How do you become a luxury yacht test engineer? Meet Louis Castle of Sunseeker International.
Louis Castle has a much sought-after job, as one of the Test Team Engineers for Sunseeker International, checking everything is fitted and working correctly on a top of the range superyacht, before the official handover to the customer.
Louis grew up in Poole, where Sunseeker is a major employer and a big part of the town. Established in 1969, today Sunseeker employs more than 2,500 highly talented designers, engineers and skilled employees, supported by a worldwide network of more than 120 retail and service locations, and the company exports around 150 yachts every year to more than 74 countries.
Studying for his A levels in his final year at school, Louis was unsure of what he wanted to do, and he didn’t want to go to university without a clear idea of where he was headed. He had a part time job as a cleaner after school and one evening finished late and attended a careers event promoting apprenticeships at Bournemouth and Poole College. The Sunseeker exhibition stand stood out a mile and he got talking to them about the wide range of apprenticeships offered by the company.
Louis knew he wanted to do something practical and hands on and applied for one of just six electrical apprenticeships. The competition was fierce, with over 300 applicants for 30 apprenticeship roles, but Louis was successful and secured a position as an electrical apprentice and joined the company in September 2013.
The apprenticeship took four years with three years at college, which he says he thoroughly enjoyed as it was significantly closer to ‘adult life’ than school. He says he loves the job, being a test engineer means that he gets stuck into everything. He’s learning all the time, talking to the production team a lot and every day is different. They head out to sea to conduct the sea trials, what they do and where they go depends on the captain but Louis says that if the weather is fine it almost feels too good to be true.
They check the yacht’s specifications match all those requested by the owner/customer, they check the finish is all top quality making any adjustments necessary. They check the engines and generators and make sure that the equipment runs exactly as it should.
Testing is a very important process to Sunseeker, before the yacht is handed over to the customer they ensure everything is working correctly and performing to a high standard to exceed customer’s expectations. As Sunseeker is constantly seeking perfection, testing is carried out to strict processes and carefully documented, with breath-taking attention to detail. A 131 Yacht can take several weeks to test and hand over.
Louis is mainly involved in the larger yacht testing but can be testing any yacht before it goes onto the customer. The largest super yacht is 131ft and capable of 25 knots with two MTU engines, two generators and its own system for making fresh water. Inside there’s accommodation for 12 guests including a saloon, separate dining area, full galley, a sky lounge, a cocktail bar and space for seven crew and the captain. Sunseeker also make a mid-range and a smaller range of yachts each obviously with its own different bespoke specifications.
The testing begins just before the boat leaves the factory and continues when it hits the water. Over the last year Louis has worked on yachts being delivered as far afield as Lebanon, Hong Kong, France and Miami. Sometimes the crew will come and collect the boat, other times it goes down to Southampton and is carefully secured and loaded onto a big ship to be transported around the world to wherever it’s destined.
Louis loves his job because it’s so varied and he’s not stuck indoors behind a desk. He would definitely recommend the path he has taken, his apprenticeship has given him so much knowledge and valuable life skills, and now the opportunity to work his way up through an amazing company. He’s always meeting new people, owners and crew and working in all kinds of different trades.
He took up his current role just over a year ago and is one of a team of about 20 testers. Louis applied for a job with the Test Team three times during his apprenticeship and securing a position in his fourth and final year, at the end of his apprenticeship. The job was advertised internally and externally and is regarded as one of the best jobs in the company, so it was tough and extremely hard to compete with so many other good candidates. Louis says that he now wants to work his way up to senior tester and maybe in time to crew engineer or captain, but he’s very happy with his career path and feels very lucky to have found such a good role.
Recognising his success so far, last year Louis won a prestigious award, The Queens Silver Medal which is presented annually by the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights. The competition involved six months of applications and assessment stages to find the UK’s Shipyard Apprentice of the Year.
As part of the assessment he took part in an intense week-long leadership course with lots of practical, physical and psychological exercises, all the time being assessed by 18 tutors and followed by a lengthy panel interview. It was unlike anything he’s ever done before but despite the tough competition he was successful and was awarded the silver medal at a prestigious ceremony in London at the beginning of 2018.
In recognition for his winning of the Queens Silver Medal, Sunseeker is rewarding him with a day skipper course, where he will learn how to handle smaller boats, receive instruction on familiarisation, reading charts and being behind the wheel. It’s one step closer to his dream of being a captain, but he says there are many steps that he looks forward to along the way so he’s in no hurry.
Looking back on what he’s achieved so far, Louis says he would definitely recommend the maritime industry to anyone looking for an interesting, varied and exciting job with lots of opportunities, he’s delighted with his experiences so far and looks forward to a long and rewarding career ahead.
Click here to download details about a career in the UK maritime sector.