Women in Yachting: How the Tides are Changing.

A couple months ago I came across a post on a yacht wellness page from a woman in the industry who needed advice after being allegedly assaulted by a crew mate whose sexual advances she had denied. As there were no other crew around to defend or witness the event, she knew of no other place to go to than the police. Afraid this would damage her reputation in yachting and not wanting to ruin the captain’s career and her reference, she left without pursuing retribution.

A couple weeks later I read another yacht industry based column where a stewardess was uncomfortable around her male crew mates’ sexual conversations in the crew mess and complained to her captain. He allegedly told her that she needed to put up with it to be in the industry and to her knowledge, had done nothing to remedy the situation. As a result, her crew mates were described as behaving worse and began to bully her more. Because of how the situation was handled, she began to question whether or not this was considered to be normal behavior in the yacht industry.

If you have read these last two stories and your jaw has not dropped, I assume you are not new to yachting. Stories like these, particularly the latter, are not uncommon. In a world where the man who just became President of the United States is on tape bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” (sorry for the language mom) and still won the Presidency, we are not seeing a very reassuring world picture. I found myself reflecting on similar distasteful experiences in my last 12 years of yachting. (thankfully not many) Some of which made me laugh in their outright absurdity and some which made me realize my naiveté and that I could have walked away or talked to someone about it. None so harsh as having been physically attacked in the way the lady above had been. But enough for me to want to write this article and get a pulse for where women think they stand in this industry. Is sexual harassment that commonplace? Do they feel they are treated equally and have the same opportunities for the same positions as their male coworkers? Do they see a career in yachting? What motivates them to be a part of this lifestyle?

The subject matter of gender equality for women is not a novel concept. Feminism in its literal meaning is women believing they are equal parts of society and should be treated with the same respect as men and be allowed the same opportunities, no more, no less. I wish this word wouldn’t have to exist just as I wish the term ‘racial equality’ didn’t have to exist but unfortunately, that world has not arrived yet at making these terms negligible. Women have been fighting for centuries for basic rights and still continue to in many parts of the world. Lately, however, fighting against it seems to be catching on like wild fire. A need for change continues to brew, in some places overnight. Like Poland. In Poland, thousands of women took to the streets in protest and won against their government on anti-abortion laws that would have them in jail for up to 5 years for termination of pregnancy at any time. In Argentina there are the hundreds of thousands of women bravely risking punishment in protest against violence against women, a serious epidemic in Argentina that sees a woman killed every half hour. And in Saudi Arabia the Women2Drive movement continues to fight the Saudi government for women’s rights to drive cars, the protesters often imprisoned. On a not so violent or risky scale, women in the work place, even Hollywood actresses, continue to protest pay inequalities between men and women in their respective industries. Though the world has come a lot further today than it has ever been for opportunities for women, gender inequality will continue to be an issue until we live in a world where women are seen for their equal value, both mentally and physically.

So where does this leave us in yachting? I put together a survey and posted it to a couple different yacht websites to get women to answer some questions for me so that this article could reflect more than just my opinion. 93% of the women who answered the survey (78 women out of 83) stated that they felt that the standards for women were not the same as they were for men in the yacht world. Many of the answers pertained to physical appearance and deck related positions in which the subject of physical strength is often the issue in choosing men for the job as opposed to a woman or a woman’s looks hinder or help her get the job as opposed to her skill level. A lot of the women who wrote in about this commented on how they felt they had to work twice as hard and be far more competitive with each other in order to gain these positions. But allow me to allow you to speak for yourselves…here are some of your answers:

Do you feel the standards are the same for women as they are for men in the yachting industry? Why or why not?

