In Issue 65 of The Crew Report, we spoke to Chief Stewardess Zyanya Sebastian about the barriers to crew career progression that exist in the industry and how these can be overcome. In response to the feature, 'Young promise', we heard from crewmember Lisa Blackshaw who has experienced a similar issue regarding her age. Here, we bring you her comments:

Zyanya Sebastian (far left) and the interior crew of Titania.

I have just read the article regarding Zyanya Sebastian in the Autumn edition (Issue 65) of The Crew Report. We worked together on Titania a year ago when I was deckhand. I am 23 years old and have a similar issue regarding my age. I qualified as a Merchant Navy Deck Officer in 2011 and had just turned 21. In the commercial world, this is the normal age to start out your career as a junior officer, whereas in the yachting industry this is almost unheard of. I have friends who started their cadetship at the ripe age of 16 and were driving 20,000gt tankers solo by the age of 19.
To gain entry through the superyacht world's door, I had to start as a deckhand. Upon reflection, this was the best option to kick start my yachting career on the right foot. I am currently the second officer of a 90m motoryacht, and I am the youngest person on board, leading a deck team of six. This season has been a challenge for me, not only because of my age, but because I am judged for my commercial background.
I believe that yachties could learn a lot of professionalism from the Merchant Navy, but I understand most of it is irrelevant. I was trained to a very high standard of navigation, safety and cargo work, but not expected to develop management skills until understudying Chief Mate Unlimited. I don't have a bosun or a lead deckhand on board, so I have been leading a deck team up to 10 years my senior. Once the deckhands got to know me, and realised I had already paid my dues by starting out at the bottom of the ranks, they soon began to listen and respect me. But it wasn’t easy establishing myself.

"The way I look at it, Zyanya and myself are the future of yachting; we are capable of change and we are capable of recognising the potential of an individual based on their attitude and capabilities."

I also had issues at the other end of the ranking system, because the chief mate was 15 years older than me and had started his career in the industry at my age. He had all the deck skills and I had all the bridge skills. On my first day, I expressed to him that I wanted to further develop my ability on deck. He was happy for me to teach him celestial navigation and other bridge related topics, but the favour wasn't being reciprocated. Soon enough, I was stuck on the bridge doing all the paperwork; conducting all the drills and training, while he was on deck with the lads; paid the bigger wage to chamois and varnish rails! This didn’t seem fair, but became the way we operated our vessel.

Is there a separate issue here for ex-Merchant officers integrating into this industry? As yachts are being built bigger than ever, commercial deck (and engineer officers) are called upon more now than ever, but the yachting experience is still essential. Where is the cross over mark? Surely someone in my position is ideal to work up the ranks, reach Master Mariner, with the yachting principals? Yet the chances of me securing a chief officer job, despite having 5 years experience and the right ticket, is unlikely anytime soon due to my young age.
There isn't a solution to either problem, but the way I look at it, Zyanya and myself are the future of yachting; we are capable of change and we are capable of recognising the potential of an individual based on their attitude and capabilities. One of Zyanya's best friends is Master Mariner under the age of 30 and, by Zyanya's opinion, will make a perfectly good female captain. So far in yachting I have had some wonderful experiences and I could never go back to the commercial industry because of this new lifestyle. However, the bad experiences have been just as valuable. I have learned how not to do things, what works and what doesn't work when it comes to operating a superyacht and this is what I will take with me to the top.