When is old too old?


Thanks to the joy of social media, everyone has a platform to whine about how hard their lives are in the yachting industry. One of the frequent rants is about age and how the older you are, the harder it is to get a job on board. The usual responses range from

“if you want it enough you’ll get it!” and “I think age and experience is more valuable than being young and pretty!” but really, are those statements true in a cut throat and sexy industry like ours?

The first question is, why is yachting perceived as a good industry to join when you’re tired of your ‘normal life’? It seems it’s now more than ever that people are deciding to jack their lives in ashore and research? Or is this based on ‘reality’ (I’ll that term loosely) TV shows like Below Deck? Unfortunately it seems some sea schools will encourage anyone to go into yachting in order to get cash off them for their courses, instead of giving genuine advice about the realities.

If you’re older, and considering a career change into yachting firstly ask yourself this; are you willing to sacrifice your personal space? You must bear in mind you don’t get to pack up and go home at 5 every evening and see other people. You have to eat, breathe, live, sleep and operate with the other crew members and for most of the time there is literally no escape. You have to love them. You will be sharing a cabin, most likely with a 20 something who parties like you used to be able to, who probably has no spatial awareness or respect for yours, and who will leave their stuff lying around, and who will fall in the door at all hours when you’re in port, probably reeking of booze, cigarettes, and then will keep you awake by snoring/vomiting all night. Oh yes, you’ll be sharing a tiny bathroom with them too! You’ll basically be surrounded by much younger people, all the time. So don’t expect too many in-depth conversations about the world economy – better start watching ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ instead.

OK so that’s worst case scenario… or is it? Are you willing to start right at the very bottom of the ladder as a stewardess or deckhand? Cleaning toilets, floors, windows… scrubbing untold stains off the teak… Don’t expect life experience to count towards much when it comes to yachting, people want the technical skills and knowledge that only comes with time spent on board superyachts.

Some older crew automatically expect to go straight into a more senior role with no prior experience – although land based skills are transferrable; yachting is very, very different. I can’t stress that enough. It’s unique. Even recreational sailors expect to walk into a mate or captain’s position and that is simply not going to happen.

So, if you really do want to cabin share with a kid, and you do want to start from the bottom, the next problem is finding a yacht who wants to accommodate that. Yachting is a young industry; Chief Stews generally move ashore by early to mid 30s, so if you’re looking for an interior job, you need to find one where the 2nd Stew and Chief Stew are older than you or you probably won’t get hired. A 25 year old does not, generally speaking, want to have a junior working under them who’s the same age as a parent.

This goes for the exterior too, a 25 year old Mate will not often hire an older Deckhand or Bosun. It’s not a comfortable situation. And you’ve also got to convince them you have the energy and motivation to keep up with the 20 something Duracell bunnies who are mostly running on a heady combination of adrenaline, hormones and red bull. Can you? Are you as fit at 40 as you were at 20? This industry is an energy drainer, the hours are long and if you’re not getting eight hours of sleep a night due to your cabin mate/rough conditions/extra activities then this is not the job for you.

Also we have to consider the yacht owner’s perception and needs too. We all know this can be a very shallow industry and looks are key, yacht users love having a young attractive crew around them. Just like they don’t want someone overweight or spotty serving their champagne, they also often don’t want someone their own age or older doing it either. When their sleek superyacht is coming into port and heads are turning do they want old puffing deckhands grunting and groaning out there throwing lines? No. They want young, fit, buff lads to enhance the image that wealth attracts youth and beauty. Brutal? Yes. Realistic? Also yes.

OK, so that’s covering the latecomers to the industry. What about when you’ve been working for several years in the industry, so you have the experience, you have the knowledge but you feel you’re being passed over for jobs by the younger less experienced ones?

First off, don’t post about it on Facebook’s public forums. Everyone reads those; managers, peers, agents… and unfortunately it reflects badly on people if you moan/whine about anything yachting. And, you sound like an old fart.

It is different for men versus women. Women have a shelf life in yachting, unfortunately that comes down to the owner’s perception once again more often than not. If they want a young vibrant team on board then there’s not a lot you can do about that.

They get the final say in who works on their yacht so if the rest of the crew are 20-30 and you’re 45, then you have to accept it’s not the job for you and find a yacht with an older age range on board. There are a lot of yachts out there, it’s just hanging in there and being tenacious and persevering.

On the male side of the spectrum, there are so many young captains coming up the ranks achieving big tickets by their late 20s, the competition is incredibly tough right now. Again, you have to look at the big picture on board. If the owner is paying low, he’ll get a captain with little/no drive experience. It’s not easy when there are bills to pay, but the only option is to keep on pushing to find a good owner who values your experience and then, stick with him/her as long as you can.

Yachting is a ruthless industry, everyone knows it’s looks-based for many departments, and unfortunately looks fade with age. Best advice to crew is to plan an exit strategy and save some money, before you know it, you’ll be middle aged and wondering where all that cash went!