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Why are Appearances so Important on a Superyacht?

Introduction

“Don’t judge a person on their looks. True beauty is on the inside” said nobody in yachting. Ever. Sooner or later in your yachting career, you will be judged by your looks. My personal experience was working for an owner who didn’t like how much I sweated on deck in the Mediterranean midday sun. It has always amused me the irony of how an industry that needs depth to keep its yachts afloat, can be so shallow. In this article, we will take a deeper look at why appearances are deemed so important in the luxury yacht industry and what this means for you.

What is the point of a superyacht?

First, it is important to understand the ‘point’ of a superyacht. It is not an uncommon complaint by wealthy guests onboard a superyacht to hear, “the yacht is moving too much and would you please do something about it.” That’s right, you heard correctly. A boat – on the water – that is moving. Whoever would have thought? Owners spend fortunes on yachts with sophisticated zero-speed stabilization systems to keep the decks level  – so much so, that some yachts have snooker tables onboard. But why? Why not buy a luxury villa instead? (They have these as well). “But with a yacht, you can go anywhere in the world,” I hear you contest, and you’d be right. But, in my experience, your typical yacht owner isn’t the sort of person who likes to wander off the beaten track but prefers to hang out in their familiar haunts. It doesn’t make sense and it is not supposed to. In my opinion, a superyacht is all about social status. Who can display the greatest, frivolous wealth with their “fuck-you” money? However, just don’t take my word for it.

Conspicuous Consumption

In 1899, an American economist and sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, wrote a book entitled “The Theory of the Leisure Class” where he first introduced the idea of “Conspicuous Consumption.” The definition is described as “the act of displaying ostentatious wealth to gain status and reputation in society.” Veblen said that the need to consume goods and flaunt one’s wealth goes back to the tribal period and although the objects have changed, the concept of “flamboyant ownership,” remains the same. So nowadays, instead of prancing around in freshly slain wooly mammoth skin, you get to show off on a superyacht instead. It’s a bit like your average junior deckhand buying a new pair of shoes with their first paycheck, to look good on a night out. There are many more theories on the subject  – both psychological and economic – that introduce the idea that conspicuous consumption could be caused by the insecurity of an individual and their need to be recognised socially (owning lots of pairs of shoes). So how rich do you have to be to afford a superyacht?

Let’s talk money

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Before we talk more about owners, first you have to understand that not all yachts are made equal. There are yachts and then there are SUPERYACHTS. The type of yacht I refer to here – and the sort you should ultimately be aiming to work on – are generally not the sort that can be afforded by your average celebrity. Also, understand that what I am about to tell you is entirely theoretical, and embellished for dramatic effect. To give you an idea, the estimated cost of building a yacht in 2024 is around $2m per linear meter. By superyachting standards, a modest-sized 40m yacht will set you back $80m. Then there are the running costs, such as fuel and berthing fees. An owner can expect to spend 10% of the build price per year on the running costs. That is $8m (including crew salaries – yippee)! Check out this running cost calculator.   

It is important to understand that a yacht is not an investment. The owner is going to lose money, which is kind of the point (there is nothing more tragic than a superyacht on a tight budget) so your discretionary income must be able to absorb the cost. If you take the 50/30/20 rule (needs, wants and savings) as an example, a superyacht should come out of your 30% wants. So, if you want a superyacht and spend all your 30% on running costs, you need to save up for 10 years by earning a gross annual income of $26,666,666.70 (not factoring in inflation, etc). A quick Google Search on people earning those sorts of figures reveals that less than 100 CEOs in the US earn that sort of money. To picture this sort of superyacht owner, think of large business owners, hedge fund managers, and tech start-up gurus as a source of inspiration.

What is your typical owner like?

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Let’s suppose you work on a yacht that is the pride and joy of a tech business owner. What sort of person is that? How are they going to use their yacht, and more importantly, how does this relate to appearances? It should be noted that you don’t make superyacht money by lounging around all day unless you have inherited the wealth (and inherited wealth is a nightmare to work for). A common trait that applies to all the owners I have worked for is an addiction to work, money, and power. Even when onboard, they are always working, taking phone calls, conducting business meetings, and entertaining associates. Your boss’s yacht will almost certainly be registered in a tax haven, owned by a shell company, and written off against tax as a “corporate entertainment expense.” Owners never seem to truly switch off and all of the owners I worked for were on at least their third marriage. So what sort of expectations do you think an owner has of their crew if they choose to put work before family?

