Will being colour blind ruin my yachting career?

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Q: John, 22, aspiring deckhand:

“I want to join the yachting industry, but I’ve just found out the other day during my ENG1 that I’m slightly colour blind and have been issued restrictions on doing solo watches at night and distinguishing colour cabling. What does this do to my chances in yachting—will I still be able to get a job as a deckhand? I really need advice whether there’s any point even trying- I still really want to and I’ve already done my STCW, so it seems a shame just to back out now.”

A: The Crew Coach:

Well that’s not great news, as I have to be honest and tell you that it will limit your opportunities on deck in the future. However, that’s not to say that you can’t still get into yachting- but you might need to accept that your career path might look a bit different than you expected!

Firstly, being colour blind won’t stop you from getting a job as a deckhand. However, it will stop you from getting further deck tickets, as all commercial tickets from Yachtmaster onwards have restrictions against colour blindness.

All is not lost though, as you’ve still got plenty of options in the yachting industry.

Deckhand, short-term. You could come and get a job as a deckhand, and do it for a few years before moving on to something else- whether that’s a yachting job onshore, a different department onboard, or outside the yachting industry altogether. Many yachts don’t require their bosuns to have further ticketing, so you have an opportunity to progress to that level and run a team of deckhands. You still have the chance to experience the travel and earning potential you were hoping for as a deckhand/bosun, you just won’t be able to progress up the ranks on the exterior path.
Career Deckhand. You could, of course, choose to works as a deckhand or bosun in the long term. No doubt a lot of yachts would love to be able to keep highly experienced deckhands that can’t move up for some reason. And remember, you can always build your skills to become a well-rounded crew member, even if you can’t get the certification.
Interior steward. You could pursue the interior steward route- as growing number of men do. You will need to have strong hospitality experience to compete in this field, so you’ll need to get some high-end restaurant or hotel experience.
Yacht Chef. You could also train to be a yacht chef.
Junior Engineer. You could join the yacht engineer path, and this can be advantageous as many yacht engineers aren’t required to stand watch. However, colour blindness will again obstruct your career progression when you get to the senior engineering tickets where you need to identify colour cabling.
As you can see, there are plenty of options- in fact, the interior and chef departments onboard are still wide open to you, while the deck and engineering paths are open to you at the junior levels.

Perhaps none of these options are ideal for you- and I’m sorry it’s not working out quite as you imagined. But yachting is still a great track for a young person to get into, whether you decide to leave after a few years or switch to one of the departments where your colour blindness won’t count against you. There are quite a number of colour blind people in the yachting industry who have made brilliant careers, so don’t give up- even if you have to reconsider how your career might look in the long term.

Your story also serves as a lesson to new crew to get your ENG1 done first, and only book your STCW when you have the all-clear for medical issues. While there are still plenty of options open for you, it’s always best to have this kind of information in advance!

The very best of luck to you and please let me know how you get on.

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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