“No, as a woman my work is held to a higher standard but my opinions are not. I believe this is because my supervisors believe that I am not as smart as a male”
“No, as it is a sexism industry. No as women who are middle aged struggle to find jobs.”
“Oh hell no. We have to be pretty and ladylike even when hauling up a muddy anchor due to a broken windlass. I also know boats that will only offer girls on deck either boys clothing or skorts, highly impractical while on deck. Oh and they may not have sizes bigger than a 10. On the flip side, I’ve never felt I was offered less money due to being female, even in the ‘male’ jobs.”
“No, so much gender discrimination. The problem is that mostly it is a benevolent sexism, so the guys don’t realize they are even doing it! Look at the demographics-one or two female captains? yes more girls on deck but interior-all pretty young girls. If you don’t fit into young, pretty, white girl, its so much harder in this industry.”
” No. Men are automatically given more respect than women. Women must make a bigger effort to be taken as seriously as men.”
“No, I think there are many preconceived ideas of what roles men and women should play. It is hard for either gender to cross over into the other fields.”

“Yes, I have always been treated equally on all 14 boats I have worked on.”
“Yes, however there are stigmas that women are not equal to men. ”
“Once you have the job the standards are the same. Getting that job is more difficult for women.”
“I feel that standards vary by position but generally the same for men and women.”
“Depends on the position. Men are also employed on their looks. It is just a weird industry and cannot be compared to a regular job.”
“I find it harder getting a position on deck when MLC requires separate cabins for males and females. More than half the deck jobs I can’t even apply for due to this and the fact that there’s a majority males on deck.”

The thing I found most eye-opening about this part of the survey is the situations in which women felt the most inequalities and these are positions held traditionally by men, such as captain, deckhand, or mate. The chefs that wrote in tended to comment about how they saw it as more equal and less so for the interior crew and women trying to work on deck. As a chef I must also concur. I generally get treated fairly but my position isn’t so heavily judged on appearance, sex or age. (Thank god) I do, however, see this a lot with the stew department.

Another is in the subject of physical appearance where women felt that if they didn’t fit into a specific size clothing or look as beautiful as the other women applying for the job, they wouldn’t get it. I have also been witness to this a number of times but I would also agree with one of the comments in the survey about how men also sometimes deal with this. It is a vain industry and, unfortunately, it often comes straight from the top (the owner) and out of the captain’s control. I have seen more female deckhands than I ever have a male steward and so we can assume that there are preconceived sexist ideas on both sides of what men and women are traditionally seen to be good at. This doesn’t mean that a man can’t make a delicious cocktail, pick out the perfect bottle of wine for his guests, stand on his feet for 14 hours at a time with a smile on his face, or make a bed that could bounce a quarter off of it. It just means he probably will not get that opportunity over a woman. And visa versa on deck. The difference though, is I think if a man became a steward he would likely suffer some teasing from other men. Women don’t tend to get teased by other women for taking on ‘male’ roles.

Does this mean we give up? No! Another eye-opener in this survey was how many female captains (7!) and mates and deckhands (27!) wrote in. That’s a lot more than I would have expected and I think we’ve come a long way since I began doing this thirteen years ago. Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean we give up or stop educating ourselves to do better. Nothing will ever change without persistence and having females in leadership not only creates opportunities for other females to work under them but also inspires other women to know they can reach for the same goals and gets men to see us in the roles and see we CAN do it. Education is our #1 ally. So if you want that job on deck or as a captain, you have to work hard for it. You have to learn things like tying knots (every crossing I make one of the boys teach me a couple just for fun), do some heavy lifting, ask questions, you have to NOT rise to the safe and easy job winner of using your curves and instead use your mind and be physically strong enough to perform the tasks required. No man will respect you if they have to also work twice as hard so you can have the job. Above all, you have to fight for it. Yes, probably harder than the buff, less experienced man competing for the same job. But as Mahatma Ghandi said, “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”

On an encouraging note (yay!) I was also so impressed by answers in another group of categories on the survey. What are women saving for? What do they like about this industry? Over 60% of the women who answered said they are saving for a home. The next largest category for savings is for a small business (30%). What does this say? We are not sitting around waiting for Mr. Right to take care of us and give us our dream house…we are out there earning it ourselves. We are working hard to follow our own dreams. 99% also are physically active and enjoy water sports, yoga, running, combat training (badass!), cycling, and sailing. Women who wrote in like being active, enjoy traveling, love meeting new people, love being on the water, and enjoy their crew mates. As difficult as it can be at times to be in the minority gender onboard, 93% of women that responded see this as a career. There is something to be said in that. We may have our adversity and we may have to fight against the current at times to be treated equally, but the opportunities are still great and the benefits worth it otherwise I wouldn’t imagine so many would stay.

