getting a job on a yacht

What is dock walking?

Dock Walking: My Personal Account of Dock Walking.

What is dock walking?


Dock walking is the process of walking along a dock, approaching a yacht, speaking with the crew with the aim of securing; day work, permanent work or to leave them with your CV.

 

For me this proved to be one of the most nerve wracking processes in finding work.


Monday morning 0630, I wake early in anticipation of the day ahead. I am living in a crew house with numerous other ‘wannabe’ super yacht crew all eagerly trying to secure a job, all competing for the same work on a limited number of yachts. I rise early to be the first in the shower for my first day walking the docks of Antibes. Presentation is important in this industry and my clothes are ironed and laid out the night before. I shower, shave and eat breakfast, my appetite is low as my nerves fill my stomach with a certain unease. I pack my bag with the essentials, sun cream and water, before leaving the crew house armed with a selection of recently printed CV’s and references in a neat plastic folder. I want to be the first out of the crew house and onto the dock in the hope of catching any early crew out on deck. 


It is a beautifully fresh morning and the salty smell of the sea lingers in the calm air that surrounds the small cobbled streets of Antibes. The sun is about to rise and the sky is clear with white aeroplane trails scarring the blue backdrop. There is a coolness in the air indicating an approach to Autumn. Leaving the cobbled streets I am greeted with a vast selection of yachts with the backdrop of a beautiful golden fort that overlooks the harbour of Antibes. The rising sun accentuates the golden colour of the fort. As I walk along the dockside a scavenging sea gull scurries into a hedge dragging some left over pizza from a torn bin bag. The water is calm and the town empty, it is 0730, the port is quiet. 


I walk towards the International Dock which is the main dock, home to some of the largest super yachts in the world and pass the more modest yachts which by standards at home are still very impressive. My anxiety is growing as I approach the entrance, my heart races faster and my fears of rejection grow with every step. I pass the security barrier through an open gate looking like a boy about to embark on his first day at school, with rucksack, clean ironed clothes and carrying a folder of CV’s. I certainly look like a novice. As I enter the International Dock I am greeted by a large yacht with the large letters ‘D I L B A R’ in gleaming silver. The reflection of the water glistens on the yacht’s hull with the bow stretching way off into the distance. My heart beats rapidly and I almost try to convince myself that it is not a good day to dock walk: I will try tomorrow, it will be easier then… I know I must continue. 


Sitting on the dock there is no-one around bar the security guard and he looks wholly uninterested in my intentions. I sit by a flower bed that overlooks the vast stretch of yachts all moored stern to dock. I struggle to comprehend the change in worlds I am experiencing in just two days. Two days ago I was working in an office watching the rain falling outside on a busy road… now I sit, unemployed, admiring these incredible yachts, with the blue sea and sky and the back drop of the old golden fort. 


Slowly more dock walkers appear, some look highly experienced, walking with a certain confidence. Some I talk with politely and briefly though others are focused purely on the yachts and walk past without so much as an acknowledgement.


It is 0745 and I decide to walk to the opposite end and begin my walk from the far end, hoping to catch crews before they are disturbed by the other dock walkers. The larger yachts are at the beginning so I assume these will draw the most dock-walkers so I opt for the smaller yachts first (still over 60 meters in length). As I walk along the atmosphere starts coming alive with deck crew appearing from side doors and walking down the sides of the yacht. On the yacht next to me I notice a crew member (a moment I have long been anticipating) and my anxiety steps up another notch. I can feel my heart beating and blood pulsing around my body, a feeling I have not experienced since standing to do a best man’s speech the month before. My mouth dries and I sweat as I approach the first yacht. The crew member appears to look at me, I think I have caught his attention. I smile, before he looks down and heads to the second deck to raise a flag. I am sure he noticed me but my polite English disposition stops me disturbing him and I convince myself they must be fully crewed and should therefore look elsewhere. As I walk away, I realise I have failed at the first hurdle in my search. With my disappointment building my heart rate eases a little and I continue along the dock, determined not to succumb to fear at the next one. I vow this will be the only yacht I do not approach ….a new beginning.


I approach the third yacht with grit and determination to find someone also putting out the flag and call up “are you looking for crew?” He looks down, smiles and informs me they are fully staffed. Although a rejection I feel an enormous sense of achievement. I have overcome my fear of asking for work and feel better equipped to start my search. 


That morning I managed to talk to crew on five different yachts. Walking back to the crew house I felt more confident than I did starting out that morning and felt pleased to have given some CV’s. I had completed my first mornings dock walking though many more lay ahead. 


