Q: Nikki, 29, 2nd Stew:
“I’m a quick learner, and I get bored very easily. I always need something new to learn and a promotion to aspire to, and since I joined yachting 3 years ago I’ve gone from junior stew to second stew, and changed boats three times. I’ve been a second for 6 months now, and I want to leave and go for a chief stew role, but I’ve been told by several crew agents that I don’t have enough time on my CV as second stew yet. But I’m bored with what I’m doing, and getting really restless for the next challenge. How do I convince the crew agents that I’m ready? I can’t get a reference from my current yacht as they can’t know that I’m looking. What do you suggest I do to prove I’m capable of being a great chief stew and make that jump?”
A: The Crew Coach:
It’s great to see your enthusiasm, but I’m not sure I’m able to give you the answer you’re looking for. Not quite yet, anyway. In truth, you probably won’t be able to convince crew agents that 6 months is enough time as second stew before progressing to chief, because, as much as you probably don’t want to hear this, it’s almost certainly not enough. Time spent in a yachting role does really matter—no matter how fast a learner you are. It takes a solid year at least to truly understand how a yacht operates through all its seasons, understand its strong points and weaknesses (and your own within that.) To say you’ve mastered being second stew on your yacht in a swift 6 months is impressive but also perhaps a little over optimistic.
12 months in a second stew role is probably the minimum most crew agents and Captains would accept before considering you were ready for a role as chief— they are taking a pretty big risk on hiring a chief stew who has never held that position before, after all! A solid stint as second stew puts their mind at ease that you’ve spent a good amount of time ‘learning the ropes’. My advice to you would be to stay the course and work towards getting a brilliant reference as a second after 12 to 18 months.
Ambition is great, but not if you’re so furiously focussed on the future that you’re not really enjoying the present, and perhaps not building the same solid raft of skills you’ll need to become a great chief. There’s a real art to enjoying where you are now.
However, you certainly don’t need to be ‘bored’ in the meantime. Here’s some ideas about how you can use your current situation to prepare for the next step, and keep your mind busy!
Ask for a meeting with your chief stew to find out where they think you need to develop to become chief in the future. (You might want to put their mind at ease that you’re just thinking about your future in the industry, not out for their job, that way they’ll be onside to help.) You may find that this feedback shows that there are still things you need to learn as a second. Your time as second is a brilliant opportunity to use your chief as a mentor, so don’t waste it rushing onto the next stage and then possibly being out of your depth when you get there! Ask them good questions, like what’s the hardest thing about being chief, and mistakes they’ve learnt from.
Consider training courses to build your skills and quench your admirable thirst for knowledge and development. The GUEST Program offers a wide range of amazing interior courses that will give you great skills for the future. You don’t need to restrict yourself to interior courses either; why not learn how to drive the tender, become a watersport instructor, or ask the deck crew to teach you some knots: there are a million ways to develop yourself and keep yourself occupied. It can also be useful to fill your attention with non-work related projects to stop you from getting bored, such as practicing yoga, learning a language, or drawing. What did you love doing as a kid but have stopped doing as an adult? Is there a way you can bring that into daily life onboard? You can even begin to think a little more long term and start planning for the future – if your goal is to buy a property, start researching to find out more about house prices in your favourite area and what’s involved in getting a mortgage etc.
If you really can’t stand staying in the role you’re in now, you might find a smaller boat with a combination role like stew/deck or stew/cook might suit you better, as you’ll have to be across more skills and you’ll need to be adept at mastering the two departments and pitching in with everything. You should find it easy to get one of these positions with the experience you have now.
Here’s something else to think about though – being content with what you have is something to work on in itself. Where is it that you think you’ll go once you’ve ‘mastered’ the chief stew role? Presumably you’ll move up to large yachts, and maybe one day you’ll be purser, but my point is that the yachting ladder only goes so far… and at some point you’ll have to be content with the role you have. How are you going to deal with it when you’re chief stew on a 100m+, and you’re bored as you’ve learnt everything new about the role?
Alternatively, do you think a land job in a fast-paced field where you’re constantly learning new information might be a better fit for you? If yachting isn’t your ‘forever’ career and you’re bored with a second stew role after 6 months, your time in yachting may not have far to go. Perhaps it just doesn’t provide enough intellectual challenge for your thirsty, restless mind. If that’s the case, you may need to start strategically planning your exit.
I’m sorry I couldn’t give you the answer you wanted, but I hope I’ve given you some food for thought and some ideas on how you can make the next 6-12 months fly by, while you plan your next steps carefully.