Crew Advice

Ask Captain Kelly: Being a Woman on Deck

5 January 2023By Staff Report

Have a tricky onboard situation you’d like an outsider’s perspective on? Have a burning career question? We can help!

Welcome to Dockwalk’s Ask Captain Kelly advice column, where we post your questions and get insight from a current captain, Capt. Kelly J. Gordon. Capt. Kelly currently works aboard M/Y Freddy but grew up in a small town in Indiana. Her path into yachting began in Beaufort, North Carolina, where she now claims as home base. She’s a former chemistry professor and loves to teach — while she takes pride in her ability as a motor yacht captain, she has a soft spot for young adults, especially those that come with questions.

This week‘s question deals with a situation it’s likely some of you have dealt with before — handling help on deck as a female deckhand.

Q: I’m a woman on deck. I’ve been very fortunate and have an amazing crew who support me 100 percent. My fellow deckhands, who are male, have the very best of intentions but sometimes they end up making me feel dumb with their somewhat thoughtless comments, or they step in to help me when I don’t need help. I know it’s not a knock on my deck abilities, but how would you suggest I push back against these incidences?

A: Girl, I get it! I totally get it and it just happened to me the other day and it still happens, even on my boat, as the captain, with the guys that I work with every single day and adore so, so much. I also have a female deck/stew on board my boat and it happens to her, too.  

Understand that most men have an innate desire to watch after a woman and offer a helping hand and this is 90 percent of the time what my guys are doing with me  — and likely you, too. For example, I was coming off a skinny ladder when we hauled out the other day and I wanted the guys to go before me as I was looking after them as their captain, but they insisted that I go first. It wasn’t so much that I am their captain, but because they are very chivalrous and wanted to watch out for me and I let them in this instance.  

But when you’re working on a project that you know you are more than capable of, kindly tell them, “I got it, thanks, though!” and they will let you get to it. They may try to take your project one more time or stand and watch, but tell them one more time that you’re okay. You will find that little by little they let you be.  

If they insist, talk to them one on one and let them know how you feel. My engineer took the cutting wheel from me at the boatyard the other day and made me feel totally incompetent. When it got down to it, he wanted to do some cutting and grinding, too, because it’s fun, which is why I came out of the wheelhouse too!  

So, it usually isn’t an insult to your ability (even though it feels like it). Again, I get it! Also, don’t forget to check in with yourself on why you are allowing this to make you feel less than competent. We tend to have a fair bit of negative self-talk within ourselves when working around all the men. So, have a chat with yourself, have a chat with them, and tell them you got it and will ask for help if you need it. And do ask for help when you need it, which will instill a lot of trust and respect and ultimately create a great working relationship. BTW: My engineer read this and just smiled.

If you want to get her advice, please email AskCaptainKelly@dockwalk.com and you could see your questions and her answers featured here. All personal information will remain anonymous.

More related content:
Ask Captain Kelly: How Do I Handle Witnessing Racism?
Ask Captain Kelly: How Do I Best Get Started in the Industry?
Ask Captain Kelly: How Should I Deal With Guests That Cross the Line?
Ask Captain Kelly: How Should I Deal with Conflict in the Crew?
Ask Captain Kelly: Advice for Handling Crew Dating
Capt. Kelly Gordon: From Chemistry Professor to Superyacht Captain

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