A day in the life of a Superyacht Deckhand

Superyacht deckhand Steven De Lange has been nominated for a Junior Crew Award, he talks to Bluewater about his career so far.

By Sarah Smith-Garrison • 01 June 2021

How did you get in to yachting?

I was a student at Stellenbosch University in Cape Town for 4 years where my friends talked a lot about yachting, they thought I would enjoy this industry, being a lover of the ocean, water sports and especially surfing.
I decided to give it a go, and following completion of my STCW in Cape Town I flew to Nice, France in May 2019.

My first jobs onboard
Staying at a crew house in Antibes, I made friends and managed to get some day work, and then I got called for a 4-week trial period on a 79m yacht in La Ciotat, trialling with 5 other deckhands for one position.

3 days before this temp job ended I got a call for another trial period through a Facebook post, on a 50m, competing with two other deckhands.
I was able to leave my temp job early to try out for this new opportunity, sometimes you just have to take a chance! After my 3-week trial period on the 50m yacht, I was told that I had been chosen to be their new full time junior deckhand.

At what stage of your training are you at on the deck progression chart?

I am fully committed to working towards the OOW ticket. The first yacht I worked on did not allow me to gain enough sea miles to qualify for the Yachtmasters 200gt until mid 2020.

Most deckhands that I have spoken with do their Yachtmasters between 12-24 months of sea service, which is unfortunately when COVID hit and delayed all my plans.

I was able to do the theory exam and am still waiting for an available slot to go and complete my practical exam.

One thing to take note of, is that each yacht follows its own study leave package scheme.
Some offer study leave whereby others do not.
Sometimes it will become necessary to quit your job to focus on your training if your desire to move up the ranks is great enough.

What was your first experience of being a deckhand onboard a superyacht?

My first full time job was on a 50m private yacht with 11 other crew members.
I did a trial period for 3 weeks with two other legends.
I know how tough they found it to choose a final deckhand so I feel lucky enough to have secured this job.

My responsibilities
In those 3 weeks we had to do several wash downs, polishing, tender cleaning and the dreaded teak scrub while the sun was beating down on us. There is no respite in this industry, it’s hard work, regardless of whether you have a night off with the crew and let your hair down! You get up the next day, and you work even harder.
We then went straight into a 3-week boss trip on the French Riviera.
I was really lucky with a supportive crew, being as green as they come, they spent time teaching me the ropes.

The itinerary was pretty calm, we had two crossings to the USA cancelled and there weren’t many watersports with this yacht. But I became part of the boat family and I feel blessed to have worked with this amazing group of people that made my job so much more enjoyable.

Time to move on
We spent over a year in Barcelona and once the yacht was scheduled to move to the shipyard I decided I needed to experience something a little more exciting.

What are your main duties as a deckhand?

As a deckhand your duties are pretty much anything on the exterior of the yacht.
The most important part of the job is maintaining and cleaning the yacht itself.
This can be anything from painting projects, structure repairs, teak scrubs, varnishing, polishing, removing and reinstalling new equipment, washdowns, routine checks on hydraulics and watersports equipment.

When the boss is onboard
You can be expected to do anything that may be required!
Setting up the furniture before the sun comes up, beach setups, tender trips, watersports, lifeguard and safety checks on guests, DJ, entertaining the children with sports and games, making sure the decks are always clear of grease, dirt or trash, anchor watch, keeping tenders prepared for shore runs, fuelling procedures, navigational watchkeeping while the yacht is moving (usually 3-4 hour shifts at night), and anything that the deck team need assistance with on the day.

Coming in and out of port
This is when the deck team gets involved in the mooring procedures.
Usually the officers call the shots - distances to the dock, when to slack on lock off lines - and the deckhands do the hands on duties such as dropping anchor and handling the mooring lines.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I love that we get to travel the world and see all these incredible places we used to dream about visiting, and we do this with a group of people that become lifelong friends.

What is the hardest part of the job?

Saying goodbye to family and friends.

You would think it would get easier, but it doesn’t.

Especially with all this uncertainty revolving around the COVID pandemic, you just don’t know when the next time will be.

What advice would you give to any young deck crew starting their career?

Find a way to set yourself apart from the other 100 deckhands walking the docks.

Make an effort to meet crew and chat to them about their yachting careers.

Don’t jump straight into ‘do you know anyone looking for a deckhand?’ Be thoughtful, be interesting and interested in the crew and the yacht.
We get asked this every day, so if we want to put you forward for a job, the captain/officer will ask us what kind of a person you are and we confidently want to be able to say you are a nice chap that would fit in with the crew.

Take courses that would benefit a yacht. Some yachts look for kite surfing instructors, surfing instructors, drone operators, diving qualifications, personal trainers, DJs, video makers, lifeguards, etc.
If you have work experience previous to joining the yachting industry, think about how you can transfer your skills onboard.

What’s the favourite place you have visited during your time in yachting?

I just joined an 89m yacht a few months ago in the Seychelles.

We spent a full year in Barcelona which was amazing, one of my favourite cities in the world, we’re heading back around the Mediterranean for the upcoming season.

But growing up surfing in a nature reserve in South Africa, the surfer lifestyle is something I gravitate towards, and for me the Seychelles is the ideal place, just being surrounded by nature and sea life was an amazing experience.

The water clarity in the Seychelles is incredible and I highly recommend this as a place to visit for both personal vacations and for charter guests.

It was a welcome change of scenery!

What does a typical day look like for you?

Wake up at 3am
Spot check the decks for grease or dirt, rinse down a section of the yacht, dry water/moist from surfaces, anchor watch, uncover furniture at sunrise, setup water toys, garbage run ashore, refuel tenders, clean tenders.

Next shift at 10am
Maintain the cleanliness of the yacht, assist with daily water sports, entertain the guests and ensure they’re happy.
There will always be something to organise, move or change up for guests. Sort tender trips, dry and prepare new towels and toys for guests.

Night shift
Organise tender trips, entertain guests, cover up furniture at sunset, keep the exterior clean and maintained, re-organise sports store for the morning.

What do you think makes you stand out as an exceptional crew member onboard?

I don’t know that I stand out in any way, there are so many crew members out there with the same qualifications and experience as myself.
I do however have a soft spot for a good social event and making friends.
I have a lot of energy and won’t often turn down an invite for a gathering with like-minded people, I love meeting new people and working in this industry allows me this opportunity.
The contacts I have made in this industry is the reason I am where I am today. Networking is so important!

I have also invested a lot of my time, even before yachting, into photography and videography, building on other skills.

This has become a big role in yachting as charter guests love to see a file of their time onboard at the end of their trip. Always think about how you can add extra to a charter experience.

Being able to operate a drone and create professional video content for sure comes in handy and some yachts are starting to implement this into the job description for some deck roles.

Editor comment: check out Steven’s Instagram page and follow his exciting journey for the upcoming season, and if you want to show your support please cast your vote in the Crew Awards 2021 - Junior Crew category.