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In the engine room with Ryan Pownall


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Many people ask us how engineers get into the superyacht industry and of course, there is more than one route you can take.

We’ve been catching up with Ryan Pownall, who started out as a cadet, to find out how he got into the industry, why he loves it and what he’d recommend if you think it might be the career for you.

Nationality: British / New Zealand and soon Croatian
Qualification: Y1, commercial class 2, EASA commercial helicopter pilot

When and how did you realise you wanted to become an engineer?

I was born to be an engineer of some sort. For my work experience, I worked assisting electrical and mechanical engineers for a packaging company. After the two weeks they offered me an apprenticeship when I left school. Just as a back up my father got some information on cadetships. A cadet is like an apprentice but on the marine side. As soon as I saw the huge machines on the front of the brochure that was it. I WAS HOOKED

How did you decide which route to go down in order to become qualified?

As a cadet, you are sponsored by a shipping company who also pay you a small salary. The training for your first certificate (the Engineering OOW) is planned out for you. My cadetship lasted just under 4 years and was basically 6 months college then 6 months sea for 4 years. After the 4 years I obtained my EOOW, NVQ level3 and HND in marine engineering. As soon as I had the sea time I was back in college for my commercial class 2 (2nd engineer unlimited KW and tonnage). Then I started yachting and did my Y1.

How did you first hear about yachts and what made you decide this was the path for you?

I was on a large dredger 10,000 tonne 3.3KV dredging up aggregate to make concrete for a company called RMC. We had a new second engineer join who had just come off yachts and just got married. He wanted more leave because in those days rotation was unheard of in yachting. He used to tell me stories about the life. Back in those days you never even had to be qualified to work on a yacht. Anybody could legally do it. I found this hard to believe and was sure I could fit in and make an impact on a superyacht.

What was the biggest challenge you faced when getting started in the industry?

Some captains have the impression that commercial engineers are oily dirty, bad mouthed guys. This may be the case with some engineers. In my college year, we all wore designer clothes and looked like we were in some sort of boy band. We all kept fit and played football together. Dermatitis on the hands was a big thing during my training. We all kept clean and used barrier cremes and gloves because we never wanted to look like the poster in the workshop warning about dermatitis.

How did you get your first yachting job?

I was made redundant from a high-speed ferry company who sold the rights of the route that the ships sailed on. As I heard so much about yachting and was single at the time I contacted a few agencies. Two weeks later I had travelled to Amsterdam and Barcelona for interviews and a look around two boats. I took the second job as I had my own cabin.

What’s your best yachting memory and why?

I have many from shark diving in the Caribbean to flying helicopters in Monaco and Cannes! The yachting life gives you many opportunities.

What do you like most about your job?

Just being appreciated by crew and guests is a great feeling.

Any huge disasters whilst onboard? If so, did you manage to pull it back?

One time the 2nd engineer who was on watch called my cabin. We had two to three-meter waves following swell and the stern door had opened itself. When I got to the control room the 2nd was sitting there with his life jacket on! We raised the general alarm after trying to operate the push buttons with nothing happening. The yacht was old and had no manual means to close the stern door. I disconnected the hoses to the hydraulic rams to allow the door to close under its own weight and dogged it down.

When it was safe we started to investigate the problem. All it was a 12v relay coil had burnt out and constantly gave the open command to the hydraulic system. After this incident, we changed all the relays with a new type after that because we could have easily sunk because of a tiny part onboard!

What bit of kit couldn’t you live without?

Onboard IT network and internet. Every yacht should have a good internet connection for crew and guest. The yachts network must be excellent as it makes the paperwork side of the job run more smoothly.

What’s the best thing about working on a superyacht?

When you repair something or upgrade something for the owner and he looks at you as if you are some sort of genius.

Where is the best place you have visited?

Croatia! Love the place and now live there, married a Croatian woman and have a Croatian son.

What advice would you give someone starting out as an engineer in the industry?

I would advise going down the commercial route with a cadetship. All your training is paid for. You have structured training from a novice to your first certificate of competency, then transfer your high level of training to working on superyachts.

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