My dock walking skills improved with practice and it took about a week to feel more confident. I became slicker at asking if day work or crew were needed, and managed to leave more CV’s and references even if they were not looking for crew at that time. I always tried to have a polite conversation before leaving, hoping to develop some rapport which I hoped would help me stand out from the crowd. I was delighted to find crews surprisingly helpful and welcoming. The reality is that most crews will have endured the process of dock walking themselves and know it is a necessary part of finding work, so empathise and help where they can. 


My dock walking took me to many ports including Antibes, Cannes, Monaco, Nice and St Tropez, finding the best were Antibes and Monaco. I spent many hours and walked miles of docks handing out CV’s and speaking to many crew. At times it did become disheartening when no leads came from my efforts. I always tried to remain positive and keep moving forward though it was difficult at times. I knew the clock was rapidly ticking, drawing a close to the end of another season when the yachts would start leaving the Mediterranean for the Caribbean. 


However, the hard work, persistence and patience eventually paid off. I obtained day work on two yachts which helped build my CV making me far more employable. 


Without realising it my quest for employment was coming to an end as I approached a yacht soon after it docked late one afternoon. My normal routine of enquiries followed with polite pleasantries while handing the crew member my CV. He asked about my qualifications and seemed disappointed I did not have a Yacht Masters certificate, informing me the Captain only employed deck crew with this qualification. I left disappointed as the yacht had an interesting itinerary and the crew seemed really friendly. The following morning on passing the same yacht the crew member called me over and offered me day work. This progressed from one days work to a week which lead to a trial period, and finally onto permanent work. All from that one fateful day speaking and handing my CV to that one member of staff.


It is such an incredible feeling achieving a job on a super yacht, completely off your own back after hours and hours of searching. Walking onto that yacht with all my possessions, from dock walker to full time crew member, was a day that filled me with great pride. Coming from an office job just two months earlier and stepping on board to start a new life working on one of the top charter super yachts in the world, was a moment in my life I will always remember and I felt a huge sense of achievement. 


Looking back, the dock walking was the most nerve wracking part of the job-finding process. It did get notably better with time and practice once I had overcome the fear and really did get easier… I promise. 


I wish you the very best of luck with this experience. Don’t be timid, go for every yacht and seize every opportunity presented to you. Try to embrace any fear, for it is often the things that make us feel uncomfortable, fearful or nervous that can lead to some of the most exciting changes and opportunities in your life… 


…you never know, that the one CV you hand to that one crew member could change the direction of your job search, put your dock walking days behind you and take your life to a whole new exciting adventure. 

 Written by Ben Proctor.

Ben Proctor has also written a comprehensive guide to help people thinking of a career on a super yacht, which is an essential read for anyone thinking of a career on a super yacht.

For more information read "Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide" by Ben Proctor

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To attract good luck to oneself, it is necessary to take advantage or opportunities
— George S. Glason

The top three highlights of my time on a super yacht

My Top 3 Highs of Working on a Super Yacht


1)    Watching dolphins bow riding the yacht’s wake.
 
Being out in the vastness of the sea and hearing the call on our radios that dolphins were around always brought a sense of urgency and excitement to the crew, even the more salty sea dogs. Watching these incredible creatures bow riding the waves with such effortless ease and grace, darting left and right, diving deeper and then breaching the white wash, was always an incredible sight. Their almost human-like facial expressions and deep dark eyes would captivate us whilst they graced us with their presence. It is a picture that I often think of and will stay with me as one of those very special life moments.

2)    Time on deck alone when underway. 

I worked with some incredible crew and am not a social recluse, however living with people in relatively close living quarters, to have time on your own can be magic. Some of my highlights were leaving the South of France en route to Corsica when on anchor duty and we left our anchor spot. The foredeck was empty and on the horizon sat the most perfect golden sun as it slowly descended. I had wind in my face and the sound of the yacht’s bow slicing through the waves. As I sat there I savoured every moment as the sun drew a close to another day. 

There were also times when I would sit on the top deck (it had three) and watch the sun set over the vast expanse of white wash created by the yacht. From this elevation it felt as though I had a bird’s eye view over its wake and the distant horizon and sunset. 

Other memorable times were standing just outside the bridge on the many night passages of an Atlantic Ocean crossing, hearing the waves running along the side and looking up to the most brilliant stars I have ever seen. This was an incredible spectacle, making me appreciate not only the vastness of the world but the incredible simplistic beauty that lies around us, something we so often take for granted. 

These were all magical moments experienced from incredible surroundings of the yacht, taking me to some of the most wonderful, and at times most peaceful places in the world.

3)    Swimming with turtles. 

