Q: John, Chief Engineer, 41
"After several friends told me about luxury yachting I recently made the move over from commercial, but I don’t really understand what’s so great about yachting.
I feel like a maintenance boy changing light bulbs and being on aircon regulation duty, not an engineer, and I am struggling with inane guest demands and an immature crew. I also hate sharing a cabin and I’m missing my 2 weeks on/off schedule. Am I missing something or does it just take some adjustment time?"
A: The Crew Coach
Ah yes, as it turns out, the grass is not always greener… but there are definite advantages to private yachting if you just give it time. And let’s face it, if commercial had been perfect, you wouldn’t have left . It’s possible that you’re just going through an adjustment period while your expectations are balanced with the reality of superyachting versus the image you were ‘sold’ by your friends.
There are certain advantages and sacrifices in private yachting, just as there are certain advantages and sacrifices in the commercial world; you just need to figure out which industry has more pros than cons for your particular circumstances.
Cons: You say that you don’t feel like an engineer. It’s true; during the season on a yacht, you will have to occasionally deal with guests’ demands to alter the Jacuzzi temperature from 38 degrees to 39, no matter what you try and tell them about ambient temperature. You will also be pretty much attached to the AV and air conditioning controls, and will fish some items out of the black tank that you distinctly remember telling guests and crew they shouldn’t put down the toilets
Pro: On the other hand, when shipyard periods and ‘down-time’ roll around, you will have a good budget, experienced contractors and considerable control over refits, sourcing and repairs. Yachts have some impressive and expensive equipment (and toys) that you will be working on and learning about. The season is busy and you will perhaps consider yourself more mechanic than engineer during the guest trips, but there are other times of the year where you use your ‘real’ engineering skills to overcome challenges on board and source new and shiny equipment.
Pro: The insane perks. How many oil rigs have you worked on where a visitor leaves you a 5 grand tip and a bottle of Cristal? How many impromptu days off have you had in a Saint Tropez beach club while steaming back and forth the Suez to Singapore route on a cargo ship? Private yachting takes you exotic places.
Con: ‘Immature crew’. It’s fair to say that there are a range of ages, gender and personalities on private yachts that you rarely find on oil rigs. There’s often a bit of a culture gap between the youngest stew and the Chief Engineer for instance, and there can be friction as a result. But surely there were friction and personality clashes in the commercial sector too? At least the variety of personalities makes crew mess life interesting!
Pro: A tight crew. This develops over time and you may not have settled in properly yet, but yacht crews often become like family (perhaps in part because they don’t tend to have much rotation and live together 11 months a year.) Only you can decide if this closeness works for you.
Con: You miss having 2 weeks on and 2 off. While rotation is common for yacht engineers, it will be a period of months between rotations, making it slightly harder to maintain ‘real life’ and relationships with family, partners and friends ashore – you have a bit of a feast or famine situation that takes some managing. This is another one that you will have to decide for yourself.
Pro: You retain more control. The downside often mentioned to rotation is that the other engineer can do things very differently to you, causing you headaches when you return to find things are not done ‘your way’. By remaining full-time (and enjoying the full-time salary) as Chief Engineer, you retain greater control over the engine room and the engineering department and you are pretty much your own boss.
Con: The shared cabin. This one is pretty difficult to swallow, sorry – it is pretty annoying as a grown adult to have to go back to sharing a room with someone, let alone a tiny cabin. However, many yachts will offer the Chief Engineer a single share cabin, and on the very large yachts you have more spacious accommodations.
Pro: Learning and versatility. Yacht engineers have to be extremely versatile, meaning that you learn a lot across many disciplines: air conditioning, plumbing, AV, IT, Comms, as well as the general engine room machinery. You get to engage your brain a lot of the time and come up with really innovative and creative solutions to problems. For those that like learning (as most engineers do), yachting provides a wide range of systems, machinery and challenges.
Massive Pro: Engineers are thin on the ground in yachting and this means you will never find it very difficult to get another job.
As engineers are so sought after, there will always be ebb and flow between the commercial and private yacht sector – and this is heavily affected by salaries, onboard conditions and rotation/leave arrangements.
When oil and gas are recruiting in large numbers, it affects engineer availability in yachting, and when yachts start dishing out larger salaries to reverse the trend, it draws engineers back over. Both have strong advantages: you just have to figure out what works best for you after you’ve given it a bit more time to see if the pros of superyachting outweigh the cons.