade. But the ship is only as good as the crew and management maintaining her, so scrimping on salaries will only lead to the yacht getting a lower standard of ETO. The owner gets what they pay for.
Pick the right battles
Be sure not to get bogged down with low priority tasks for too long; these little tasks can grab your attention and make you lose focus on what really matters and what you are responsible for. I once faced this scenario when I joined a boat and the radio room had issue after issue. I decided enough was enough and I was going to rewire all of the equipment as it was spaghetti junction behind the panels. I started to rewire, making progress, then out of nowhere we lost the entire AV system! I couldn’t be in two places at once...It wasn't an option to leave the AV therefore I had to sacrifice the radio room. This fault took me a day to resolve which meant I left the radio room compromised and not functioning. Fortunately we didn't sail anywhere, but what if we had? I would have been screwed! That left a big impression on me and from that day I changed my mentality.
One of the ETO’s worst nightmares is working with a poorly installed AV system and firefighting from room to room fixing fault after fault. Your AV system is at the very front end of the charter, controlled by your owners and guests. It is paramount for the entire charter that the system is bulletproof and performing as it is intended to. I have seen many new and old installations where lots of cables are underrated, joined unnecessarily and bent over excessively. It can seem like there's a different set of rules for some of these AV guys who install pieces of equipment versus a good marine electrician. As a rule of thumb to the untrained eye, if the install looks neat, then the contractor generally cares, and you are probably in for a sound system which is highly dependable.
Some systems need babysitting and constant attention because they are not reliable. AV systems generally have this reputation but you will always get a ‘clever guy’ that comes along and says “did you turn it off and on?”. This type of advice is all too familiar, and it gives the AV/IT guys a bad rep because rebooting equipment does work a lot of the time….However, you still need to know what to reboot in the first place. Ideally, nobody wants to reboot a device at all, as a system should run flawlessly, but this will never be the case as processors on board will always need a little tickle now and again.
We are employed as ETOs to keep the on board tech systems running and to react whenever there is an issue. Sometimes this means working under pressure in front of the owner/charter guests/captain to get the radar back on asap, which is unfortunate. I always say that if you were in a hotel room, you wouldn’t want an AV guy coming in, taking your TV off the wall and troubleshooting why there is an issue. Still, sometimes you may not have a choice, and you have to do what’s necessary to get the job done.From experience, I would say that if you show yourself as proactive and trying your best, then usually the boss will be ok with the odd invasion of space.
Suppose you have been dealt a weak hand with your AVIT setup. In that case, it’s best to prioritise the most critical systems which affect your charter, patch them up where possible and plan ahead to install them properly whenever possible.
The ETO is in good part responsible for the safety of electrical systems and the maintenance of the navigation systems on board a vessel. Sometimes we look like superheroes, other times we look like the devil because it’s ‘our’ system that failed. Most of the time, the role of a superyacht ETO has a real feel-good factor about it - every day is a school day on board, no matter how experienced you are and, if you're lucky, you'll get to operate some of the latest generation technology. Most of all, having the right crew is essential for a successful charter and even if they don’t always come cheap, they will be worth their weight in gold.