This was a childhood dream for me and something I had always wanted to do having seen one in an aquarium. One of my crew located the turtles who seemed to be attracted to a some underwater grass. I first heard a chewing noise before seeing the dark figure on the sea bed. Slowly approaching the turtle I hovered above. He seemed weary of me but not scared and the distance between us seemed to provide him some comfort. Chewing the sea grass he would regularly twist his long aged neck to look at me as though checking out my intentions. I pushed my luck and dived down for a closer look and as the water flowed into my snorkel it made a bubbling noise causing the turtle to look up, and with a big swish of its large front legs it shot off. I followed, kicking my legs and flippers as hard as I could, but it glided away with such grace, effortlessly moving through the water. I kicked as hard as I could until I could hold my breath no more…as I came to the surface I saw the dark figure glide into the even darker abyss. It was an incredible sight to witness a turtle in its natural environment, this prehistoric looking creature that appears so well suited to living at sea but cumbersome when waddling up the beach.

I feel very fortunate to have witnessed so much wildlife during my time away, such an incredibly positive element to the whole experience and one I truly relished.
Whilst planning to only choose my top three experiences I felt I could not fail to mention some of the memories I made from time spent with my crew. Working closely with people in such an intimate way is a challenge for anyone and I was always so lucky with those I was fortunate to work with. There is certainly a mundane element to some of this work, cleaning a yacht can wear thin, but so often we would have some of the best laughs during these more mundane times. There was certainly a great camaraderie and banter. We had some fantastic meals out as a crew, went to several lovely beach clubs, spent some amazing days exploring new and exciting places and experienced many highs and lows together. It can at times be challenging and there will be disagreements, but it is people that make daily life more interesting and fulfilling, and working together in such close proximity has far more positives than negatives. I have some very happy memories and know they would not shine so brightly were it not for the fantastic crew I shared so many of these experiences with.


Next Blog: Christmas on a super yacht

Written by Ben Proctor

For more information read Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide by Ben Proctor 
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Finding a job on a super yacht ........... my first two months in the yachting world

I have a sudden very early mid life crisis….I’m 28 years old, in a job that I do not enjoy, working 9 to 5 Monday to Friday looking at a computer screen and dealing with the delights of the medico-legal process.  My grand illusions as a child of becoming a famous actor or pilot have rapidly dwindled and I feel I am in a rut. I decide to brave another life, another lifestyle and take a step out of the all too comfortable and routine lifestyle I have slowly slipped into.
I leave England on a grey September morning, the temperature is cold, and it is dark and already the leaves are falling. I leave with much apprehension. I have left a salaried job paying me just over £30,000 giving me a comfortable lifestyle. I am entering a new world, one with no guaranteed work, potentially sharing a room with unknown people, entering a new industry worth billions and working with some of the wealthiest people in the world.

I arrive in a beautiful fortified town in the South of France called Antibes, where the harbour contains billions of pounds worth of yachts.  These are no ordinary yachts - they are grand excesses of wealth, luxury hotels on the water, the size of them astounding, and cleanliness second to none. It is these yachts, or more accurately super-yachts, I have come to work on. A far cry from my job back in the UK.

In this industry chartering (or hiring) one of these yachts can set you back £1,000,000 a week and this is purely to hire the yacht (no berthing, fuel or crew tips included). To purchase one of these Super-Yachts second hand could cost around £199 million for a beautiful 80 meter vessel. Should you wish to purchase a new one, the worlds largest Super-Yacht Azzam, has been rumoured to cost £400 million.

These vessels are the absolute height of luxury. Some have swimming pools, HD cinemas, submarines, helicopter pads, health suites with full time masseuses. One even has a pool table connected to gyroscopes enabling the table to remain level and playable in even the roughest seas. They are floating luxury hotels with price tags to make a luxurious hotel seem similar to the price of a Youth Hostel.

I arrive at a crew house, one of several in Antibes, designed to house crew members looking for work. I meet my fellow house guests from all over the world who are all in the same boat (excuse pun) looking for work as crew on the Super-Yachts. In some respects it is like a friendly series of “The Apprentice” with everyone competing for work. I meet some interesting characters from people with absolutely no boating experience to those with many qualifications. I meet one chap who left college, decided university was not for him and was trying to get a permanent position. He had struggled though, not through lack of trying, but more it seems from his order to prioritise alcohol, women and then work…he had got life well sussed. He knew most people and has slept with most girls. Everyone has different reasons for being here and interestingly many plan to make a career of it. This is not surprising since tax free earning potential on a captain’s wage could be £10,000 per month within 6-7 years on completion of necessary qualifications, with the ability to travel whilst getting paid. Others here have left previous careers like myself, and come into this later in life with the goal of saving money for that ever illusive house deposit which proved too difficult in the UK.
I am officially now unemployed and have returned to student living, sharing a room with others and cooking basic dinners. Was this such a good move at 28 years – I wonder if I am getting too old for this life?

