Over the last few weeks, we have been looking into getting a degree as superyacht crew and whether it is possible for crew to broaden their knowledge and employability inside the industry and on land.

You might have read our most recent article by Emma Baggett at The-OM, Reasons Why a Degree will Supercharge Your Career. If you missed this one, make sure you have a read. Emma left us wondering what the reality of doing a degree whilst working onboard is? Is it possible? And, what drives superyacht crew to sign up?

We talk to Richard, a lead deckhand on an 80m Motor Yacht, who is currently a student on the BSc Sustainable Maritime Operations program with MLA College. He is also studying for his OOW modules. Richard reveals what gaining a degree qualification at sea is like for those thinking it is a path they may like to take:

Getting a Degree as Superyacht Crew
Photo by Lewis Keegan on Unsplash

Why did you sign up? What are your career plans and goals, and why is this degree qualification part of that plan?

Personally, I signed up because I don’t see myself in the industry beyond the age of 30, if I am honest. I am 24 now, and hopefully, in the next few months, I will have my OOW. Qualifying and working as an officer is my ideal, and it would be great to achieve my Masters. So, my thinking is that a Masters qualification combined with an honours degree qualification will be crucial in finding a good opportunity down the line. By that, I mean interesting work, rather than having to go out of the industry and settle for less. I want to open up as many opportunities as possible and give myself the best chance of success. 

How long does the course last? 

It lasts 18 months, but if you need to take longer, you can. The flexibility is perfect for an industry like ours. It really does makes getting a degree possible for superyacht crew.

What is a BSc Hons Course? 

BSc stands for Batchelor of Science, and the Hons is the research project you do in the final six months. When you do this course, it is the equivalent of stepping into the last year of a three-year degree program. I used my foundation degree to gain access, but if you have your OOW/Chief Mate/Masters or engineering CoC’s, you can also enrol onto the course. 

It says the course is flexible but is it really?  Did it work around your job? 

Yes, absolutely, of course, it is flexible. It has to be, doesn’t it with the life we lead? I applied for an extension with evidence from my captain, but to be honest, they have set the course up knowing that you are a seafarer. Therefore, they understand the realities of yachting and that there will be times when you need to pause or extend your time to complete assignments. They had no problem with that, even without evidence. There are opportunities for me to stop and start or delay studies if needed at any point in the program if I feel my workload is too much. 

How did you balance your OOW module study with the degree? 

As an example, I completed my degree this summer in the allotted year, but my focus at the moment is my last qualifying modules and my OOW oral exam. So I have deferred the final six months of study until May, when I will pick it all up again and complete my research project. 

How have you fit the study time around your work, rotation, charter and boss trips?

With study time around work, I found that the best solution for me was getting up at 5.30 am and putting in an hour and a half every day during the week. I don’t do any study at weekends, so I still go out and have fun.

When I was on rotation with a module underway, I got up early and put an hour or so in each morning. This way, it didn’t affect my day, and I still felt that I could do what I wanted.

With boss trips and charter, I did absolutely nothing. I just let my tutor know I wasn’t going to do anything, and I focused on my work and didn’t try and push myself beyond that. 

Is it worth the money? 

I think so for sure. It’s so much cheaper when you consider the cost of university fees in the UK for a year, plus your only expense is the initial fee. There is no need for accommodation, food, fuel, etc., or loss of wages.  

Did you have to pay upfront for it, or can I pay as I go?

I paid for it upfront by choice, but you can pay module by module. And, in the last few months, they have two-thirds of cost student loans available now. 

What was the biggest challenge of completing the course for you? 

The biggest challenge of completing the course for me was managing it through a busy med season on the boat I am on. We are constantly on standby, and we did a lot of boss trips. I like to get into the swing of things; I like to have a solid chunk of time to get some work done and have a routine going. So, with all the boss trips going on with charters, it would ruin my flow. So the nature of the industry was a challenge, making it hard to sustain ideas and the flow of my work. 

Was the subject matter interesting and relevant? How relevant is the subject matter to the industry? 

It was certainly interesting and helped open my eyes to aspects of sustainability that I had an idea about but didn’t know anything in detail. The degree is very relevant to yachting, especially from the point of view that it focuses on the operational sustainability angle. 

Did you end up going over subject areas you had already covered in your OOW modules? 

Those who have or are studying towards their OOW/Masters will be familiar with MLS, ISPS, MARPOL, ISM and the ships SMS. Knowledge of these conventions and codes is very relevant to the course and valuable when tackling the coursework, but you certainly don’t cover the same ground all over again. 

Why do you think this degree qualification will help you achieve your career goals? 

Having spoken with people who have already made the move to go shore-based, the general consensus was that a relevant degree combined with your yacht qualifications and experience makes a big difference to your employability. So, I went with that. 

What skills have you learnt during the course? 

Researching, this was not one of my strengths before; I didn’t know what I was doing really in my previous studies. I have learned how to take key information from articles and books, extract the information, and present that with my opinion. It has opened my eyes to so much more than I knew before.  I have definitely learned how to figure things out myself, as you’re not spoon-fed at this level. There is help available, but they expect you to have an enquiring mind. 

Is it hard to study via online distance learning? 

No, it’s not hard at all, in 2022, we have access to any book in any library in the UK on our PC’s. I actually found it easier, if I am honest, than when I used to have to go into libraries and study. I like that I can study when I want, and the support is there if I need it. 

Is maritime operational sustainability an important issue to you? 

Yes, I am not a tree hugger, but I do care about the environment. We have a sea bin onboard that we use, but to be honest, it is more a study of how we can develop sustainability in the everyday operation of the industry, and that is important to me and its direct implications that I can take back to my job and implement in my day-to-day role. 

The degree includes a final project. What subject are you/have you going to be tackling? 

I will be studying crew mental health, particularly crew after COVID. It is something that has impacted me personally and my friends and particularly crew like me who were working away from home for ten months at a time at the height of Covid. It certainly has had a lasting effect. It’s a big subject, and there will be lots of information to access online as well as my own research and feedback from fellow crew, so I hope that what I produce has some use. 

Did you have an academic background before coming into yachting? 

It depends on what you call academic; I had three A levels before I came into yachting and studied a foundation degree whilst I was in my yacht cadetship, but I certainly wouldn’t call myself academic. I am hardworking and focused, which has been more valuable to me than the previous study. 

 A Batchelor’s of science degree qualification? is it too maths-based? 

Not at all. I am useless at maths and have found it very manageable. I would also suggest choosing modules that play to your strengths. For example, Ocean Met is more science/maths-based than the others.                                                                                                                                                                    

Does the lack of published literature and research unique to the superyacht sector cause an issue? 

No. The reports and essays I have written asking for comparisons between sectors have allowed me to use superyacht magazine, reports from other yachties, and my own experience for my claims.

It’s not too late to apply for the SMO degree, January entry. If you are interested in finding out more, THE OM handle all advice and applications. Visit www.the-om.co.uk/smo or get in touch with Emma direct to discuss your options at emma@the-om.co.uk 

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