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Want to see the world and get paid well for it?

Consider the life of a stewardess aboard a superyacht crew. While you'd be a glorified housekeeper in a crisp white uniform, the perks are many. Education requirements vary, but start pretty low, and you can work your way up the career ladder.

No experience? Start at $3,000 a month with room and board paid. With 10 years' experience, you could be making $7,000 a month or more, depending on the job. Technicians and engineers can start higher, as can someone with the captain's license.

Superyachts are more than 80 feet, though the pay and perks are better the bigger the boat gets, for the most part. Working for a charter company gives extra earning potential, but a lot more stress.

"It can be a great career path for the right individual," said Donna MacPhail, who started Palm Beach Yachts International with husband Duane in 1995 as a crew placement service. The company has grown into yacht management, brokerage, sales and charters.

A service-minded person who is willing to work a varied schedule and give up many family holidays can take a $900 safety course and join a yacht crew, probably with a year's contract, she said.

Yachting is a niche industry. About 4,500 superyachts roam the world and provide employment for 30,000 people in the United States, including landside jobs, according to the U.S. Superyacht Association based in Fort Lauderdale.

For a $6 billion industry in the U.S., "it feeds a lot of people," said John Mann, chairman of the association.

"It's like a floating stimulus package," he said.

These ships sail the planet's oceans, primarily the Caribbean in the winter and Mediterranean in the summer, and call at such exotic ports as St. Martin in the Caribbean; the San Blas Islands off Panama; Hvar, Croatia; Ibiza, Spain; and Bermuda.

"Like nothing I've ever seen," Bridget Alsup of Portland, Ore., said of the San Blas Islands.

While the job is demanding and long when owners are aboard in these exotic locations —- maybe for just a few days, maybe for a month or more — the in-between times are much more casual.

"You shouldn't look at it as just a game," said Judy Le Riche of South Africa, who serves as a lower-level stewardess on the same crew as Alsup. The two were part of a group of crew members chatting recently at Rybovich marina. "It's hard work."

Don't believe the antics you see on Bravo's reality show Below Deck, said Sean Dunlap, 37, of Annapolis, Md. Dunlap serves as first officer but has worked his way up in the business after working part-time in the Savannah, Ga., shipyard during college.

When in exotic ports, you usually get a chance to get off the boat and have fun, "but you don't play with the boss' toys," said second engineer Bryan Millspaugh, 34, who has been based in Jupiter for the past year. With seven years in the business, he moved from working at a marina to working on a crew and figures he'll always be doing things he has learned on the job.

Alsup, 27, joined her current crew as third stewardess in July in Germany when the 191-foot yacht was finishing maintenance. That means she supervises the housekeeping side of things. She knew when she took a cruise at age 12 she wanted to work on a boat. Alsup saw a good deal of Europe before the boat departed for an extended stay in West Palm Beach at the Rybovich marina — with stops in Norway, England, the Azores, Bermuda. And the yacht made a quick run to the Bahamas once since it got here.

It's a work-hard, play-hard life.

Just ask Reid Dickson, 24, of Toronto, whose title is second engineer.

For a while he worked on a charter yacht, where he could earn half his salary again in tips in just a two-month span. "At the end of it, you get this big honking envelope," he said.

But the pace was brutal: up at 6 a.m. and no sleeping until the last guest went to bed. Burnout is fast. Now he prefers a private yacht.

Did you know?

According to the U.S. Superyacht Association, the annual total expenses for a 55-meter (180-foot) yacht is $4.75 million dollars, which includes crew salaries, as well as money spent for provisions, port and dockage fees, maintenance, insurance, fuel and other expenses.

OPENINGS AT SEA 04/06/14 [Last modified: Sunday, April 6, 2014 3:24pm]
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