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Stew Disasters!

Stew tips image4 v2

Let’s face it, steward/esses work in a world where a 'disaster' is rarely a tornado, tsunami or hurricane. For us, something that normal people would view as a little “accident”, could spell serious trouble, even something we could lose our jobs over.

Being the owner of a steward/ess training school, I know first hand the value of an interior training course for those coming into the yachting industry - I see the proof in watching my students progress each week.

They start off in class, completely unaware of the common pitfalls of cleaning the interior of a yacht worth US$ 100 000 000, but as the days pass, I see students become more knowledgable about the 'little' things, such as not placing an open cleaning product on a counter, or being careful when carrying a vacuum past a wall decorated with silk fabric worth more than their yearly salary.  They learn the difference between a Corian and a marble surface and between a brass and gold plated fixture – and how to take care of them, in order to avoid them making seriously expensive newbie mistakes.

Of course, the value of stew training in schools versus on-the-job training has been debated almost as long as the industry is old, but this is not the purpose of this month’s article.  We have spoken to various stews around the world over the years and here is a collection of “stewie disasters” and things to avoid as a new stewardess.  Whether these could have been prevented by proper training or just plain common sense… well let's leave that debate for another time.




• Bleach can cause serious damage and should really not be used. It ruins clothes, eats marble and wood, stains stainless steel and the gold on plated fixtures.
• Check the laundry for objects inside pockets (like pens, lipstick, chapstick, mobile phones and lighters).
• Don’t mix colours and whites in the laundry – EVER!
• If the laundry care label says:  do not machine wash, it DOES NOT mean that you can hand wash the item in the laundry room’s sink!
• Always read garment labels before laundering. DO NOT tumble dry if the label tells you not, and DRY CLEAN ONLY means exactly that. Therefore, not  “Let's try and see if I can get away with putting this in the washing machine."


•Don’t put bottles of wine or champagne or beer in the freezer for a quick chill – you might forget about it and there will be a big mess to clean up. It also damages the wine.  Not everything containing alcohol can be placed in a freezer safely.  Only spirits containing more than about 25% alcohol can be put safely in a freezer without an explosion of glass and alcohol.  The chef will stop talking to you for about a year if this happens in the food walk-in freezer.
• Be careful not to kill the “bugs” in the black water tanks of Microphor toilets, it is safer and better for the environment to use a more natural toilet cleaner.  Try not to use anything in the toilets containing bleach or ammonia.
• It is a good idea to post notices all over the yacht if the engineer is planning to pour bleach into the freshwater tank late one night –  things will not end well when the crew shower the next morning and run the washing machines – green hair and maroon uniforms is really not a good look. Writing notes for crew is a good habit to get into to keep everyone informed.
• Check the voltage of an appliance before plugging in (USA 110V and EUR 220–240 V).

knock before entering• Don’t open a cabin door (even after knocking) unless someone has invited you in, or you are 100% sure there are no guests inside (no one likes to see the boss on the loo).

• Collect business cards and contact details even as a junior stew : contacts are everything in this industry. Keep them sorted into different countries and different sections: florists, transports, provisioning agents, etc.  Either put them in a card folder or use the apps that scan business cards, which can be helpful to keep organised without clutter.
• Communicate every detail that you know – share your info as someone else may need to know.
• Put the carpet runners back on the carpets as soon as the guests leave (before the crew start carrying in the exterior cushions, etc.)
• Put drop towels or protective covers down at entrances throughout the boat that are used by crew or contractors– their feet are often wet when they come in from outside, and some don’t even take off their shoes.
• If you make a mistake, own up immediately, as someone may know a quick solution.  It's not a nice feeling to carry around guilt, and no one wants to work with a lying coward anyway.
• Keep track of your $$$$$€€€€€!  Buy a house instead of expensive sunglasses and Jimmy Choos.
• NEVER leave an iron unattended!!!!!
• Set the glasses for the table while at anchor at the last minute, a big wake from another boat can topple them and you will have to pick up the (very expensive) pieces.
• Make sure you always securely stow items inside cupboards (like vases, candle holders, wine). If not, they will roll around when the boat moves and break.  When underway, check and re-check your interior for rolling wine bottles and cupboards that open. 
• Trust your instincts when interviewing for a job – if the captain seems disrespectful in the interview, he probably is not a great person to work for.


Vinegar Duct Tape Book ad 2• Always spray cleaning products on the cloth first, not the surface that you are cleaning. Watch for overspray and drips.
• Blue coloured cleaner should not be used in the laundry or anywhere with white carpets or fabrics.
• Bleach on a white carpet can make it PINK! Avoid using around carpet, or better yet – ban bleach from the entire yacht.
• Don’t allow food or lemon juice, vinegar, toothpaste etc. to touch marble, the acid will damage the polyurethane coating and this has to be re-coated by marble professionals at very high cost.

• Magic Erasers ARE NOT the   answer to everything.  These are highly abrasive and can ruin a surface or leather if not careful.
   Don’t leave soap (like liquid hand wash soap and soap bars) on marble, it will damage the marble.
• Be very careful when using Museum Gel – it does not hold and can seriously damage fabrics and other surfaces.
• Don’t use heavy duty steel wool to take hard water marks off mirrors – it will scratch.
• Don’t use razor blades on plastic mirrors and Perspex.
• Don’t use Scotch Pads on Lexan shower doors to clean off soap scum or stains on Corian surfaces.
• Carrying cleaning products in a caddy prevents drips (from bleach and blue Windex, etc.) on your white carpets!
• Varnish work on interior is softer than exterior varnish, it nicks very easily. Be careful not to bash the wood with the vacuum cleaner.
• Stain removers on carpets can make the carpet attract more dirt.  Ensure that you wipe off the remaining stain remover with a damp cloth after stain is gone.
• Scented sprays stain silk, brass and marble (does it make sense to spray an oily scented spray over clean surfaces that you just detailed?)
• Just use water and vinegar or very diluted Murphy’s Oil Soap on wood surfaces, not Pledge or Mr Min, as all these other products attracts dust and leaves streaks.
• Milk gets rid of ink marks on leather (don’t ever rub hard to try and remove a stain off a leather couch.
• When ironing in a cabin, make sure to put down a towel or protective cover underneath, so if  the iron falls over, you will not ruin the carpet.
• Overloading the washing machine can only spell disaster and damages the machines over time – doing so also shows everyone that you are too lazy to separate two heavy loads.

Washing Machine Overflow

Training courses seek to pass on the knowledge of the stews that have gone before you, to help you avoid the mistakes many of us made along the way. Whether considering joining the yachting industry for the first time, or wanting to increase your  skills, research a course near you to develop your career. 

Check in next month's column for some excellent tips on undoing your laundry mistakes!


About the author: After working in the superyacht industry as a stewardess, chief stew and purser for 10 years, Isobel Odendaal moved back to her home country, South Africa, and co-started a training school for super yacht steward/esses, Super Yachting South Africa, where she continues to learn and teach every day.

Superyachting South Africa logo

*Image credits: , (for sale on) , flickr/Alisha V flickr/sugarlandappliancerepair (via CC 2.0)

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