To mark International Women’s Day on 8 March, we speak to five women about how their early experiences on yachts have led to new shore-based careers
Being a stewardess onboard a superyacht sounds like a dream job for a young woman, but as these five women reveal, it’s not always plain sailing. However, while making the transition back to land-based lives can take work, often the skills you learn on board prove to be very useful in other roles.
Clanjo worked in the yachting industry for eight years. Having started as a Junior Stewardess on a 50m private yacht, where she rotated between service, laundry, and housekeeping, she has since pivoted to working ashore and has big dreams for the years ahead.
Clanjo says these early years at sea taught her a lot: “I now know that I can face any challenge coming my way, I just need to be confident and to trust my gut feeling,” she says. “Plus, I know how to clean, do laundry and look after my house.”
As a full-time mother to two boys, Clanjo is currently studying to become a Facial Specialist and she dreams of opening her own salon one day. However, it’s not always easy finding the time.
“With my partner being away on rotation, it’s quite a challenge to make time for my studies and to plan and work on creating my future with my dream job, but I truly believe if you are passionate about something, you will make time where you can.” she says.
So, what advice does Clanjo have for other crew staff wanting to hang up their deck shoes?
“If you are in the industry and looking to start your own business I would definitely recommend starting to work on your business before leaving, to create a platform and to have an idea of where to start/go when leaving.”
Clanjo says it’s also useful to listen to those who have gone before you.
She says: “There are amazing ex-yachting girls (Sisterhood by Michelle and The Crew Coach) that can help you achieved your dreams or direct you in the directions you want to go. They can even help you realise what you want to do if you feel lost or not sure where to start.”
Jessica spent just over four years working in the yachting industry, beginning as a temporary 3rd Stew and then 2nd Stew in Australia before moving to the Med where she as a 2nd Stew on a 50m yacht. Jessica met her partner in the industry, and they started working together on smaller yachts, where she became Chief Stewardess on yachts from 30m-35m.
Her experience on yachts not only taught her about attention to detail – or as Jessica refers to it “a lot of OCD and finesse when it comes to hosting, cleaning and laundry” – but it also provided her with leadership, multi-tasking and managerial skills, and the ability to thrive under pressure.
However, it was another aspect of the yachting life that inspired her current career: “I learnt to love flowers, decor and planning tablescapes and events,” she says. “I enjoyed this all so much that I am now pursuing this as my professional land-based life.”
Jessica is now living back in Sydney working as a physio (a job she had before working on yachts), while juggling a certificate III floristry course with Pearsons School of Floristry, an interior design course with The Interior Design Institute, and developing her own brand @boujeebloomsandstyling, which she hopes will become her full-time business, offering floristry, table, event, and interior styling services.
Jessica says: “If it weren’t for yachting, I wouldn’t have realised the passion I have for all of these things and wanted to make this my professional life moving forwards.”
For Jessica, her yachting career had a shelf life, though, and it’s a common theme for women working in the industry. “I think a big issue preventing women from pursuing a longer-term role onboard is the desire to start a family,” she says.
“There isn’t such a thing as maternity leave and because of the nature of the industry, there isn’t the scope to be a new mum and balance this type of work, and so a lot of strong, powerful women in the industry leave.”
What advice does she offer women looking to break into the yachting industry today? “Be strong, persevere and stay resilient,” she says. “Yachting isn’t easy mentally or physically. Whether you’re starting out or trying to climb the professional ladder, yachting in general is laden with challenges no matter what boat you get.”
“You learn to toughen up, be tolerant, patient, empathetic and work under extreme pressures (and not always for the nicest or most understanding senior crew or yacht owners) but from all of this you learn a lot about yourself and how best to conduct yourself.”
Alex worked in the yachting industry full-time for 11 years, beginning as a 3rd Stew in 1997 on a 60m yacht with liveaboard owners.
She says her experiences on board have been useful in so many ways, “Where do I start?” she says.
“I learned to never leave a job when you are halfway through it as it encourages everyone around you to do the same.”
“I took a huge amount of confidence from my time working in the industry: there is always a way of figuring something out and I am now an excellent problem solver.”
“Also, our people skills are excellent, you can pick out yachties in a room of total strangers.”
Alex is a working mum and says her years as a stewardess equipped her with lots of skills that have made her role as a mother easier: “Stewardesses are efficient at everything,” she says. “We utilise time constantly and the lack of sleep is something that we are used to. This in turn means that returning to work is not so stressful, taking everything in our stride. This is not to be underestimated. When I am away for work, I leave my husband a document of how to keep the kids alive! I pre-empt everything.”
Today Alex is self-employed and works as a trainer in the private service industry, which mostly involves going into the homes of UHNW people and training their staff in everything from house management to silver service, to etiquette and housekeeping.
Alex says: “Most of my work comes through a company called Polo & Tweed, which recognised that my CV had excellent transferrable skills from yachting and gave me a chance to teach their group courses.”
“I get lots of stews who attend the silver course. I also run stewardess interior courses as part of my own business, for those trying to get into the industry. Passing on my knowledge is where my passion lies, we are all better together.”
Alex says she has met with some challenges since leaving yachts. For instance, she was up against four men in the interview process for Polo & Tweed, which made her a little scared and daunted, but she used her adrenalin to her advantage and got the job.
Alex also met with some sniffiness from the owner of a yacht training company, who made no qualms about what he thought of interior training teachers!