There were some more serious stories shared with me that I would imagine the women who wrote may not want me to share verbatim. So I will just say that if you have endured abuse, sexually, physically, mentally, there needs to be a place you can go, or a crew mate you can talk to. This is often hard when you are the only woman onboard or on a small boat with few people. If a person, male or female, physically abuses you, remove yourself from the situation if you can (obviously not at sea) and go to the authorities. Period. No person has the right to lay a hand on you. Any future job that sees this as a mark on your character has shown theirs as weak. Any captain or crew mate who will do this to you will do it to another one if they aren’t stopped. There are plenty of good boats out there and plenty of good men who would never behave this way. Don’t see this as normal. Don’t put up with it. The number one thing women said in this survey when they described being sexually harassed or mistreated was that they never did anything about it because they were afraid of how they would be perceived. Very very few ever went as far as to even speak to their captains about it and that is worrisome.

I know I’m going to lose some women on this one but I pose that we can do more for ourselves. If we stood up more and didn’t submit to this as the “norm” much as we do, perhaps there could be a change. I am not saying if a woman is abused it is her fault. It isn’t. But I am saying we need to be helping each other to get beyond the stereotype. We need to stop being afraid of what men will think of us in the industry if we speak out. No man worth his salt should fear a woman of strength who demands respect. If they are as strong as they project themselves to be, they should be able to handle it. And who ever defined being strong as being able to handle abuse quietly anyway? What a backwards and silly mentality. It is time we stopped bowing down to treatment we don’t deserve and start demanding that men rise to higher standards of treatment. Is it really rising so high to not grope at women or to not talk about them inappropriately?

“Empowering people to know and think that it’s their role when they see something that isn’t right to say something about it, that’s how to be an active bystander. Most men and women can name a moment in their lives when they were a witness to a man or a woman being treated unfairly because of gender and it just takes someone calling it out.”~ Emma Watson

And here’s another controversial thing I want to say to that: WE NEED MEN. They make up the majority of this industry and despite the negativity, there are a lot out there that are nodding their heads in agreement with me and who know they are powerful enough and possess the leadership skills to be partners with us in this. I tip my chef hat to them! I’ve experienced this on several occasions. As many stories as I have of drunk yachties grabbing ass or saying inappropriate things, I have stories of men who have literally put themselves in harm’s way to protect me and to stand up for the correct behavior. A couple years ago in Antigua one such occasion arose when a really drunk man whom I recognized from a boat nearby grabbed a female friend of mine full frontal and then proceeded to grab me in the same way. Not only did the men standing next to me step in and remove him from the area, but his captain then walked me back to my boat afterward to make sure I was safe from further issue and to apologize profusely. That outshone the bad situation full stop for me! I spent the next day bragging about those awesome men instead of focusing on the one douche bag.

We need these good men, partners, brothers, co-workers, and leaders who believe in us and who see the value in utilizing our intelligence, intuition, and hard work. We need captains who first and foremost create the boundaries and do not deviate regardless of gender. We need captains who are willing to see beyond the investment into Y4 and Yacht Master certifications and also see the investment in accounting classes for stewardesses, sommelier programs, deck training, and boat driving training for ALL crew so they can advance and feel an incentive to build this into a career. My previous captain had a wonderful incentive program onboard that allowed for an extra month of paid holiday for those willing to use that time to boost job-related education. So one of our crew became a kite surf instructor and was a great asset to the guests who loved having a unique sport to learn and it also gave her (yes it was a female crew member!) another notch on her belt of experiences. We need to be able as crew to go to our captain and be protected in our work environment. Any captain who lords their position to mistreat crew in any capacity dishonors his position and shouldn’t be allowed to continue to have responsibility over the lives of others. Any captain who tells a female crew member that she needs to be willing to put up with illicit sexual conversation because “that’s how it is in this industry” should do the industry a favor and retire. That’s an old mentality and the world is changing and he obviously didn’t get the memo.

