What It’s Really Like to Work on a Luxury Yacht

We chatted with Elizabeth Stone, a chief stewardess with the AvYachts luxury fleet, to find out just what it takes to give travelers an amazing experience.

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AvYachts aims to be the NetJets of yachts, in that it offers shared ownership of its fleet. After a percentage buy-in, you’re allotted a set number of weeks to use each year (a 10 percent buy-in equals three weeks). You pay a quarterly maintenance fee that covers everything but your consumables onboard. One of the largest benefits to owners is that AvYachts hires, trains, and manages the staff for the yachts, so you’re sure to get a top-notch experience every time. That staff includes Elizabeth Stone, chief stewardess on Motor Yacht Jopaju, a 34-meter Westport 2012, who sat down to talk with Reader’s Digest.

What did you do before working on yachts?

Before moving into the yachting industry in 2014, I worked in restaurants and hotels as a bartender and server starting in 2005.

Have you taken any special classes to better serve your guests?

DSCF9772-copycourtesy Charlie Gross

I took the standard STCW-95, Designated Security Duties, which is required, and an introductory interior class that covered the basics of what is expected as a stew on super yachts. In addition, I took classes on floristry and plant maintenance, wine appreciation, Silver Service, plus tender diving training.

Of course, no course really prepares you for life as a chief stewardess—only real-life experience. The reality is that you are not always near an easy place to provision, so of course, you need to be an incredible planner and be innovative. I have made table decorations out of whatever I find growing on an island and have tracked down fisherman on a tender to fill a last-minute request from an owner. Despite that we give guests an extensive 12-page guest preference sheet, oftentimes they change their minds about what they want to eat or drink when they get here and it’s up to the staff to meet their every need.

Could you share an example?

On one sail, the owner who used to not like lobster (so it was on the do-not-serve list and it had not been provisioned) decided he wanted to try it for dinner. Being anchored out, surrounded by shimmering blue water without a store in sight, we had the choice to either dive for lobster or hunt down the closest lobster boat. We went with the latter.

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When the weather changes and you aren’t able to follow the previously scheduled itinerary, what are your secrets for regrouping and making sure guests still have a fabulous time?

Weather changes are unavoidable, so we are constantly adapting our plans and options for guests. We keep an ever-evolving profile for all of our locations. These resources are compiled through a combination of research done before arrival and new information learned while there. Having a “plan B” is written into our initial itinerary and is also modified during the trip—not only for the weather, but to better fit the guests’ individual requests and personalities. AvYachts also has a full-time concierge on staff who has developed wonderful insider connections at every destination we travel…so we can offer our guests and owners one-of-a-kind experiences.

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Any favorite memories of assisting guests on a special occasion?

Twice, we had men propose when they were onboard, and it was fun to make that a lasting memory for those guests. With one, however, the girlfriend was not expecting the invitation and was not on the same page as her suitor. She did not say yes, so the trip was a bit uncomfortable after that since his parents and sister were also on the boat.

With the other engagement, we worked hard to make sure it was a surprise. While we were docked in the Exumas in the Bahamas, the crew hid the ring under coral and helped guide her to finding it on that day’s dive. That was a little nerve-wracking since it was a three-carat diamond.

What’s the most challenging part about working on a luxury yacht?

courtesy Anne L. Fritz

The long hours are the most challenging part of the work for me. A yacht crew is on call 24 hours a day, the entire time guests are aboard, and our average workday is over 15 hours. This intense physical aspect is coupled with demanding social and emotional skills as well as the ability to multitask—not to mention living with the rest of the crew in small quarters. This combination of aspects makes working on a yacht a unique challenge.

It is very normal to have guests come back from a fun night, very early in the morning, and request anything from a pizza to a three-course meal. Of course, you deliver with a smile, but the lack of sleep does eventually catch up.

What’s the best part about working on a luxury yacht?

My favorite aspect of working on a yacht is the opportunity to exceed guests’ expectations and offer them an experience they will cherish, in beautiful and unique locations. The privilege to work with professionals toward the same goal—in challenging and rewarding situations, while visiting some of the world’s most exotic and beautiful locations—makes this job all worthwhile. You might work hard, but you definitely have the chance to have fun when the work is done and the guests leave. As a chief stewardess, I have become extremely detail-oriented, and I will bring that skill forward in life in a great way. My house looks like a yacht because it is so organized and clean—and I could not imagine living any other way. Throw me any problem and I will solve it, as I am now the most resourceful person you will ever meet.

Any special tricks for warding off seasickness?

The best bet for warding off seasickness is to be proactive. Take medications the night before traveling. And don’t wait until you feel really bad to try other forms of relief. Everyone is different, but the constant is that once you start to feel really bad, it’s much harder to feel better. Things that work for me are ginger-based products (candies, tea, soda), crackers or pretzels, and looking out at the horizon. The yacht I work on also has zero-speed stabilizers, so that helps!

Do you have a favorite port of call or area to sail?

I love Majorca, Spain, the Exumas, and any place where you need a yacht to explore and open up a magical, unique experience. Also, anywhere that I can hang out with my extended family—yacht crews traveling the world.

Next, find out what it’s really like to work for a luxury airline.

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Anne L. Fritz is a freelance writer, editor and mom of two based in Stamford, CT. Prior to launching her freelance career, Anne worked for Woman's Day, Life & Style, Seventeen, EverydayHealth.com and more. You can find more of her musings on motherhood and more at Forever35.net.

Fritz is on a lifelong hunt for the fountain of youth. She's convinced her two young kids, who won't let her sit down for longer than five mintues at a time, are it. Or maybe it's karma paying her back.