With Capt. Lee missing in action at the start of filming, Capt. Sean Meagher is called on at the eleventh hour to take the helm of the hit reality series Below Deck. Holly Overton catches up with the captain as he wraps up filming in St. Kitts...
Below Deck is back in its ninth season and promises a healthy dose of misbehaving guests and late-night crew antics. But, as glimpsed in the first episode, when the show’s longest-serving cast member Capt. Lee is delayed on the mainland, producers are sent scrambling for a new captain to take command of M/Y My Seanna.
Enter Capt. Sean Meagher.
Born and raised in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Meagher is an accomplished captain with an impressive résumé. He was initially hired to do the delivery trip from Fort Lauderdale to St. Kitts where filming for season nine was due to begin, but in a twist of fate, found himself in front of the camera and filming the first episode of the season. “I don’t know the exact reason why, but [Capt. Lee] couldn’t get to St. Kitts and the filming schedule was pretty tight,” says Meagher. “They asked if I would want to step in and I said sure!”
The New England native has worn many hats in his 30+ years as a captain, from commanding 100-meter superyachts and leading polar expeditions through the Northwest Passage, to coordinating search and rescue in the Colorado River, and running high-speed ferry boats across Nantucket Sound. He even found success as a broker. “I thought to myself, what haven’t I done in this industry? Well, I haven’t done this [Below Deck].”
“If you grow up in Montana, Wisconsin, or Texas, you grew up riding horses. I grew up on Cape Cod, so I grew up driving boats,” he says. At eight years old, Meagher was gifted his first sailing dinghy, a Laser, before graduating to a 13-foot Boston Whaler and scoring his first job on the sightseeing ferries that run between Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. “At 14, I was driving these big old single-screw boats and the captain used to let me dock it. I had to stand on a box to see over the helm."
By 18, he had earned his first captains’ license and it wasn’t long before he found himself traveling to the farthest corners of the earth. One of Meagher’s biggest adventures to date was a polar expedition that saw him tackle the Northwest passage, twice, at the wheel of the 45-meter M/Y Latitude, and circumnavigate Svalbard, coming within 400 miles of the North Pole.
“In all honesty, I had never watched the show [Below Deck],” he confesses. “My opinion was that this is where crew go to destroy their careers and captains go to die." But a trip down to the Caribbean, as the show was wrapping up filming on season eight, changed his mind. Meagher had flown down on the owner’s jet to bring My Seanna back to Fort Lauderdale. He spoke to a couple of the remaining crew about their experiences and was surprised when the feedback was “overwhelmingly positive.”
“With fresh eyes, I brought the boat to Fort Lauderdale, got a ride to the airport and I was sitting on a JetBlue flight back to Boston when I received an email that said: 'would you be interested in appearing on Below Deck'? I said yes and within five minutes my phone rang.”
When the pandemic took hold, both travel and TV production were put on pause and placed a question on whether Below Deck would be able to resume filming at all. “That was where the talks ended, but I knew that they were interested in me,” says Meagher. “I knew if there was a shot and that somehow the stars would align and I could be involved with the show, I was going to take it."
Then, when the world started moving again, producers approached Meagher and asked him if he would do the delivery trip to St. Kitts in preparation for season nine. “And that’s when fortune smiled upon me,” he says. Capt. Lee was unable to make it in time for the first charter and Meagher signed on the dotted line.
Filming took place in St. Kitts over the course of six weeks and Meagher was joined by First Mate Eddie Lucas, Chef Rachel Hargrove, with newcomers Chief Stewardess Heather Chase, Stews Jessica Albert and Fraser Olender, and Deckhands Jake Foulger, Rayna Lindsay, and Wes O’Dell.
“My biggest takeaway is that the show is real,” he says, reflecting on his time in St. Kitts. “It is actually reality television and there was no prompting." This was the main reason Meagher was reluctant to watch the show ahead of filming.
“I wanted to be authentic and didn’t want to feel as though I was playing to the camera. That’s why I never watched the show and why I still haven’t watched the show. I wanted to go in there and just do what I do," he says. “Capt. Lee is an icon and has been incredibly successful. I knew if I watched him and watched what he was doing, I would subconsciously or even consciously try to emulate that.”
“When captains claim 'these things never happen on my boat,’ I just burst out laughing. You put people of that age in that type of a pressure cooker — and not just for a six-week filming schedule, but for a 17-week charter season — there’s just no way.”
Meagher is described by U.S. television network Bravo as a ‘hands-on’ captain but he insists he is “not a micromanager". “If I give a person a task or a job, I’m not going to tell them how to do it. I’m going to say, this is what I expect for a result.
“A million people will tell you how not to do something. I don’t care. All I care about is an end result in a reasonable timeframe.”
Season Nine of Below Deck will premiere on October 25 and is available on Amazon Prime.
My Seanna was sold by Sean Meagher in July 2021 and has since been renamed Starship.