Everything You Need to Know About Ship Steward Jobs

Everything You Need to Know About Ship Steward Jobs

A ship’s Steward (or Stewardess) will most often be found working on a cruise ship, a mega yacht or a superyacht. Their main tasks are to help prepare and serve meals to guests and take care of housekeeping. However, that’s just scratching the surface and on a luxury cruise or yacht they may find themselves doing anything from creating flower arrangements to acting as a personal assistant to an important passenger.

In this article, which is one of a series of blog posts that takes a deep dive into different careers in the maritime industry, we will take a look at exactly what a Steward on a ship does, who they work alongside most closely, and how you can become a Steward or Stewardess yourself.

Everything you need to know about ship Steward jobs

It is important to keep in mind that different companies operate slightly differently, and a Steward’s duties and responsibilities can differ due to a number of factors: The employer, the size of the boat, how many other crew members are working in the Stewards Department etc.

the bow of a yacht

For example, on some vessels you might find that the term Stewards Department isn’t even used. You may also hear the department referred to as the Interior Team or Housekeeping.

Regardless of what it’s called, the department is a vital one when it comes to the comfort and satisfaction of the guests.

Are Stewards considered to be seafarers?

You might not think of a Stewardess on a yacht as someone working in a typical seafarer’s job, and whilst they won’t be on deck with the Able Bodied Seamen or Chief Officers, or down in the engine room with the Chief Engineer or Electro-Technical Officer, Stewards are still an important part of the crew and are considered unlicensed personnel.

three stewardesses on a sailing yacht

Just like in the merchant marines, Stewards are also counted as Ratings - in other words a skilled person who works in a supporting role in a ship’s department. Some companies refer to them as Ordinary Seaman and employers in the United States usually need Stewards to hold a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC.)

The majority of employers will also require their Stewards and Stewardesses to have their STCW Basic Safety Training - also known as the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers.

Who works in the Stewards Department?

Stewards and Stewardesses report directly to the Chief Steward or Chief Stewardess. On all but the smallest yachts there will usually be a Third Steward / Stewardess and a Second Steward / Stewardess.

Some smaller boats or boats that only run day long charters may have just a solo Stewardess or Steward, or even a Deck Stew - someone who works both on deck and in the interior of the yacht. Obviously on a vessel the size of a cruise ship, there will be a whole army of Stewards and Stewardesses.

cruise ship

The Chief Cook and other cooks and crew, such as the Messman, also work in the Stewards Department. The cook or cooks will spend their time in the ship’s kitchen - referred to as the galley on a boat of any size, while the Messman is an entry level ship job and responsible for washing dishes, serving meals to crew, and ensuring that the galley and crew mess are kept clean and tidy.

What are a Steward’s duties and responsibilities?

As well as serving meals and general housekeeping, a Stewardess or Steward is responsible for carrying out anything else they are tasked with by the Chief Stew. There may be some overlap in duties if there are a few Stewards onboard and often there will be a rota which may change during the course of a voyage or charter.

For example, one Steward may take the day shift and serve guests during one charter, and the other will take the night shift, which usually involves staying up late to serve guests who want to party into the night, cleaning public areas, and prepping for the next morning’s breakfast.

table laid out on a yacht

Depending on their level of experience, the Chief Stew may decide to keep them in those roles for the entire charter season, or have them swap so that they both get to experience all duties onboard.

When it comes to the actual duties they may be asked to perform, the list is almost endless, and on a superyacht, can depend on the whims and requirements of the guests.

List of Stewardess duties on a ship

Bear in mind some of these will be duties more commonly performed on a cruise ship, some will be more typical of a luxury yacht, and some might cross over.

