I'm On A Boat: The Life Of A Yacht Nurse
Exotic ports of call with crystal blue waters and white sandy beaches could be your everyday workplace as a yacht nurse. Though the hours can be long and some of the work menial, the travel, adventure, and money can make it all worthwhile.
One yacht nurse from Seattle, Cindy Fadden sat down with Nurse.org to talk about the 3 years she served as a registered nurse on a private mega yacht.
“I sold my car and got rid of all my stuff,” she says. “I knew this was what I wanted to do, even though I had never been on a yacht before.”
She has never regretted the decision that has allowed her to pay off her student loans, develop life-long relationships, and visit some of the most breathtaking spots in the world.
Entering the World of Yacht Nursing
Fadden had been working the night shift at Mount Sinai Hospital in Miami for over a year. The night shift can be rough for any nurse, but one of her coworkers absolutely hated it. In her colleague’s search for a new job, she ran across a listing for a yacht nurse.
“I laughed at her. Yeah, right. That can’t be a real thing,” Fadden told her.
But it actually was. When Fadden did her own research, she realized it couldn’t hurt to explore the opportunity herself. After several applications and interviews, she landed her first yachtie job on a 420-foot vessel. It carried up to 70 crew and 25 high-profile guests.
The yacht was in the middle of a guest cruise when she got the call, so she flew to Tahiti to join her new team.
Those first days were rough.
“I came in the middle of a guest trip, so everyone was so busy and not talking to me. I didn’t know anybody, and I was on my hands and knees cleaning most of the time,” she says.
Not every cruise requires medical care, so most yacht nurses perform double duties as a steward(ess), deckhand, or even engineer. Fadden doubled as a stewardess. “When I signed up, I understood that the majority of my job would be housekeeping,” she says.
In addition to the menial work, she shared a small room with two of her crewmates. It was only equipped with bunk beds and one tiny bathroom. Still, she felt the opportunity was worth it.
“It was a hard adjustment, but I really did learn to love the job,” says Fadden.
Amazing Ports of Call
One of the best parts of being a yacht nurse is exploring incredible places. “When you get to a port, there are no guests aboard, so you only work 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. The rest of the time you have off to explore and tour,” she explains.
In those 3 years, Fadden visited New Zealand, Mozambique, Madagascar, Maldives, Seychelles Island, Thailand, and Indonesia.
“Indonesia was really neat. I feel like most of the places were great,” she says. “You experience things you wouldn’t get to experience on your own. On one charter, we had paddle boats on the yacht so we’d go to the little islands on our days off.”
The long workdays and fun experiences on their nights off resulted in several lifelong friendships. Despite leaving the boat 12 years ago, she still sees some of her former crewmates. “I’ve seen 12 people from the boat since I left. Some have come to stay with me, and others, I have visited.”
How to Become a Yacht Nurse
If you’re a nurse interested in taking your career to the high seas, there are a few things to keep in mind. According to Michelle Thornton, Interior Recruiter at Wilson Halligan Yacht Recruiter company, anyone with a nursing qualification can work on a yacht. However, what will set you apart will be any additional skills that would be useful on the boat, such as food service, party-planning, or even engineering.
To get started, you must first earn your STCW10, which is a Basic Safety Training course to working at sea onboard a vessel. Fadden paid $1,200 for this training. Despite the steep price, it got her the job.
Yacht nurses also need an ENG1 Medical Certificate, which shows that you are physically sound to perform certain duties onboard. This has to be completed by an MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency) approved doctor.
If you’re interested in pursuing this career, you should fill out an application at many of the yacht recruiting companies. Interviews will follow along with sending copies of all the required documentation and getting all the required safety courses completed.
Here are a few of the yacht recruitment agencies with current openings for nurses:
Fadden was often the only medical professional on board. She taught CPR classes and performed fire and lifeboat drills. She also oversaw and maintained cleanliness of the medical center, kept all injury logs, and ordered/stocked all the medical inventory.
Being the sole medical provider onboard, Fadden also cared for more critical patients. On one charter, a guest developed appendicitis, but they were too far from land to helicopter or boat him out. Even though the yacht was equipped with an X-ray machine and a Hyperbaric chamber, it was still inadequate for a patient who required advanced medical care and surgery.
For two days, Fadden cared for him in the medical room with antibiotics and pain medication before they got close enough to shore to get him help.
Yacht Nurse Salary and Benefits
The salary for yacht nurses can vary greatly. Fadden was hired for $60,000 a year. With room and board covered, she basically had no bills except her excursions on shore for food and drink.
“I was from America, so I had to pay U.S. taxes on my income. But for the first time in my life, I paid all my credit cards off and my student loans. For once, I was on top of my bills, and I had a savings account,” she says.
The starting salary is generally around $3,000 to $4,500 a month depending on yachting experience and the size of the yacht. Most staff are on a rotation of four months on and two months off.
Fadden’s contract allowed her one month off for every five she worked. The rotation is to allow nurses’ to maintain their qualifications and registration, and more often than not, they are paid half-time for those months off, if not full.
Most yachts also provide a 13th-month bonus. Charter yachts also have another huge bonus in the way of tips.
Nurses are more in demand than ever as yachts increase in size. When the yacht travels, it can be hard to get people medical attention if needed. “There, isn’t, however, much progression for nurses onboard, unless they take the career path of a stewardess,” says Thornton.
“Life at sea is tough due to sharing cabins and generally living in small quarters with other people,” Thornton says. “However, this is also the fun of it and having such a social living environment creates friends for life.”
And if you’re not convinced that yacht life is awesome, you clearly need to watch this:
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