Dealing with inappropriate treatment on board
Do you know what to do if you're caught in an uncomfortable predicament?
Unfortunately, inappropriate treatment, is something that crew – specifically interior crew – are still subjected to, some more frequently than others. This is a problem not only in yachting; it also occurs in so many industries, hospitality in particular. But are crewmembers clued up on what they may encounter at sea, and do they know what to do if they find themselves in an uncomfortable predicament?
“There are a lot more girls who are better mentally prepared for the realities of superyacht life than ever before,” says Holly Fisher, interior placement coordinator at Bluewater Yachting. With the number of books, websites and even reality TV shows available to crew or prospective crewmembers, it seems it’s easier to get a real insight into life on board. “I find that many girls who have been travelling are well prepared for the realities of a superyacht and what could happen to them,” continues Fisher. A crewmember is likely to be caught in an awkward situation, she says, every few months, “where an owner or fellow crewmember gets a little too friendly.”
Even those who are well prepared, and find themselves on ‘good’ boats, can face this predicament. “Although I spent my yachting career on a wonderful boat run by brilliant crew, that’s not to suggest that harassment wasn’t rife,” explains an ex-stewardess who now works shoreside. The word ‘harassment’ is important – it’s one that is often misinterpreted and can come in so many different forms – some of which most of us might think would not count as harassment. “I haven’t heard of one yachtie who hasn’t experienced some form of harassment,” the ex-stewardess continues. “Whether that’s simply in the form of a snide remark, bullying or perhaps more serious such as being groped, harassment is definitely something a crewmember needs to be prepared for.”
With more crewmembers aware of the potential ‘dark side’ of yachting, Fisher explains that crew still remain unaware of what constitutes valid reasons for handing in a resignation. Staying somewhere that is putting you in a vulnerable or unsafe position simply isn’t what yachting is about. “I tend to get a lot of crew asking ‘If I’m not happy or comfortable in a position, am I allowed to quit?’, to which I say, ‘Absolutely!’” The ex-stewardess reveals, “I was often faced with an inappropriate ‘cuddle’ or grope from the captain, alongside the bombardment of sexist and demanding comments. Did it phase me? Not too much, but that was because I trusted myself and wasn’t scared to stand up for myself, regardless of whether I was putting my job at risk. I was confident enough in myself to tell someone when they were out of order or when it had gone too far.”
However, as the ex-crewmember clarifies, sexist comments can be quite threatening, especially for the on-board masseuse, one of the roles she held on board. “I overheard the owner’s guests joke and laugh about the fact I should be wearing Victoria’s Secret underwear prior to when I was about to give the owner a massage. I then went to the master cabin where the massage bed was situated, at which point the owner locked the door behind me ‘to ensure his mates didn’t interrupt his relaxing experience’. Luckily, I trusted the owner and knew that the guests were simply engaging in harmless banter.” She adds that she knew a stew who was picked off the floor while cleaning it simply because she was ‘in the way’. “I’ve heard endless stories of girls having their bums groped or slapped – and this has happened to me. I’ve experienced plates with whole meals on them being thrown overboard because they didn’t taste quite right, or boiled eggs being launched across the deck because they were too hot … the list goes on.”
Harassment and unwarranted attention tends to be aimed at female crewmembers and thus, largely, the interior department; Fisher explains she hasn’t come across any men being subjected to this sort of mistreatment. She does admit, however, that she has been aware of incidents where male interior crewmembers have been bullied or mistreated, not to mention situations that can be provoked through drug use.
Harassment and unwarranted attention tends to be aimed at female crewmembers and thus, largely, the interior department; Fisher explains she hasn’t come across any men being subjected to this sort of mistreatment. She does admit, however, that she has been aware of incidents where male interior crewmembers have been bullied or mistreated, not to mention situations that can be provoked through drug use. In this case, she explains, it would be better to not do anything about it yourself directly – it should be up to the captain as part of their responsibility to maintain a safe environment for all. “Even if it’s the owner or a charter guest, don’t try to handle it yourself,” warns Fisher.
In a case where anything from unwarranted flirtation to sexual harassment takes place on board, protocol, unfortunately, dictates that there won’t be many repercussions for the offender. “If you are being made to feel really uncomfortable on board, just remove yourself from the situation,” says Fisher. This is the easiest thing to do as the offender will always be involved with the yacht in some way, and it’s not worth putting oneself at risk for any longer than necessary. In serious cases, the captain and/or chief stewardess should take matters into their own hands and remove the offending crewmember from the yacht.
So while action can be taken to prevent harassment and unwarranted attention from persisting, Fisher highlights that there are still many crewmembers who would rather save themselves the embarrassment and subsequently “turn a blind eye to this behaviour”. However, this absolutely shouldn’t be the case, and as an industry we must ensure it doesn’t continue to happen. Most captains and chief stewardesses will have encountered something like this during their time in the industry and, therefore, will know how to rectify the situation discretely to protect the crewmember being victimised. “A lot of crew will try to brush off the situation unless it gets really serious or physical,” says Fisher, and this, of course, would call for far more severe action to be taken.
“It should be more acceptable to do something about it, and not to have to worry when doing so,” adds Fisher. While serious incidents may be rare, crewmembers should be supported in a way that makes them able to tell their superiors if any mistreatment is taking place. “There is far more worry here than there should be,” admits Fisher.
So should there be this much fear when, very sadly, harassment is pretty normal? “I don’t want to tarnish yachting with the harassment brush,” says the ex-crewmember. “However, I think all crew need to know that it is common and will happen. And they need to have confidence in how to deal with the situations and trust their decisions, even if it means putting their job at risk.”
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