Alex says women shouldn’t just assume that stewardessing is the only role for them (likewise, she would love to see more men on her training courses) and that anyone looking to work in the industry should both do their research (“all my best experiences on yachts have been run by great captains”) and have an end goal: “Save your money and get out when you are still are happy and don’t resent the industry,” she says.
Izzy began working in the yachting industry in 2013 as a Junior Stew on a 38m explorer yacht in the Med and joined the Edmiston fold in late 2020.
She says: “Working my way up to Chief Stew was my biggest achievement on yachts – it’s a role where you need to wear many hats, it’s not only serving UHNW individuals, it’s being a manager, yet a team player, the HR, a PA, an accountant, mind reader… the list could go on.”
Izzy has come away with many skills from her time working onboard yachts, including organisation, an eye for details, and creativity. However, one of the biggest things she took away was a sense of confidence in herself.
“The challenges that come with yachting are unique and to be able to deal with them takes a particular person,” she says. “Going forward in my new role ashore, I have bought this with me and feel confident tackling anything new.”
Today Izzy works for Edmiston as a Marketing Executive and manages all the company’s social channels.
“I began freelancing for Edmiston in 2020,” she says, “and when a position opened up later in the year, I applied and was fortunate to get it. I love still being in the yachting industry and immersed in all things ‘yachting’, I couldn’t imagine working in a different industry now.”
“My team is also so lovely, which you always hope for when leaving yachts and having had such a great team morale on board.”
Despite saying that she hasn’t faced any challenges as a woman in her current position, Izzy admits yachting is still very much a male-dominated industry.
“Women’s roles in the interior are well known for not being taken as seriously as those of say an officer or an engineer,” she says. “Courses for girls onboard are often overlooked, with a deck role being considered more ‘beneficial’. However, yachts couldn’t operate successfully without all team-members, and quite frankly service and hospitality are some of roles that guests consider key.”
Izzy would like to see more women in onboard roles normally associated with men: “Not only do the opportunities need to be given to women in male-dominated roles but they need to be championed from the beginning. As an industry we need to provide girls with opportunities based on their skill, not their gender.”
Izzy also believes more should be done to help women make the transition from life at sea to life back on shore. “There are so many fantastic shore-based roles out there, but recruiters typically offer you a housekeeping role or similar. Our skills learnt on yachts aren’t limited to housekeeping and service – most Chief Stews have barely touched a vacuum since entering their role due to the sheer number of other tasks required by them.”
“I think education and learning is key, understanding an interior role, especially a senior one and what is involved will allow the door to open to a wealth of opportunities ashore for women in yachting.”
And what words of wisdom does Izzy have for girls and young women looking at a life at sea?
“Don’t be fooled by the beautiful locations, fancy restaurants or flashy things,” she says. “Yachting isn’t easy. It’s a high-pressured environment, with huge stress, particularly as you move up the ranks. It presents daily challenges, both mentally and physically, and you need to have a thick skin to deal with many of the demands, crazy requests, people, fast-paced environment and more.”
If you think you have what it takes though, it can be rewarding: “Have fun, explore where you can, and make the most of being in such a unique industry,” she says.
Karine worked on yachts from 48-60 metres for a few years 12 years ago, and says she owes a lot to those experiences.
“I feel that I wouldn’t have a successful business today if it wasn’t for my time onboard,” she says. “The industry taught me resilience, the importance of work ethic and building a personal brand that you are proud of.”
“It taught me how to navigate challenging working relationships and the importance of communication and, more specifically, cross-cultural communication.”
Karine says that yachting was the catalyst for her in deciding what she really wanted to do as a long-term career. After yachting, she collected further degrees in counselling and business after already completing a degree in psychology and organisational psychology.
“What I don’t like,” she says, “is seeing others in distress or sitting in pain. If I could learn the tools to help them move through their personal obstacles so that they can reclaim a sense of happiness and peace in their lives, then I would feel like my career was worthwhile.”
Today Karine is owner of The Crew Coach Pty Ltd, which helps superyacht crew go on to have fulfilling yachting careers by ensuring that they are confident leaders, are able to master their own mental health and have access to a powerful network of industry leaders.
Karine says: “I do this through my GUEST IAMI Advanced Leadership course, online counselling service, and exclusive yacht crew membership.”
Karine says that as a woman in the yachting world, she sometimes feels like she must manage the expectation of older generations.
“What it takes to run a business has dramatically changed since the rise of social media,” she says. “There are so many aspects to running a business and a huge part of it is showing up consistently and adding value to your audience.”
“Explaining this to our parents or grandparents can be quite challenging. I still feel there is an unspoken expectation from them, that I should still be carrying out the atypical duties of a housewife and mother. If I was male and was running my own business, my sense is that there would be a lot more leeway.”
But Karine does believe the yachting industry is changing: “Previously female crew were snubbed when they applied to work on deck. There is still work to be done in this area, however, the more we support females taking up what were previously deemed male roles then the more we are heading in the right direction towards positive change.”
Karine says she has witnessed other examples of discrimination. “I was told by a captain that the Owner’s rep said that one of the stews needed to be let go because she was a size 10 rather than a size 6,” she says. “This is an appalling reason to be fired.”
And Karine has this advice for women wanting to break into the industry: “Know your worth and the value you can contribute. Follow your passion and don’t let the harmful words of others prevent or deter you from achieving your dreams and goals.”
“I love the saying from Nelson Mandela, ‘nothing is impossible unless it’s done.’ So go out there and just do it! You won’t regret it.”
08 March 2022
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