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There are about 100,000 professional crew serving on superyachts around the world, many of them from the UK, making this industry the biggest employer you’ve never heard of. Or maybe you have, if you’ve caught an episode of the reality TV show Below Deck.

While old-school yachties may cringe at the behaviour on display on the show — crew sleeping in guest cabins, for instance, or piling into the hot tub after a boozy night — there is no doubt that it has opened the eyes of the public to the potential of a superyacht career at a time when the demand for quality crew has never been higher.

Orders taken for new yachts during the Covid years mean there are jobs aplenty. And it’s not only the opportunity to travel that’s appealing, with summers in the Med and winters in the Caribbean. Nor that few qualifications are necessary for the most junior positions, other than a five-day Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping safety course. A huge attraction is the money, usually tax-free. Captains of the largest yachts earn an average of €190,000 a year, excluding tips, according to Dockwalk magazine, while junior positions start at about €30,000 a year.

However, those who fancy the lifestyle after watching Below Deck are in for a very rude awakening. “They think they are coming to have some fun and aren’t ready for the harsh reality of long hours, hard physical work, minimal time off, restrictive policies, reduced access to their phones and the internet,” the captain of a 90m yacht says. And that’s without mention of the repetitive cleaning, he adds, which is the primary job of all new starters.

The expected quality of service on a superyacht is so high that “even the world’s very best hotels are unable to achieve such a level”, Jamie Edmiston, chief executive of the superyacht broker Edmiston, says. “Once you have been fortunate to experience this you understand the true value of the crew on board a large yacht.”

Because the credo among crew remains “avoid saying no at all costs”, they have to be excellent multitaskers and prepared for anything. So they make beds, clean bathrooms, put away laundry — all without the guests knowing that it’s happening — but also mix the best martinis, teach watersports and wait on the dock all night while the guests party in Ibiza.

Even if you’re the chef, who is one of the best-paid crew and can dictate the layout and make of the kitchen, you’re expected to provide whatever guests want, at whatever time they want it. Special types of cheese have crossed oceans to be at the breakfast table the next day in the Caribbean. Fancy a particular Japanese watermelon? No problem, consider it sourced and choppered in. One superyacht chef was even asked to cook for a VIP chimpanzee.

“A seven-star service on superyachts is considered normal,” says Ben Willows, chief executive of the UK Sailing Academy in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, one of the world’s best training facilities. That seven-star service is expected to be rewarded by generous tips. On a 60m to 70m superyacht that costs €500,000 a week to charter, guests should expect to pay an additional 5 to 15 per cent in tips for the 20 or so crew. During a busy charter season, this can top up a crew member’s salary by tens of thousands of euros, which certainly helps to make up for the extreme hours, exhaustion and cramped living quarters.

For those with a solid work ethic, the captain Mark Jones says the benefits are clear. “Yachting offers high salaries that give crew a chance to save money while enabling travel to incredible spots that most would only dream of,” he says. “So yes, it is very hard work. But it can be incredibly rewarding.”

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