Looking for a new challenge in 2013? How about a career in powerboating?
There’s only one absolute necessity for making a living on the water – you’ve got to love, live and breathe it
If you’re thinking of changing careers or trying to decide what to do in life, stop and ask whether there’s a career waiting for you doing something you truly love – powerboating.
There are more than 6,000 superyachts afloat globally – 80% of which are powerboats – all of which need crew. There are over 200 RYA-recognised sea schools specialising in powerboat tuition – all of which need instructors. Every day of the year, there are deliveries taking place and charter skippers being paid for doing what they love… So what’s stopping you?
What careers are there?
To earn a living in powerboating there are only really a handful of properly defined careers: instructing, delivery, charter and the various superyacht positions. Many of the professionals out there do bits of all four and won’t think twice whether the boat has sails or not... Specialisation has its place – engineers in particular take note – but good all-rounders are worth their weight in gold.
Powerboat instructing with an RYA qualification is a fairly straightforward and risk-free route into a career in the industry. There are around 1,200 RYA accredited schools that need powerboat instructors year-round, both in the UK and abroad, and qualifying won’t break the bank or even require you to give up your current day-job. Furthermore, the association’s instructor training scheme is designed in such a way that newly qualified candidates without actual teaching experience are able to gain employment.
However, most RYA schools teach both sailing and powerboating and will hire few, if any, powerboat-only instructors (unless you are prepared to take the Dinghy Instructor’s course once you’re in the door). There are just 200 or so accredited specialist powerboat schools, so think carefully about what else you can offer a potential employer.
How long will it take?
With full-time dedication, a total novice can become an RYA instructor in less than a year and for experienced pilots, qualifications can be obtained in weeks for just a few hundred pounds.
Minimum RYA requirements
In order to take the basic instructor’s course that qualifies you to teach beginners, you must be 16 years of age and be a competent, experienced powerboater with RYA Level 2 and First Aid certificates. Competence is assessed prior to starting the three-day instructor’s course and schools will look for at least five seasons’ experience of powerboating, or one season as full-time work.
Pay and conditions
Pay often starts at minimum wage and you may find yourself having to work every hour you can get in order to make ends meet. However, if you view this as an apprenticeship, the more hours you put in, the quicker you can progress beyond this point. Further training is often provided free or at a reduced rate and with your foot in the door you begin to gain a reputation, make contacts and accrue that all-important experience.
The MCA – the UK’s maritime authority – insists on certain standards for boats being offered for charter, just as they insist the skipper taking out passengers is of a certain standard. There are three routes within the RYA programme to get qualified as a charter skipper; only two of which lead on to MCA qualifications for skippering yachts over 24m in length (superyachts). Deciding which to take depends on how much you know already and the extent of your career ambition.
For absolute beginners, learning the basics with a club or with family and friends should be combined with the first steps in the RYA Powerboat Scheme – RYA Level 1 or Level 2 certificates, each of which is a two-day course costing around £150 – or a week’s course known as Competent Crew, which is the start of the RYA Sail Cruising or Motor Cruising Scheme.
The benefits of following the Powerboat Scheme are that you can start at a young age, and the courses are short and relatively cheap. But bear in mind that if your ambitions extend to chartering more than 20 miles from a safe haven or skippering a superyacht, you will need to switch to either the Sail or Motor Cruising scheme, build up a considerable quantity of sea miles and get a Yachtmaster certificate or continue on up to the MCA Officer of the Watch certificates.
If you have contacts and experience and you want to turn it into a job on the water you could be as little as a weekend’s course away from making it happen.
RYA Level 2 is, these days, the ground level certificate for working behind the wheel of a powerboat. Even five-times world champion and yachtsman of the year, Steve Curtis, was required to take the course back in 2004 before being permitted to drive any boats at the Southampton Boat Show. So, for the rest of us, getting seasonal work, such as operating a harbour launch or a runabout for a marina or boatyard, is certainly within reach!
In fact, the range of permitted commercial activities for Level 2 holders is greater than you might think. The MCA ‘Red’ code of practice permits commercially endorsed Level 2 powerboaters with just one year’s experience to take a vessel up to 24 metres long (78ft) with a dozen passengers up to three miles from a ‘nominated departure point for sport or pleasure’ – in good weather and daylight. You’d have to be pretty creative to turn a profit under those sorts of restrictions but in an interesting harbour with wealthy clientele, it could just work!
Taking the next few steps up to Advanced Powerboat (with a commercial endorsement) will permit you to expand your radius to 20 miles from any safe haven with no daylight or weather restrictions. This is enough freedom to skipper a charter boat offering anything from high-speed experience rides, parascending and sea angling to camera boats for photographers, TV and film crews. Combine it with an instructor’s certificate and an RYA Powerboat School endorsement and then get busy marketing yourself.
Bigger boats and further afield
Although the Powerboat Scheme doesn’t limit you to small boats, there are different skills and qualifications needed for travelling more than 20 miles from a safe haven, which are covered in the upper reaches of the Sail or Motor Cruising Scheme. At this level, if you have no knowledge of sailing and never intend to sail, then look for motorboat schools offering the Motor Cruising scheme. The course costs more than the sail scheme (due to the price of the fuel used) and, like taking your driving test in a car with an automatic transmission, you are not qualified to skipper a commercial charter on a sailing vessel.
The basic qualification is a set of four safety courses known collectively as STCW95. All four can be taken in a week at any number of training establishments worldwide for about £850. There is more scope for specialisation on board a superyacht – chefs, engineers, silver-service standard stewards and stewardesses need not be qualified to drive the boat or navigate – however, all-rounders will be retained more readily in the low season.
Entry-level Deckhand and Hospitality positions will be advertised at training schools, on superyacht websites and filled by word of mouth, on recommendation and by personality. Pay varies but should start on or about £250 per week (room and board included).
The route to the top deck is considerably more structured but salaries for First Mates and Captains regularly exceed £50,000 per year. The UKSA offers a three-year cadetship course starting with a six-month intensive mile-building period to get candidates up to Yachtmaster Offshore level. They then head out into the world for a year to get hands-on experience on board ship, followed by further studies and MCA exams.
Skippers employ a First Mate as deputy. Second Mate and bosun are in charge of the deckhands doing anything and everything. Inside staff include Steward/stewardess, waiters etc; sommelier and chef; electronics officer and engineers.
Without contacts and experience, this avenue would appear to be a closed shop. Face it – if you were the proud owner of a boat that needed sailing on your behalf, would you trust someone new to the industry over someone with hundreds of thousands of miles’ experience?
However, there are apprenticeships with established companies, you can crew to gain experience or you can simply start up your own business and hope you’ve got enough luck and nous to make it work. Websites such as Crewseekers, crewmatch, globalcrewnetwork etc. all list delivery jobs and if you’re willing to pay your way and travel at short notice, who knows where you might end up?
To find out more about powerboating, powerboating courses and the new compulsory Professional Practices and Responsibilities course, for anyone wishing to use their RYA qualifications professionally as skipper or crew visit www.rya.org.uk
Written by Rob Melotti on behalf of the RYA