Prior to my departure I completed a five day course, the STCW95, an essential qualification for this industry and the Royal Yachting Association Power Boat Level 2 (essential to drive the tenders onboard).  I also composed my CV enlarging on previous boating experience through my years growing up in Cornwall and registered on the internet with several crew agencies.
I soon discover on talking with room-mates the key way of getting work is to “dock walk”. This involves going up to these imposing yachts, asking if they have any work, trying to sell yourself and, if all else fails, trying to leave a CV with them. I am not a sales person, a little shy and afraid of making a fool of myself and fear this is not going to be easy.

The other avenue for work is through the crew agencies. I meet with one agent who informs me that as I have no super yacht experience it is unlikely I will get a job as she has hundreds of people on her books with far more experience. She advises me to go back to England and ask for my old job back. This is certainly not the start I was hoping for. The image of working on a luxury yacht, visiting beautiful places with tax free earnings was fading rapidly, and this was only my first day.

Not perturbed I visit the next agency. This agent was previously a nurse who wanted a change from the NHS in the UK and moved to Antibes to work as a crew agent; a move she has not regretted. I am filled with hope as she understands my situation, empathises with my career change and congratulates me on the move. She is hopeful I will find work but explains it may not be easy and advises I network through dock walking and handing out CV’s. I leave with hope, excitement and a big feeling of relief.  I continue to meet with agents who all offer different advice, but the overwhelming recommendation is to network and dock-walk. I am warned that professionalism is expected and told of stories of crew losing their jobs for being five minutes late to work, being hung-over and I even heard of someone losing their job for attending his grandmother’s funeral. This is a hard industry where there is always someone to take your place, especially someone on the bottom run of the ladder like myself.

I spent two weeks searching for work, dock walking each morning arriving at 0745 hours, smartly dressed, clean shaven and looking like a new pupil on his first day of school. I even had my geeky rucksack at the ready with my days essentials (water, sun cream and spare clothes in case I am offered work). It feels intimidating, approaching the huge yachts and experienced crew, and asking if they would take me on with only tender driving experience and basic qualifications. I am surprised by the understanding and helpful attitude of the crew who look interested but politely inform me there is no work currently though they will keep my CV and call should work develop. In hindsight my apprehension should not be warranted as most crew will have endured this same experience at some point.

After two weeks I receive a call from a yacht that needs a day worker to help prepare it for the Monaco Yacht Show - I jump at the chance, my first step on the ladder, the lucky break I’ve needed. The Captain asks me to start in two days and I am told to meet the boat in Genoa for certainly two weeks work, potentially more.

I arrive at the dockside in Genoa and board the boat, a 54 meter yacht that rents for £320,000 euros per week. I struggle to comprehend the amount of money a charter would cost; especially as securing a house deposit is proving enough of a struggle for me! I liken the cost to a good sized four bedroomed home in Cornwall.  Before boarding I am asked to remove my shoes as the teak decks, which add a feel of class and beauty, need to be maintained in A1 condition and shoes would only mark these. I note the lavish exterior and interior as I am led down into the crew quarters or, as it felt to me, the big brother house. This yacht and crew were to become home and almost family for the next two weeks. My room is a student-type accommodation with a small single bunk bed and a small port hole looking down to the water and sharing with two others. I am pleasantly surprised. Although the bed is very narrow and does not have sufficient head room to sit up, the room is compact and better than I thought, even having an en-suite shower room with power shower. I am introduced to the crew who are welcoming and make me feel at home.

These two weeks provided an excellent insight into the industry and a real eye opener. If I am honest it was a time when I seriously doubted this career move. The work was not difficult but somewhat tedious. Being a normal male, cleaning to an A1 standard does not come naturally, but this had to change. Requirements were weekly wash downs, which I thought would be easy like washing a car with a quick sponge and rinse. Not so! This was a wash down on a super yacht and very different from cleaning a car. To explain the laborious process, the yacht has to first be rinsed with fresh water to remove the salt or dirt as washing without doing so will scratch the paintwork. Next it has to be washed with a brush and mitten everywhere including doorways, the deckhands (the ceilings on the outside decks) and even the gutters that drain the water. The soapy water then has to be rinsed off before the water has time to dry otherwise it will leave unacceptable marks (no mean feat in temperatures of 28 degrees+). Finally despite being in glorious sunshine the whole yacht has to be dried in stages to prevent marks being left on the stainless steel or paintwork when the water evaporates. So there you have it. A wash down on a super yacht….this process would take two to three days to complete.

