Below Deck Incident Highlights Harassment Issues in Yachting

17 August 2023 By Lauren Beck

Lauren Beck is the former editor of Dockwalk and was with the publication from 2006 to 2023. At 13, she left South Africa aboard a 34-foot sailing boat with her family and ended up in St. Maarten for six years. Before college, she worked as crew for a year, and then cut her journalistic teeth at Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies’ Home Journal online. She loves traveling, reading, tennis, and rooting for the Boston Red Sox.

Sexual harassment on board can be tough to prove, but not this time. Two incidents of harassment were captured on camera on an episode of Bravo’s Below Deck Down Under. While the show can be polarizing in the yachting industry, in this case, it showcased exactly what to do when harassment occurs on board, and highlighted the swift justice that followed.

The first incident involved two crewmembers who had obviously been drinking during a crew night out. Producers were forced to intervene when a naked Bosun Luke Jones followed Third Stewardess Margot Sisson into her bed. Sisson was passed out at the time and was unable to consent.

Sisson had also told Chief Stewardess Aesha Scott earlier that she wanted to go to bed and did not want to have anything to do with Jones. Jones was sent ashore for the night and was ultimately fired by Capt. Jason Chambers.

A second incident of harassment occurred between Second Stewardess Laura Bileskalne and Deckhand Adam Kodra. As the show clearly displays, Bileskalne made several unwanted advances on Kodra while they were both in the hot tub with other crew. She later also climbed into bed with Kodra to give him a massage. Allegedly, Kodra had told the captain he was uncomfortable with the attention. Bileskalne had also made insensitive comments to Sisson about the situation with Jones, at one point saying that Jones should have come to her instead.

Capt. Chambers fired Bileskalne.

The online reaction in the aftermath lauded both Capt. Chambers and Chief Stewardess Scott for their swift responses to both incidents.

In a statement on his Instagram, Capt. Chambers said: “I applaud the production team and crew, and I sincerely hope that all parties involved use this time to reflect and use this opportunity to not only change, but help others. Everyone has the chance in life to grow, learn from experiences either good or bad and become the best humans. Respect boundaries.”

Chief Stewardess Scott commented in an Instagram story: “I wanted to take the opportunity to remind everyone of the main message that was shown on the episode, which is that women — and actually everyone — have the right to go out and have fun and feel safe and that is just the f—king end of it. There’s no questions or ifs or buts, that is the end of it. So please keep an eye on your friends and each other.”

Bileskalne has since apologized for her behavior; Jones also accepted responsibility for his actions, commenting that he was disappointed in himself after he was fired.

Most crew won’t have a camera crew and a global audience to back up their experiences, but there are policies in yachting that can help if you’re ever faced with a situation like this.

The Professional Yachting Association (PYA) created a Welfare Group to support crew and their wellbeing. In its first webinar in January 2023, Group members offered advice on handling bullying and harassment on board. First, the Group advocated that crew know their rights and understand exactly what their contract spells out. For commercial vessels, the Maritime Labour Convention details what protections they can expect, but for private vessels that do not fall under MLC, the vessel’s flag state is the ultimate authority.

Both flag state and the vessel’s owning company should have policies and procedures on board for investigating any complaints. Follow the chain of command — your Head of Department should be the first person you notify, then the captain. If the captain is the issue, the crewmember should go to the DPA or the MLC employer/the person they signed their SEA with, the group explained.

Take note of all incidents, including what happened, when, and note any witnesses. There should also be a timeframe provided for a resolution for any incident. Last, if you’ve had no response, the final person to go to would be the flag state’s shipping master.

“The PYA has always taken a firm stance against sexual harassment and any other form of bullying among yacht crew. Our members have access to our own advice services regarding any employment issues. Any individual cases that are brought to our office are handled discreetly and in total confidentiality until resolved.”

If you need more advice, you can reach out to the PYA’s Welfare Group:


More from Dockwalk