During the first day of the Palm Beach International Boat Show, Capt. Kelly Gordon of M/Y Freddy held a seminar to discuss mental health in the yachting industry with a panel of industry professionals — Becky Castellano of Medical Support Offshore Limited (MSOS), Former Chief Officer John Behrns, Angelika Sheldon of MedAire, and Rick Thomas of JMS Yachting. Gordon recognizes that a shift in culture is needed, and she hopes to be a part of the solution.
Gordon began with sharing her own mental health struggles when she was 26, along with some notes she received from crew who had experienced bullying and harassment and were struggling. She pointed out how given the pressures of the job, the average age of new crew, and the job’s physical and mental toll, it should not be a surprise that people struggle. Aboard Freddy, Gordon is stepping away from the traditional “don’t question the captain” adage and emphasizing the team. She’s open and vulnerable with her crew, checks in with them, and even turns to her crewmembers when she’s having problems.
“We have to talk about it. I want crewmembers to know that you can speak up,” Gordon said. “If someone’s offending you, if someone’s saying something that’s not colorful to you, or they’re being mean, they’re bullying you, or quite frankly, if they’re being a pervert, tell them.” Castellano added that information travels in yachting and if you see something, say something because bullies will develop a reputation.
Captains and heads of department also play an important role in mentoring and nurturing junior crew. As a former chief officer, Behrns pointed out that building that culture on board can also come from the bottom up as the HODs are the ones closer in age to the green crew and performing similar duties. Being vulnerable with junior crew can help them feel comfortable bringing problems to the HODs.
Becoming educated on the warning signs of stressors and actively listening to your fellow crewmember can make a difference, Sheldon said. When it comes to stress, a part of that is learning when to say no, especially when it’s not safe, Gordon added. And if the charter brokers have a good relationship with their boats, they will hopefully have a better understanding of when the captain and crew need a break.
Gordon said crew often share with her that they don’t know where to go, so she gathered resources for crew who need to seek help, such as Yacht Crew Help, MedAire, MSOS, and Mental Health Support Solutions. For resources on furthering crew mental health training, Seas the Mind, The Crew Academy, and The Crew Coach are among those available. For more information and resources, visit captainkellyjgordon.com.