Earlier on this year, I wrote an article on the subject of superyacht crew pregnancy. It looked at the rights, regulations and rules for women who become pregnant on board, and featured conversations with various female ex-crewmembers and industry professionals.
Following on from its publication, I was contacted by an ex-chief stewardess who had come ashore two years ago, after becoming pregnant with her first child. Elizabeth* had been working aboard yachts for almost a decade, as a chief stewardess for eight and half years for the same Russian-owned yacht. She and her husband, who was head chef on board, had planned the pregnancy, and Elizabeth was aware that having a child would mean a complete shift in her current situation. “We always knew that I had to decide to either carry on yachting or start a family,” she begins. “In fact, the chief stewardess I took over from was the captain’s wife, who had a planned pregnancy. In yachting, you get to that point where you have to decide between family and career.”
Happily, the reaction from her fellow crew and owners of the yacht was overwhelmingly positive. At first the owners even offered her a job after the baby was born (she notes that this is fairly common practice among Russian and Filipino crews), but she didn’t see this as a viable option (“I wanted to raise my child, but they were really great, they were really kind to us”). Her husband was offered a rotational role to ensure that he was able to spend time with her and the child, but it was evident for all parties that this was the end of her yachting career. “It was a decision that I had to actively take,” she says, “But I do know there have been a few other girls that had not been able to make that decision, it was made for them.” Of course there are examples of mothers returning to work – Elizabeth even recalls one chief stewardess/captain couple who were invited by their owner to raise their son on board, but these stories are few and far between.
"In yachting, you get to that point where you have to decide between family and career.”
Elizabeth continued her work on board until she was five months pregnant, with a blessing from both her captain and doctor to work for a longer period. However, one of her motivations behind leaving at that time was the working environment on board and the change in her ability to carry out tasks. “I definitely had to reign back my duties, especially with things like bringing provisions on board and carrying things. People were very aware and they were great, but I did find it hard as I was so used to being so involved and entrenched in everything.” She knows of two fellow crewmembers who worked until further along in their pregnancies, who later encountered difficulties during birth from the strain of the long hours working on their feet.
Aside from her personal health, Elizabeth was also aware of how her pregnancy was affecting her fellow crew. “It’s very much a team dynamic [working on a yacht]. If one person isn’t doing 100 per cent, other people have to pick it up. As much as people are very happy, it does place a strain on other crewmembers. Nine times out of 10, everybody is happy to do it, but it will take its toll.”
Throughout our conversation, Elizabeth also detailed how the transition ashore can be difficult for all ex-crew, not necessarily those that have left due to pregnancy. Although work on board a yacht is very niche, there are a number of transferable skills. However, Elizabeth found that outside of shore-based superyacht companies, employers didn’t recognise the expertise gained while on board. “What I found quite hard, personally, was the transition into a new environment where people don’t understand the level of service that we have in yachting. On yachts, if you are in a senior position, you are a personality type that likes to be busy, you have been used to a certain salary, and travelling the world, you come back to ‘the real world’ and it’s a very big shock to your system.” Elizabeth ultimately found a role working as a recruitment agent within the superyacht sector, but suggests that there should be more aftercare for ex-crew from the wider market. “There needs to be more support, career-wise, if that makes sense. It is a big decision for a lot of couples, or women, in the industry.
"On yachts, if you are in a senior position, you are a personality type that likes to be busy, you have been used to a certain salary, and travelling the world, you come back to ‘the real world’ and it’s a very big shock to your system.”
“Yachting is such a different industry and there are so many ‘normal life’ rules that don’t apply, because it’s beautiful and there are rich individuals whose needs need to be met. The norms of society don’t apply there,” she concludes. The journey of Elizabeth is a common one for many within the industry. The unique nature of yachting doesn’t necessarily mean that motherhood and crew careers are completely incompatible, but the choice of women in this market between their life on board and raising a child, is one that doesn’t have a clear solution.
*Name has been changed.