Working as a Superyacht Engineer; A first hand account
We interviewed Melanie Furniss on her experience as a Superyacht Engineer!
Being a superyacht engineer means taking on the mechanical and electrical operations of the yacht. This position on board entails very large and complicated jobs, while at the same time, incorporates jobs as small as fixing a remote control for guests! A popular question for us is 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 Melanie Furniss, to find out how she got into the industry, why she loves it and what she’d recommend if you think it might be the career for you.
Engineer Name: Melanie Furniss
Nationality: ST Helenian/British
Qualification: Commercial Class 2 unlimited/Y1 Engineer
When and how did you realise you wanted to become a superyacht engineer?
Coming from a small island with no airport and the only access being by ship, I knew fairly early in life that my career would be at sea. At the time I thought it would be as a deck officer but when I was given the opportunity to study as an engineer I took it as there had only been one other female from the Island and I wanted to show others that it was possible to be a female engineer too.
How did you decide which route to go down in order to become qualified?
The Island government sponsored 2 students per year who had completed their GCSE’s and achieved the grades needed for a cadetship. Through that sponsorship I completed a cadetship at South Tyneside College and then qualified with the commercial Engineering Officer of the watch certificate.
How did you first hear about yachts and what made you decide this was the path for you?
After qualifying and working onboard the RMS ST Helena (the only Royal Mail Ship in the world and the life line to my island home), I decided I needed to move on and gain new experiences. My best friend introduced me to yachting and seeing the opportunities and experiences it brought I decided this was the career path for me.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when getting started in the industry?
When I joined yachting in 2003 I was always getting told by crew agents and people that I met that they had never met a female engineer. After leaving SS Delphine in 2004 I struggled to find another engineer position as captains and yacht managers were reluctant to employ a female in what they saw as a male job and dominated environment. I was not going to give up and persisted in my efforts to make being a female engineer on yachts work for me. I could have given up and gone back to the commercial world where female engineers although still few in number were more accepted on ships but that was never an option that crossed my mind. With persistence and a fierce determination I found a Captain who saw past the name and photo on my CV and gave me my first job as a sole engineer, giving me the confidence to continue to where I am today.
How did you get your first yachting job?
In 2003, my best friend also from the island had just moved into yachting finding herself a job as Chief Officer on the steam yacht SS Delphine. My friend told me there was an opening as a ‘motorman’ onboard and I made the decision to give it a try, I was promoted to 3rd engineer after 2 months.
What’s your best yachting memory and why? (Doesn’t have to be engineering related).
After the devastating tsunami in 2004, we were on our way to the Maldives from Singapore and made a stop in Langkawi. Our owner agreed that we could stop off in Sumatra to drop aid and a group of multi-national doctors there. It was an interesting and humbling experience meeting these selfless people and allowing them to experience a little piece of luxury before the months ahead of them.
What do you like most about your job?
The challenge of engineering has to be the best thing I like about my job, there are never any 2 days alike so you can never get bored.
Any huge disasters whilst on-board? If so, did you manage to pull it back?
I always remember a particular trip crossing the Pacific as a sole engineer on a 38m boat in 2005 where 5 of the 6 crew were female and we had a fuel cooler issue causing contamination of the fuel in one of the day tanks. This luckily only affected the port engine and generator but for a few days we were travelling on one engine doing about 3 knots until I could bypass the cooler and get as much of the sea water out of the fuel in the day tank and get the stbd engine back up and running. Although it doesn’t seem like much of a disaster now, at the time we had already been at sea for about 12 days and any help would take weeks to get to us in the middle of the Pacific where we only had an Iridium Sat phone for communications! But with team work and some long days and nights we got the stbd engine back up and running. This made for some great stories after our 28 day Pacific crossing to tell at the bars especially when people realised the captain was the only male onboard.
What bit of kit couldn’t you live without?
A Facom tool set! It has everything you need and saves you multiple trips back and forth from the engine room when doing little jobs.
What’s the best thing about working on a super yacht?
Working with a great captain and crew is always a bonus, it makes the days pass and being able to laugh every day at work can make even the longest boss trip or hardest charter feel like a walk in the park. Of course being able to visit some of the best places in the world is also a privilege but as an engineer you very rarely get to see it up close.
Where is the best place you have visited?
The 2 best places I’ve visited are the Seychelles and Tahiti.
What advice would you give someone starting out as an engineer in the industry?
Invest in your career. There is a reason engineering is difficult and not anyone can just step into. Engineering takes years of study, hard work and training and if you are willing to take the time the rewards are great. For females wanting to become engineers don’t give up! Don’t let negative comments from anyone hold you back, let your experience and hard work speak for itself. For every boat that knocks you back for simply being a woman there are 4 other boats out there who will happily take you. Persistence and confidence is the key.
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Sam started her career in recruitment, eventually managing a team of 4 consultants. She left to join Cobham plc, a FTSE 250 technology and engineering firm, which has a large maritime sector (inc. SeaTel and Thrane & Thrane). During her time there she was promoted multiple times before heading up Internal & Corporate Communications. Sam’s husband is a former yachtie and now a commercial Captain, which gives her a unique perspective on the industry. Sam looks after all the engineering roles for Quay Crew.