The importance of the crew

The crew is what makes the difference between a good charter vacation and a great one

Crew size can vary from two to over fifty
The crew of the charter yacht Solemates
© Thierry Ameller courtesy of Luxury Yacht Group
Charter yachts come in all sizes and, of course, carry all number of crew. At the lower end, some yachts operate nicely with a captain and a chef, who also doubles as a deckhand and is often the significant other of the captain.

At the other end of the scale, some of the mega-charter yachts have crews as large as 50, although that starts edging into the cruise ship category. For the most part, yachts in the popular mid-sized charter range (30 to 60 metres) will carry 6 to 15 crew members.

While all crew members are trained to be knowledgeable and interchangeable in many roles, the crew will fall into five basic categories and a wise charterer should understand what each can (and can’t) do on a charter.
Chris Caswell
Words By
Chris Caswell
Mary-Jean II captain
The captain of Mary-Jean II working on the bridge
Photo courtesy of YPI

The captain

First and foremost, of course, is the captain. The ultimate responsibility for the yacht rests entirely on his/her shoulders which wear the four gold stripes and therefore the captain’s word is law. That is the basic rule of the sea and, though anyone who dared to cross the captain in olden times was keelhauled, no charterer should test that rule at risk of being put ashore.

The charterer, however, certainly can (and should) make his wishes and desires known to the captain, and charter captains will do everything in their power (short of risking yacht or crew) to make them come true. Draw on the wisdom of your captain to get the most from your time aboard: he can often suggest an itinerary that will be far better than your fondest dreams.

Understand that there are certain realities that a captain, no matter how good or willing, can change. Demanding that your yacht leave the dock for another harbor at the crack of dawn may not be possible because the harbour entrance is too shallow until the tide turns in mid-morning.

Weather can also be a factor, and no savvy charterer will try to argue with a captain who thinks it is too rough for the planned trip of the day. The captain has earned his license by safely navigating yachts for many years, and he is a charter captain because he knows how to satisfy his clients. Besides, dealing with seasick guests is no fun for anyone.

Deck crew
Deckies at work

The deck crew

This includes everyone from the First Officer (who is second to the captain in seniority) down to the deck hands who handle the dock lines and run the tenders. Depending on the size of the yacht, some of the deck crew may double as servers or bartenders during the evening meals, but their primary function is to operate and maintain the yacht.

In your initial meeting with the captain, he will let you know how to make your wishes known. For example, there may be one member of the deck crew who is responsible for launching jetskis or other water toys when guests want them, so requests should be directed to that crewmember. Others may be responsible for operating the tenders to and from the shore or for waterskiing. And some are delegated to just keeping the yacht spotless. Figure out who does what, and life aboard will be simple.

Don’t be shy about asking a member of the deck crew for assistance. All of them are linked by walkie-talkie radios so, if that isn’t his role or the captain has assigned him another project, he can quickly get the right person. Even something as simple as moving a chaise longue into the sun is best left to a member of the deck crew: sliding such a chaise can leave scratches on an expensive deck. Besides, the crew is there to serve you.

Interior crew
Laying the table

Interior crew

This is sort of a misnomer, because they also will serve you when you are outside on the deck but, in landlubber terms, this part of the crew is a combination of restaurant and hotel staff. They will include the chief steward/stewardess, who oversees the interior crew, as well as the team of stewards/stewardesses.

On the hotel side, this team is responsible for refreshing your cabin with fresh sheets and towels and cleaning the cabins and living areas. These are the ones who will turn your bed down at night (and put a chocolate on the pillow) and who can help with a missing button or a spill on a favorite outfit.

If you have any special requests, such as extra towels or pillows, a favorite sparkling water in the refrigerator, or even a wake-up call, the chief stew (as they are called) is the one to inform.

The chef

The captain may be responsible for the yacht, but the most important person on the yacht to many charterers is the chef. Simply put, the chef is, in many cases, as crucial to a great charter experience as the yacht itself.

Before you commit to a particular yacht, ask about the chef’s areas of expertise and ask to see sample menus from past charters to make sure your tastes are compatible. Spending a week with a chef whose specialty is Asian cuisine won’t be fun if you hate noodles and sushi.

The essence of a great charter chef is flexibility, with the ability to shift from a five-course candlelit gourmet dinner to a casual on-deck barbecue to making jam sandwiches for the kids.

Hostesses organise your charter to run smoothly
Precision timing: Hosts and hostesses can organise your charter to run smoothly from start to end
Make it clear beforehand (see Preference Sheets) what you like to eat and drink, and you’ll never have a problem. But remember that the chef is human, too. To prepare that gorgeous breakfast on the aft deck, the chef has to get up before dawn to start the preparations. Lunch can fill the middle of the day, followed by hors d’oeuvres for cocktail hour. Many Europeans don’t want their evening meal served before 9pm which, after the service and clean-up is complete, makes for a very long day.


The engineers are the unsung heroes of charter yachts, because they not only make sure the engines run properly, but all the ancillary systems as well. Engineers spend most of their time below decks and can often be identified by the coveralls they wear.

When the yacht is at anchor or at a dock, the engineering crew is still on duty because the yacht systems are constantly working. The engineering crew sometimes fill in as tender drivers or to help with water toys but, by and large, they are unseen.

Whatever size crew your charter yacht carries, treat them all with respect and thoughtfulness, and they will respond by giving you the cruise of a lifetime.
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