Insight: How to become a yacht purser
By Georgia Tindale
If you know anything about the yachting industry, chances are, there will be some onboard roles that are familiar to you: deckhand, chief stew, captain, chef, and so on. One role which may not immediately spring to mind, however, is that of a superyacht purser.
Here, we chat to Andrew Roch, Founder of The Crew Academy, which launched the industry’s first-ever purser training course back in 2010 – that has since received full IAMI & GUEST accreditation – to discover all you need to know about the realities of working in this challenging and fulfilling position, as well as getting the lowdown on how to break into it as an outsider.
In a nutshell, what does a yacht purser do?
There is not a simple answer to this: there are six different types of purser! These are crew pursers, deck pursers, guest pursers, general pursers, purser’s assistants and land-based executive officers. Although the role traditionally was someone responsible for the accounts and other secretarial duties on board a yacht, the role has now morphed into one which encompasses legal issues, human resources, port clearance responsibilities and so much more. In my view, pursers should sit on the same level as the chief officer: their responsibilities are so varied, and they are integral to the operational management of any vessel.
Every boat needs a different type of purser, so we need to find a different purser to suit the requirements of each boat: there is no ‘one size fits all.’ Notably, the size of the boat will determine how many, and which of these various purser roles you need. The larger vessels at 120-160+ metres will have between two to four pursers on full rotation, as there would be upwards of 100 crew working on board to look after.
What kind of person becomes a purser?
All kinds of people! On our courses, we have pursers who are 55-year-old ex-Mercy Ship hospital staff, ex-lawyers and accountants, ex-cruise ship staff, operational directors, and guest directors. We have pursers who are 25-year-old stewardesses that have been fast-tracked into the role. Naturally, we also work and support those who have followed the more traditional career progression from stewardess, second stew, chief stew, head of department to culminate in the role of purser.
How much does a yacht purser earn?
When I set up the training school 12 years ago, they were being paid 4-5,000 euros per month, and the chief stews who were performing some of the same duties as pursers weren’t being paid anything near that. We set a goal of wanting pursers to be paid €7,000 euros and to obtain the same rotation as the bridge roles, and we achieved that within five years. We are now seeing purser salaries of between seven and nine thousand euros per month on the big boats plus maternity benefits and full 10-10 rotation.
Is the yachting industry a good place to work?
Yes. Yachting attracts both the wild and the wonderful – it is this incredible, vibrant amalgamation of truly unique human beings. I would absolutely recommend it, even if you just do a season to dip your toe in and see if you like it. Of course, it can be a tough industry: long hours, difficult living conditions, demanding guests, challenges across every part of your day. But the resilient ones who are well trained and have a plan are the ones who succeed.
How has the industry changed as a place to work?
It is incredible the way the industry has progressed in terms of looking after its employees, and these workplace policies – a full maternity policy on a 120-metre boat for example – are being driven by the pursers themselves. We are seeing yachting mature into a safe, protected industry that values its crew and their senior leaders, including pursers.
What top three qualities do I need to succeed as a purser?
You need to be empathetic, kind, and process-driven. The purser is the Switzerland of the vessel – neutral territory that is not linked to a single department but is its own standalone, unique operation. This means they can often be the safeguarding officer on board, you knock on their door and tell them, ‘I need some help,’ and they will come to your aid and point you in the right direction.
Today’s pursers can deal with issues as diverse as contract law to suicide prevention and mental health support and are there as your counsel as a crew member, alongside doing their statutory job. Over the next decade, I fully expect the role to evolve further into being a mandatory certified professional position where incredibly holistic, caring and supportive crew take up the roles.
This all sounds great! How do I become a purser?
One route would be taking part in our training courses. These were formerly residential but now take place entirely online – we have built a tailored virtual learning environment platform that offers students so much more than just sitting on a call for hours. It encompasses all of your resources, exams, assignments, assessments and more. It is an entire Master’s level course delivered live on Zoom over an intensive period of a few weeks or on a flexible program over a period of months.
You can also become a purser without doing any formal educational training, but it is notable that 15% of our students are existing pursers who want to solidify their learning and ensure that they are keeping their skills up to date and working in line with industry expectations. 12 years in, we are proud to say that we are approaching 650 pursers who have come through our programme, and we expect to have over 100 people taking part in the purser program this year.
I don’t have any industry experience. Am I eligible to sign up?
As a UK-registered company and as a caring and nurturing school, we are proud to have a totally non-discriminatory practice toward our students. We don’t care who you are, what your current role is, your nationality or how good your English is, we would love to take you on and help you realise your potential. All you have to do is take the first step of signing up!
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