The owner’s brand

The point I am getting at is that if the boss is constantly working onboard and owns a superyacht as a status symbol, you, as a crewmember, are directly representing your boss’s brand. What does this typically look like? Well, to say that “everything is immaculate at all times,” would be an understatement – and that includes your uniform, grooming, and looks. Why do fashion labels pay models to represent their brand? Why, as consumers, are we attracted to this? Why is the image of success represented as slim, shiny, and pristine? I am not advocating this stance but simply relaying what I have seen in the industry. When my now wife was getting into the industry, she had to spend her last food money on dying her hair blond. That didn’t matter as she couldn’t eat anyway; as she had to drop two dress sizes by fasting. Yacht uniforms typically don’t cater to big sizes. Brutal? Absolutely. Speaking of uniforms, to give you an idea of what a boss might be willing to spend on appearances, one yacht I worked on budgeted over $5000 for uniforms and included an Armani evening shirt and trousers, a dress watch, and Ray Ban sunglasses. P.S. I was one of over 26 crew members. Do the math.  On another yacht, many of the female service team had modeling backgrounds and were issued with expensive frilly knickers as part of their evening uniform. As creepy as that sounds, these quirks are not uncommon in yachting. Please also understand that I am not saying you have to be a supermodel – my wife and I certainly aren’t – but this is out there.

How to ‘front’

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Why are Appearances so Important on a Superyacht? 6

Appearance isn’t just about looks. How you appear in person, how you ‘front’, is equally, if not more, important. How you ‘front’ ultimately comes down to giving a strong first impression whether you are going to an interview for your first yachting job or meeting guests onboard a superyacht. Looks will only get you so far. To thrive in the superyacht industry you have to give the appearance of being confident, positive, friendly, and eager to serve. Not overly confident or arrogant, not introverted and aloof, but with just the right amount of confidence to subliminally say, “I know what I am doing. I am good at what I do, and I’ve got you.” Your body language, posture, eye contact, expression, and gestures all play into this. How you front also plays into how you carry yourself on deck. Deck crew are responsible for making a good first impression, such as meeting a guest off their private jet, tender, or opening their limousine door. To take this to the extreme, I once worked on a charter where the guests were Middle Eastern royalty. Hours before the charter began, there was a crew meeting attended by everyone and the boss’s attaché briefed the entire crew on how they were expected to interact with the guests; how they were to be addressed, how not to look at the females (for cultural reasons), and the order in which to open the limousine doors (starting with the king). This is what I mean by ‘front.’

Time is money

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In the case of a high-net-worth individual, their time is money. A lot of money. So everything we do on a superyacht is geared towards giving the appearance of time efficiency. Funnily enough, there have been plenty of times working on deck when, even though everything has been taken care of and there is very little to do, we still have to give the impression (or appearance) that we are tirelessly fussing over the tiniest of details to please the boss. A person who works hard is time-poor, has a high net worth, and is blowing $8m per year on the running costs of their superyacht – including crew salaries  – so they do not want to see crew idly standing around doing nothing. Trust me. Also, RICH PEOPLE DO NOT LIKE TO WAIT! Being punctual is hugely important when it comes to appearances and setting a good first impression. 

First impressions

Research says it takes as little as 7 seconds to make a first impression. It also suggests that someone who had made a poor first impression will find it much harder to remedy this. This is particularly important when undergoing your first interview onboard a superyacht. An experienced ‘yachtie’ will have developed a somewhat unhealthy obsession for micro details (people who are OCD generally do quite well in yachting). It could be an 80m yacht and you will be expected to fuss over and care about the tiniest detail, such as making sure the head of a machine screw is cleaned of polish residue with an earbud. To sum up, if you turn up for an interview with literally a hair out of place, it will be noticed and scrutinized by the experienced crew member interviewing you. (If you are late – don’t bother). Don’t do what I did and turn up to your first job interview on a superyacht wearing odd socks. I didn’t know you had to take your shoes off upon boarding.(I didn’t get the job). You will often hear the phrase “must have a good eye for detail” in a job description. This is what I am getting at.

Tattoos

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Tattoos are a common sore point for Gen Z’s entering the industry. My observation is that it seems less common NOT to have a tattoo these days. Understand that tattoos can work against your chances of success – especially if they are below the sleeve line – because they don’t display the appearance the boss wants to uphold. The same is true of piercings. My advice is that if you are thinking about getting a tattoo, wait until you have been in the yachting industry for a couple of seasons so that you can get the lay of the land. If you have visible tattoos, you might consider tattoo removal.

The appearance of the yacht

Appearances also apply to the superyacht itself. For example, we spend a ridiculous amount of time each day on deck just cleaning windows. Why? Well, what impression, what appearance do you think is set if the boss looks out of the window of their $80m superyacht at a pristine turquoise vista, only to have their gaze interrupted by salt smears on the glass? Any deckhand who has spent any time in the industry will tell you that the “most” important part of a superyacht to keep clean is the windows. Then there is the stainless … and so on. Bottom line – you are paid to maintain the appearance of the superyacht.

Summary

To sum up, appearances are important on a superyacht because you are directly representing the boss’s brand. The standards are high, as are the boss’s expectations. But remember – appearances aren’t just about looks, they are also about how you “front.” Be confident but don’t be a chop. Also, understand that you don’t need to be a model to join yachting – personality goes a long way – and if you spend your time aspiring to look a certain way and comparing yourself to others, this will negatively affect your mental health. Rather focus on controlling what you can. Remember, it is the crew that puts “sexy” in a superyacht, and “sexy” isn’t a look but a feeling earned through self-respect.  

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