With the reality TV series Below Deck and its spin-offs enjoying continued popularity, we asked the crew placement agents whether the show is inspiring wannabes to apply for superyacht crew positions.
The Benefits of Below Deck
“The program’s success continues to rise and my wife is hooked,” says Liam Dobbin, managing director, wilsonhalligan Yacht Recruitment. “It has certainly made an impact in [making] yachting more well-known than the previous secret world of yesteryear. Speaking with crew, they cite Below Deck as a reason for getting into yachting — the travel, lifestyle, and earnings are attractive.”
“Other than crew, you now have people who have money and did not know about chartering a yacht, [so] the show has certainly boosted chartering interest!” says Julie Walker, customer manager at Meridian.
“There’s definitely been an increase in awareness about yachting today, but I don’t think one can attribute it to Below Deckalone,” says Don McKee, director & founder, YOA Ltd. “There is no shortage of social media coverage by crew in the business, be it on Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, etc. Of course, all of these mediums highlight certain aspects of yachting life and disregard others, which blurs the lines considerably, but I think the barriers to entry due to COVID are separating the passionate from the curious.”
Julie Perry, a former yacht stewardess and author of The Insiders’ Guide to Becoming a Yacht Stewardess, is currently the marketing co-chair for the U.S. Superyacht Association (USSA). Perry’s book first came out in 2006, and her issue then was trying to explain what the superyacht industry was. At the time, the industry was facing a crew shortage — which is an issue these days, too — and the industry was struggling to get the word out.
“I believe the main way the show helps the industry — and specifically crew recruitment — is from the standpoint of AWARENESS,” Perry says.
“I believe the main way the show helps the industry — and specifically crew recruitment — is from the standpoint of AWARENESS,” Perry says. (Below Deck Chief Stewardess Kate Chastain actually discovered Perry’s book on MySpace, Perry notes.) “Anyway, from 2006 until Below Deck came out in 2013, it was always a challenge to sell my book,” she says. “Below Deck changed all that. With its launch, the secret was out.”
How Accurate is the Show?
“Below Deck mainly represents how charter and life on board work, and for some parts, what they show is actually true, e.g. turnovers, cabin arrangement, drama between crew, etc.,” says The Crew Network Worldwide team. But, as they point out, it is a show — a reality show at that — with the intention of entertaining watchers as opposed to truly educating them about the industry and the crew job. “What I tell people is that they do not need to take what they see in the show for an absolute truth, because there are many factors that are subject to change from boat to boat,” they say. “In the show, they have Capt. Lee, who lets them do certain things whereas other captains might not allow [those same things.]”
“We see a lot of people who think that because they watched the show they should now go work on a yacht. The charter ‘tips’ moment usually…is what they are interested in, not the actual job. It certainly has given people a misleading view of what the yachting industry is all about,” says Sandra Murphy, marketing manager, Meridian°. “I think that overall, it has had a negative impact due to the fact new crew have no concept for the actual reality of the job,” she says. Murphy urges those who are interested to be prepared for it to be completely different from the show. “Yachting is a lot more complex than what is shown and there is so much more involved,” she says.
“That’s a multi-faceted question because it’s largely had a negative impact in most opinions, but the fact is it’s also recruited a lot of crew to yachting,” says her colleague Jo Damgaard at Meridian°. “Some good and bad eggs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of crew that come into this industry with a warped idea of what it is. They don’t get it’s a lot harder work than it looks, and you will in fact get fired for sleeping with your fellow crew or drinking with charter guests.”
“The biggest takeaway — it’s called reality TV, emphasis on TV SHOW! All the drama between crew and all those situations seen with guests may occur, but not all in one episode,” says Walker.
The “bad behavior” usually gets a lot of attention, for obvious reasons. And most crew do not use the guest areas, toys, or the Jacuzzi. “Don’t be mistaken, it’s hard work, long hours, and most likely you will not use the Jacuzzi, sleep in guest rooms, drink on charter, etc.,” says Walker. “The biggest takeaway — it’s called reality TV, emphasis on TV SHOW! All the drama between crew and all those situations seen with guests may occur, but not all in one episode,” says Walker. “This would normally happen in the course of one yachting career. Totally unrealistic, but [it] makes a successful TV show.” Walker also points out that social media is usually kept to a minimum and crew have to adhere to the yacht’s protocols and rules about privacy — so don’t expect to showcase your glamorous lifestyle on social media, because that could get you fired.
“The only incident I’ve had with Below Deck was a captain asking me for crew and using examples from the TV show for what they were looking for,” says Erica Lay, director of EL CREW CO. “Which for me was a red flag!”
Do Your Research
It’s in your best interest to do your research before making a big decision like joining the industry. And make sure it’s “real research. No Facebook opinion posts,” Damgaard cautions. As she highlights, there are a great many crew-specific platforms with excellent information available. She highlights Jared Watney, who she says is one of her go-tos. Also recommended by Damgaard is The Crew Coach, and of course Meridian°, where they offer resources to crew, including one-on-one coaching.
“The types of crew they are hiring to make for good television is not typical of how crew are hired in real life,” Perry says. “I don’t knock any of those kids who’ve been on the show either, as I am sure they are put in situations and edited in ways that don’t truly reflect their character. I like to give them all the benefit of the doubt. And I think television viewers do the same at this point.”
As for those coming into the industry with Below Deck-tinted glasses, Perry directs them to her book to get a better insight into the industry. “I do draw readers in with many of the lifestyle benefits (world travel, getting to work with people from other cultures, living aboard a palace at sea, big tips that you can save easily due to few expenses), but I present each of those aspects with qualifying details,” she says — the reality that while you get to travel to many gorgeous places, you rarely get to enjoy them; or that days off can be hard to come by, etc.
Perhaps the key takeaway from the show is merely that — exposure.
While the show may inspire you to run away to sea, Perry cautions crew about telling potential employers that they were inspired by the show. “Don’t give anyone the impression that that’s what sold you on wanting to work on yachts,” she says. “In all honesty, it’s okay if that’s the truth, but you also need to know that embarking on this adventure means discovering your own truth of how the industry operates. And Below Deck gives but a glimpse of that.”
Perhaps the key takeaway from the show is merely that — exposure. It’s a starting point, Perry says. “Certainly, once they’ve decided to take the leap and enroll in STCW or other types of crew training, it won’t be long before they pick up on that,” she says. “In the end, they’ll likely get weeded out during training or the interview process.” Hence her point about awareness — as she explains it, driving awareness and getting good crew into the industry is important “so that we’re not desperate for crew and can choose to only hire those who are in it for the right reasons and who have the right attitude.”