So where do we go from here? I think we begin to talk about it and move forward. I think we do things to feed our intelligence, we don’t buy into the stereotypes, and firstly believe it ourselves that we are talented, smart, competitive, and an asset. We demand the respect we deserve. We lead with our brains, not our figures. If you don’t want to be around sexual conversation, make that clear when you interview and make sure you are willing to walk the line you are drawing. I can only speak for myself here, but I personally feel that this is a fine line sometimes in yachting. We live together which makes the situations that sometimes arise be a little more intimate and it can be a grey area. I have seen the majority of my crew mates in their underwear at some point, heard about their sexual exploits, shared a few of mine, heard and used bad language, and shared many a cocktail with crew. We don’t live in perfect environments and sometimes conversations come up that we share different opinions and values on. At the end of the day it’s about respecting those differences and if someone is offended ask yourself if you can’t just talk about who you shagged somewhere else. Chances are, you are really the only one who is that excited about it anyway.

Lastly, many of the women surveyed (80%) said they would be interested in a women’s based group or centre they could go to for health information, legal help, or activities that connects them with other women. I have recently done a 21-day online wellness challenge with a yacht friend/mentor of mine that encourages physical, mental, and spiritual wellness for yacht women and sends encouraging and helpful life coaching via an online program. (Check out Savvy Survival Wellness for Women on Facebook!) If online coaching isn’t your thing, get off the boat and do some face to face connecting. In Palma, a group of us would go hiking every Sunday morning and then enjoy an early dinner together. My other female crew mate went kite surfing with a couple girlfriends every week. I got so desperate for girl friends in my life when I first joined yachting in San Diego that I walked up to each boat on the dock and invited the stews or chefs to a girls’ night out. The 8 of us that went had the best time and even the guys ended up making new friends. Find your local doctors (I found my options were a bit better in more developed countries) and get annual checkups and screenings. If you are going somewhere you know that the options are not so great, make it a point to prioritize your health beforehand. There is nothing worse than suffering at sea with physical or emotional issues and sometimes a bit of counseling or proper medication can help. We are all different in so many ways but one thing I think that makes us all so similar is our need for human connection and a need for our health to be in tact. Reach out to each other. If you see someone on the dock, give her a smile. Women can be so competitive at times. The dock is no place for that. We need each other more than we sometimes realize and having some sisters at sea never hurts. The yacht industry, like the rest of the world, will eventually catch up. We cannot wait around for it though. We have to start with ourselves first.

I know I have covered a wide range here and everyone has a voice about this topic. Please don’t be afraid to throw out YOUR positive suggestions or ideas. I am no expert…except that I am a woman and I have worked in a couple male dominated industries my whole life…kitchens and boats. What I am is someone who has been there and cares. I hope that this paper helps anyone who is struggling to find some solutions or at least lets you know someone out there relates. As I do want to hear from people and encourage comments and expression of opinion, let’s not turn this into a male bashing seminar and also be respectful in our words. Thanks for taking the time to read this:)

For those who are dealing with some more serious, legal issues, contact a maritime lawyer or your local authority. Talk to someone, even if it’s just someone who works on the boat next door or a local crew agency. Here are some simple guidelines for your legal jurisdiction:[source: Justia]:

  • A country’s internal waters — areas like bays and ports — are a part of that country. So when a ship is docked at the Port of Miami, all U.S. (and Florida) laws apply to the ship, its passengers and its crew.
  • Almost all of a nation’s laws also apply in its territorial waters which extend up to 12 miles from its coastline (some restrictions apply).
  • A nation has limited jurisdiction in its contiguous zone — the area 12 miles to 24 miles from its coast. A country has certain rights within that zone, such as patrolling its borders. For instance, within 24 miles of the U.S. coast, the U.S. Coast Guard is allowed to board any ship suspected of drug smuggling, regardless of which flag it’s flying under.
  • Once a ship is 24 miles from any coastline, it’s on the high seas (or international waters). With the exception of certain rights within the contiguous zone, the law of that ship is the law of the country whose flag it’s flying. I.E…Jamestown Flag…Jamestown laws.



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