Can you be a stew without cleaning loos?

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Q: Lisa, 23:

“I want to work on a yacht as a stewardess as I have high-end hospitality experience, but I’m not that interested in housekeeping work, as in I really don’t want to be cleaning toilets etc. I want to be doing service as that’s my skill, and I’ve heard that on the bigger boats you can get a job as a service only stewardess, how do I make sure I only get one of those jobs instead of a cleaning stewardess?”

A: The Crew Coach:

I think it is a good time to address this question, for it seems to be coming up more often as the industry gets bigger, and crew agents have told me they are often being asked this kind of question. It seems many aspiring new stews don’t want to clean toilets, and in fairness it’s a job nobody actually enjoys so I can understand why! It is also true that some large yachts have interior departments that are divided into service only stews and housekeeping stews, so I can see how people might think this is an option.

So can you jump straight into one of those roles and avoid the yucky cleaning part of the job? The answer, sadly for you, is no. Not really. It’s exceedingly rare these days to go straight into a service role, for a few reasons.

To begin with, you need to keep in mind that this option actually only exists on really large yachts, as under 60 metres you’ll most likely always do a full rotation of laundry, cabins and service. If you narrow down your job hunting to only 60m+ yachts and service only stewardess positions you’re going to find you are severely limited your chances of entering an industry that is already very hard to break into, not to mention risk giving people the wrong impression about your work ethic.

The reason this calls into question your work ethic is that most service only stews on large yachts have ‘earned’ their position by working their way up through the ranks, maybe first on laundry, then on cabins and finally service. They have put in the hard yards before stepping into that role, and therefore people are quite likely to think you don’t have the right attitude if you want to skip all this and go straight to the top.

In addition to this, Captains and chief stews are understandably cautious about putting green crew straight on service, as they prefer to ease them into guest contact first to see how they go. Service only stews on large yachts have usually already had a lot of experience in interacting with superyacht clientele before being put in that important role. If you’ve served in top hotels or Michelin starred restaurants, then you might have a better idea of how to serve at this level, but for most people there is still a lot to learn.

Something else you won’t know as a yachting outsider is that while service sounds all glitz and glamour, it can get very tiresome after a while. There are actually some really nice aspects to being on cabins and laundry duty where you don’t have to interact with guests and you get the profound satisfaction of seeing the direct results of your labours as you transform things from messy to immaculate and dirty to clean (find me a chief stew who wouldn’t give up her admin and pressure for just a week to go back to the simple life of just doing laundry).

Often a bit of time away from guests is welcome in such a high pressure job. It also makes for a solid team. By working in all areas you become an all-rounder, which helps the interior crew support each other and makes the team into a well-oiled, diverse and awesome machine. Service isn’t the be all and end all of everything; far from it! The interior running of a yacht is an extraordinary production of housekeeping, laundry and service, conducted as a team. No part can run without the others, and no part should be considered above the others. Believe me, a good laundry person is worth their weight in gold, and that person who can fly through morning cabin duties efficiently and effectively is incredibly fundamental to scheduling.

Another thing you may not have considered is that even if you’re technically a ‘service only’ stew, you still have to clean. When the guests are on board your life will be a constant repeat cycle of washing and polishing crockery, glassware, silverware and tables, and when the guests are off, all the stews pitch in together to clean the whole interior, no matter what your title is. If you’re involved in a shipyard period (as you usually will be each winter) you’ll all have to help put the interior back together and clean up all the dust and dirt the contractors leave behind. Believe me, cleaning deck heads (the ceiling) for hours on end is not the most enjoyable of jobs, but every stew will have to do this at some point in their career.

Last but not least, if you skip those important stages of your career progression in the interior you will actually be limiting your own promotion prospects. The versatility of having worked in every aspect of the interior is what makes great Chief Stews. Going straight to service would greatly limit your chances of ever becoming the head of interior, as you need that foundation knowledge of all aspects of the department to understand how to manage the team workload and allocate resources accordingly. There’s nowhere to hide if you don’t know cabins and laundry, the stews working under you will expect you to have that knowledge and are extremely unlikely to respect you fully if they find out you’ve never done their job.

In summary, if you’re not willing to do much cleaning, then becoming a yacht stewardess is simply not the job for you. You might find the exceptional boat of course and prove me wrong, but I highly doubt it.

If it’s glamorous travel you’re after while using your service skills, maybe it’s better for you to work in a 5 star resort chain where you could move to different exotic locations while working within the same company? Yachting’s not for everyone and there’s nothing wrong with that. You just need to find the right fit for what you do best, where you contribute the highest value, and what you enjoy most.

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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