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Below Deck

You may have heard that myself and Jenny Matthews of She of the Sea and Legasea were recently thrown in the deep end – quite literally – at Superyacht Investor London, where we were challenged to debate the pros and cons of the impact of Below Deck on the yachting industry.

It is, without a doubt, one of the biggest talking points in the sector right now, so in an Oxford style debate, Jenny and I battled it out in the hopes of swaying the audience to agree with one side.

I was tasked with presenting the cons of Below Deck which, at the time, I was absolutely thrilled about. Long story short, Jenny’s fantastic debate skills wiped the floor with mine, but that’s not the point 😉 ha ha.

But it was a very interesting discussion, the points from which I have highlighted and added to below.

FOR Below Deck

With millions of us locked indoors or confined to our yacht and cabin, going through bingeworthy series like they were going out of fashion, Below Deck provided easy watching.

For those in the yachting sector, it was amusing. But for the mainstream audience, it has caused some problems, which I will come onto in a minute.

The superyacht sector is very niche and pretty closed off to the outside world, with very few knowing about it unless they have experienced it first-hand or know someone working onboard.

Below Deck has therefore promoted the world of yachting to the masses, giving family members of yachties a clue into their daily lives. As Jenny commented during the debate:

“For the seafarers like myself, and I have been in the industry for 10 years, our parents had no idea what we did before the first season aired. I had to preface it with ‘that’s not exactly what we do, but that is a superyacht’.

“At one point, I didn’t go home for four years and having my loved ones back home knowing what I was up to was really meaningful for them.”

Jenny also pointed out that Below Deck has successfully burst the socio-economic bubble: “People came into the industry previously just because they know someone, their parents know someone or are lucky enough to move in the right circles. Now everyone knows about it.”

The truth is, we are on the verge of a talent crisis in the yachting sector. All the amazing crew are taken or being snapped up in record time and the amount of employable green crew coming through is minimal.

We have a challenge on our hands to develop the next generation of professional superyacht crew and with a big emphasis on secondary skills, we need to look outside the industry for such candidates.

Below Deck is letting a very big group of people know that there is a job to be had on a yacht, but I would argue that the way roles are represented are not necessarily attracting the right people.

Below Deck does do a fairly decent job of representing diversity, equality and inclusion in yachting. The show has done more for visual and verbal representation than any other organisation in the sector.

We have women in leadership roles on deck and in the engine room, people of colour, the LGBTQ community and coming out stories which has resulted in acceptance and love from around the world.

We can all sit here and slag off Below Deck, but the reality of the reality TV programme is that it’s the only thing out there that everyone understands. They were the first to get the story out there. The fact that we don’t like the story is our problem.

So hopefully, the professional yachting community can start to change the narrative from what is currently being represented.

AGAINST Below Deck

From start to finish, Below Deck portrays crew in an unprofessional manner, glorifies bad behaviour, excessive drinking and sex onboard and also some unsafe practices.

As an industry, we like to think we are the epitome of 7-star service, but the biggest advert for yachting is actually shambolic, showing incompetency at every single level which I would argue actually paints a damaging picture for diversity and inclusion.

Guests are also made to look like demanding, rude and unreasonable individuals. Yes, this is the case some of the time, but a lot of guests are lovely people who treat the crew well.

Of course, it’s made for television, so challenges and arguments have to occur for exciting viewing, but Below Deck implies this is all that goes on.  

With one week’s charter crammed into one episode, no director would focus on the necessities of the job, instead editing in the luxury destinations, world-class cuisine and fun watersports and activities.

The reality is that 80% of the day for deck and interior crew is hard work.

Deckies will be maintaining the boat as best they can with guests on, cleaning the toys and dealing with endless requests from guests for tender trips and inflatable slides. Stews will be making the beds, clearing up after guests, laundry and polishing glasses until you can see your face in it.

The hours are long and Below Deck only just touches on this and the other downsides of yachting, like being away from your family.

Yes, the masses now know about yachting, but this means every Tom, Dick and Harriet think they are cut out for a job as superyacht crew, and they are NOT.

Below Deck has encouraged a lot of lazy Gen Zs to apply who think it’s easy money, travelling the world, getting boozed up with the rich and privileged.

It’s made work harder for recruiters, because we have so much more crap to wade through because people are applying for jobs on the back of Below Deck with no idea what skills, attributes or qualifications they need.

The show is also deterring potentially great future yachties and I will give you one real life example now.  

A couple of years ago, I reached out to a few Swiss hospitality colleges to pull some people into yachting and thought they would be fantastic for the job. I spoke to the course tutor, told her my vision and how yachting offered great career opportunities and she was enthused. But after she’d spoken to the pupils, the feedback was that yachting is considered a really unprofessional industry and they’d seen this on Below Deck. They hadn’t worked so hard for several years to then go and jeopardise their career on a yacht. That was shocking to me.

If you’re leaving yachting and this is the last financial hoorah and you want to be a social media influencer, then Below Deck is absolutely great. But if you actually have aspirations for a long and successful career in yachting, then it’s career suicide.

We have worked with several candidates recently who have featured on Below Deck and they’ve been turned down jobs for that specific reason.

Interested to hear your thoughts?

Is Below Deck the greatest thing to happen to the yachting industry?

About the author

Tim Clarke

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