As my time on board progressed I was continually making mistakes. For example I started drying the stainless steel before the deckhand, used a mitten to wash the side instead of a brush, left things on the deck that could mark the teak and wrung the shammy too much before storing it. All these basic mistakes proved to me that even with A Levels and a degree, there is no guarantee of success in practical work on a super yacht. The reality of what this entailed was rapidly sinking in and my illusions of driving tenders and jet skis for the rich and famous were rapidly fading. The crew seemed to have missed the part of their training called positive feedback, and I was bombarded with negative comments about how I need to do this and not that. I found this time hard having come from a profession where I was advising people and being asked for advice. I was making mistakes just washing an ornate object.
I was fortunate to experience a crossing from Genoa to Monaco where the yacht was to be taken for sale in the Monaco Yacht Show. Thankfully my fears of sea sickness did not come true. Neither sadly did my hopes of sitting watching the sea pass, as we began yet another wash down just thirty minutes after leaving the harbour. 

The Monaco Yacht Show was an experience. Having washed the yacht down yet again prior to arrival making it immaculate, I was told we would be rinsing and drying it the next day as salt splashes from the crossing needed to be addressed. Day workers are employed to help. They are assigned to polish all the stainless steel on the yacht, taking four workers two solid days. Then comes the finer detailing. My role was to use a rag and cleaning product and work over a small area approximately one meter square, cleaning any slight mark which would seemingly go unnoticed, but has to be removed to maintain the A1 condition. This level of cleanliness would be a house-proud person’s idea of heaven, though perhaps not mine. I soon realise that everything in this industry takes time. This is not a job for people who like to cut corners, or those who hate cleaning.

The yacht show starts and we are asked to wear our uniform, consisting of white shirts with lapels, black trousers and deck shoes, We wear them all the time as the owner and family are at the show. Interestingly the owner is selling this yacht for a bigger more modern one he is having built. This is not uncommon and I am told of one owner who, before he had even seen his brand new 78 meter yacht which was being built, had already put in an order for a larger one as he felt it was too small. This is, as I said, a crazy world. I was also told of an owner with seven super yachts and on asking why so many I was informed that there are seven oceans and they wanted one in each ocean.

At the show my role is to stand on the yacht and follow (out of sight) any perspective buyers to remove any finger prints left on the stainless steel by them. I stand on the yacht, hands clasped behind my back, with a cloth in hand ready to follow the finger prints…..oh how I start to resent people touching the steel!

So here I am, standing on the back of a super-yacht in one of the most lavish cities in the world, where Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Austin Martins are as common as the Ford Transit’s in England, watching millionaires and billionaires view these incredible yachts. I look around at the beautifully dressed attractive women meandering graciously through the crowds arm-in-arm with their wealthy partners. I am confused by the saying “that money does not bring happiness” as their lives look pretty perfect to me from here. However it is only when I start watching people viewing the boat that I am confused. This beautiful vessel, for the majority aboard, did not bring the excitement and amazement that I personally felt on aboard. I note a blankness, perhaps even emptiness, as prospective buyers look around, as though trying to find fault in perfection. It is then I realise that if you can afford 54 million euros on a yacht, effectively a toy to perhaps be used for only a few weeks a year, then the excitement I feel when buying something is quite different. To be in the league of buying these yachts it seems money almost loses its value as nothing is out of reach financially. I think to myself, “would I want their wealth?” The answer is of course that I would, though if life offered me the choice I would rather have less so that the concept of money maintained its value and the enjoyment and excitement of buying remained.


And so the yacht show came and went. I learnt a great deal from the crew on-board and I was offered a permanent position. After much deliberation and thought I declined as the yachts future looked somewhat uncertain as it was for sale. Instead I returned to Antibes and continued my search. With the experience gained the past three weeks, I was in a much better position for work. My CV improved with the experience and I had an excellent reference from the Captain. After two weeks of dock walking, I landed day work on a beautiful 62 meter motor yacht, which developed into a three month trial and progressed into a permanent position. I was absolutely delighted to be working on a fabulous yacht with a lovely crew.

Ben Proctor left to work on a super yacht aged 28. Through his experience he has written a book, available online titled, “Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide” and developed a website www.workonasuperyacht.co.uk with the aim of helping potential new crew learn about working on a super yacht and how to secure that dream job. 

For more information read Work on a Super Yacht: The Beginners Guide by Ben Proctor 
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