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A Different Path: The Adventurous and Unique World of Yacht Nursing

Jeremy Smith, RN

by Jeremy Smith, RN

I grew up sailing on the Chesapeake Bay on my grandparents’ boat, and spent as much time as possible on the water.  During the colder months, my high school and college years were spent working as a volunteer and per-diem EMT.  After graduating from college with a degree in Environmental Science, I decided to take a planned year off from “normal life” and pursue my passion for sailing.  I found several opportunities working as a volunteer crewmember on various family-owned 40 to 60-foot sailing yachts between Florida and the Caribbean.  One of these yachts ended up hiring me as a charter Captain, and my professional sailing career began.

After working as a Captain for 2 years, I moved into the superyacht world and was hired as a Medical Officer/Lead Deckhand aboard a 289-foot sailing yacht.  I continued working in the superyacht industry and traveled all over the world on a wide variety of vessels.  After 10 years I retired from the maritime world, returned home to New Jersey, and went back to college to earn my BSN degree.  I currently work as a RN in a local Emergency Department.

Education / Certifications Needed

Every yacht crewmember must have a certification called STCW-10, which stands for “Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping.”  This 5-day maritime safety course includes modules in sea survival, personal safety, first aid, and fire fighting techniques.  

Regarding medical licensing, different yachts have varying requirements.  Some yachts may require a RN license, while others may only require an EMT or similar certification.  There are also maritime medical certifications available through the US Coast Guard and other organizations, which are very abbreviated medic courses and teach basic medication administration, IV placement, suturing, etc.  

Job Duties

Most yachts have contracts with a shore-based medical support company, which works with the medical officer to provide medical care to the guests and crew.  The company provides medical oversight, stocks the yacht’s extensive medical kits, and can assist in identifying local medical facilities or organizing medical evacuation for patients if needed. 

I’ll take dolphins over first-year residents any day.

The medical officer’s primary duty is to attend to any medical needs of the guests or crew, under the guidance of the support company.  Minor injuries are seen quite frequently, and some individuals may need assistance in managing exacerbations of chronic conditions.

If medical care is needed, the medical officer completes an assessment and calls the support company to speak directly with a physician.  The company maintains records of what equipment and supplies are available on the yacht and will advise as needed.  The physician can also give orders to administer any needed medications to the patient. 

Very few yachts have designated medical personnel without other job responsibilities.  Usually, it is a hybrid position combined with duties of a steward/stewardess or deckhand.  These additional duties will vary dramatically with the individual employer.

Pros of the Job

A typical break-room for yacht nurses.

Working in the yachting industry comes with a lot of perks.  Crewmembers live and work aboard the yacht, and all living expenses including room and board are completely covered.   The crewmembers go wherever the yacht goes, which provides incredible opportunities to travel all over the world for free.  Contracts vary regarding vacations, but usually 4-6 weeks of paid time off per year is provided, including flights home from wherever the yacht is located.  

Challenges of the Job

When a yacht hires a crewmember, the vessel becomes his or her full time home.  This means that they travel with the yacht and spend very long periods of time away from home.  They live in a very small cabin with a bunk-bed arrangement, usually with a roommate.  

Most crewmembers don’t spend more than a few weeks per year at home, which obviously strains relationships with family and friends.  Due to this challenge, some yachts are now offering rotational positions where the crewmembers travel back and forth between home and the yacht every few months (for example 2 months on/2 months off), but these arrangements are relatively unusual.  

Who is the job perfect for?

These types of positions are ideal for individuals without significant commitments at home such as spouses or children, who are able to leave for long periods of time.  A desire to travel and ability to live and work in a relatively small space is a must.  It is also important to have the ability to work independently, as most yachts only have one medically-trained individual on board.   

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