  • Helping the cook to prepare meals if asked.
  • Serving passengers and guests with their meals and drinks.
  • Laying out buffets.
  • Bartending.
  • Cleaning and tidying guest cabins and public areas and generally maintaining the interior of the ship or yacht.
  • Doing laundry - both for the crew and the guests.
  • Communicating guest or passenger requests, complaints and other information to their Chief Stew, the Deck Department or even the Master / Captain.
  • Doing cabin turndowns (preparing the cabins and beds for the guests to retire for the night.)
  • Decorating dining areas and creating table décor.
  • Cleaning the crew mess, maintenance and deep cleaning (when between charters.)
  • Being a stand-in Personal Assistant for yacht owners or important guests.
  • Acting as a tour guide when guests go ashore.
  • Prepping for meals and laying tables.
set table on the deck of a yacht

What qualifications do ship’s Stewards need?

The good news for anyone who is thinking about becoming a Steward either on a cruise ship or a chartered yacht is that no official Steward qualifications are typically needed for this type of job at sea when you first start out as a Third or Junior Stew.

Having said that, experience in the hospitality industry (waiting tables in a high end restaurant, housekeeping in a five star hotel or event planning)  or even in some form of customer service (for example in an exclusive or designer retail store) is a definite advantage, and some employers may require you to have experience in food and beverage service and even culinary training.

However, this is not always necessary as many employers keep in mind that a huge part of becoming a successful Steward or Stewardess is on the job training, and as a Junior or Third Stew you would typically be spending your time in the laundry room, rather than doing silver service.  

washing machine door

As mentioned above, most employers will require all Stewards to have their STCW as well as a medical certificate. Some vessels might also require a Food Safety and Hygiene certificate.

What skills and personal qualities do ship’s Stewardesses need?

Passengers on cruise ships and (particularly) on superyachts have paid a good deal of money for their cruise or charter. Either that, or they will be the owner of the yacht and his or her friends - people that have a lot of money and expect nothing but the very best.

Stewards and Stewardesses will offer five star service (minimum!) at all times. They must be discreet - particularly on yachts - and have a friendly but respectful nature, and be a good communicator.

waitress in smart white shirt and bow tie

Stews must always be well groomed and will be expected to be wearing their appropriate uniform depending on the time of day and situation.

Being conversant in a number of different languages will also help set you apart from other Stewardess job applicants - after all, you never know who will be onboard. Furthermore, language skills will set you in good stead for working in other parts of the world.

But perhaps most importantly, Stewards need to be prepared to work hard - with a smile on their face at all times!

What other jobs are there on cruise ships and superyachts?

Just like merchant navy ships, cruise liners and yachts will also have Officers and a deck crew onboard - jobs like Deck Cadets or Junior Deckhands, and Bosun. They will also have crew who work in the engine room such as engineers and marine electricians.

smiling seafarers working on engine
Courtesy of the IMO #MaritimeWomenPhotoShare Campaign

While the crew on a yacht is normally small - as it is on even cargo and container ships, which might surprise you - it probably goes without saying that there is a veritable army of people onboard who help to keep cruise ships running safely and smoothly.

From the person who works in one of the onboard gift shops, to the children’s entertainer to plumbers and carpenters to barmen and lifeguards to hairdressers and waste water and garbage operators - the list of cruise ship jobs is varied beyond belief.

What other seafarer jobs are there in the merchant marines?

If having to be passenger facing and somewhat formal doesn’t appeal to you, maybe a maritime career on a mega yacht or a cruise ship isn’t for you. In which case you might like to think about jobs on ships in the merchant marines / merchant navy.

view of containers on a ship from the bridge

There are plenty of entry level ship cargo jobs to think about - for example Electrical Cadet, Engine Cadet, Junior Electrician, Junior Engineer, Motorman, Oiler or Wiper.

There are also jobs at sea that involve skilled manual labor such as welding, for example, Shipfitter jobs. You can even find work on a ship as an Excavator Driver, or how about working on an oil tanker as a Pumpman, making sure all the systems and pipes are in good working order?  

Whatever seafarer job you choose, whether it’s as a Stewardess on a mega yacht or an Able Bodied Seaman on a container ship, you’re sure to have an interesting and fulfilling career ahead of you.

Read the previous article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Excavator Driver Jobs on Ships

Read the next article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Electrical Cadet Jobs on Ships