It’s no shock that mental health talk is still stigmatized in the yachting industry to this day. It’s not even just the yachting industry that does a lousy job at creating awareness around mental health, but it’s our societal culture scape in general.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’ve worked in before, the industry you currently work in now, if you’re currently working in yachting or thinking about entering the yachting industry… Every single one of us is no stranger to the fact that mental health awareness is only JUST starting to get traction.
After such a difficult year for so many of us, 2020 has not only opened up our eyes and WOKEN us up to many things we may have taken for granted or overlooked in the past; but it has also made us more self aware about the importance of our mental health. Being locked up inside all day in quarantine has been a challenge for many. Being at anchor at sea for months on end during the pandemic with guests on board has not been an easy route to navigate either I’m sure. Whatever challenges you’ve faced head on this year, I am sure you’ve dealt with your own worries and struggles.
As someone that has anxiety and has struggled with intrusive anxious thoughts and panic attacks in the past I know how important it is to break the stigma surrounding this topic. I am a huge advocate for mental health awareness in our society and mainly in the yachting industry.
So many women and men are afraid to talk about their “feelings” because of their fear of being labeled as “weak,” “emotional” or “too sensitive.” If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s that keeping things bottled up inside only makes matters worse.
Over the years I’ve worked hard on myself to practice being more open and vulnerable with myself and others. Admitting to yourself that you might be struggling with your mental health is a sign of strength rather than weakness. Talking openly to your close friends, family, coworkers and even strangers is something that should be practiced more in our society. How many people have grown up believing that going to therapy is a sign of weakness?
I only tried therapy myself for the first time this year. Yep, you read that right. I always thought I could do things on my own and figure things out without any help. It wasn’t until I had my mind opened up that I realized that asking for help is actually OKAY.
2020 was a year that brought upon a huge awakening for me. I invested in coaches, healers & therapists to help me with the internal struggles that I was always masking because I felt like I had this image to uphold. Everyone that knew me or even just followed me on social media only got the image of someone who is always happy, positive, resilient and strong. Although I do have those qualities, I am only human and have my own inner shadows.
I am also someone that has always struggled with setting boundaries in ALL of my relationships because of my empathic nature. When I’ve failed to set boundaries for myself and my relationships, this has often caused me to become overly anxious and depressed because I’ve allowed others to hurt or disappoint me. I’m telling you this because I want to show you how empowering it is to speak your truth and admit to yourself and others that you are only human and sometimes need help.
Whether you’re a seasoned yachtie, an aspiring yachtie, or a human that is simply following along with my journey, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, showing your support, and being open to this difficult conversation.
If you’re planning on entering yachting or you’re already in yachting… then here are 5 reasons why putting your mental health & wellness first is so important!
Putting yourself first has a direct impact on your OWN happiness, mood & attitude:
If you aren’t TRULY happy on the inside, then how do you think this will reflect to others on the outside? If you constantly put on a fake smile but feel broken on the inside, is this really living? Of course I’m not saying we should be positive and happy 100% of the time, we’re only human! But, we should strive to put our needs above anyone else’s first and foremost. This isn’t selfish, it’s actually selfless. This will boost our mood, attitude & overall happiness as human beings and this will have a direct impact on others (crew/guests).
Working in the yachting industry, it’s usually quite the opposite. We are told by our superiors that as a yacht crew, we must put the guests’ needs above our own. Yes, in a sense we do have to do this since we are in the service industry. But, take the time that you have outside of working hours to really do what it is that YOU want to do. If that means journaling, doing some yoga, meditating, going outside to explore the new town or city that you are in… then do those things.
Set boundaries with others if you must. If ALL your crew member’s want to do is go out for Sunday Brunch and get boozy, but you’d rather go to the beach or go for a hike and explore, then give yourself permission and space to do just that. Maybe you’ll even find that someone else in your crew is thinking the exact same thing and will agree to come join you (at least that’s what happened to me one time). I used to put others’ needs before my own and failed at setting boundaries. Now I have mastered when to say YES and when to say NO.
If there’s one thing I learned over the years, it’s that failing to set boundaries with myself and others is the BIGGEST disservice that I could’ve ever done for myself. Especially in yachting, I often tried hard to fit in with certain crew and did things to please others (such as drinking and partying). To be quite honest, I grew up partying since I was in high school. I did it through all of University and my four years of traveling and living overseas. I actually BURNT myself out from it all and hated the way it would make me feel the next day.
I didn’t like how binge drinking became so normalized in our society, to the point that I did it so often just so I could fit in with others and avoid the question: “Why don’t you have a drink in your hand?” Often when I drank, I said things I regretted because I was always WAY too honest. More importantly, I HATED the way I felt the next day and what alcohol did to my overall health. When I joined yachting at 26, I fell right back into those patterns and regretted it instantly. I still love to dance and party, but only when the occasion calls for it. I now know when to say yes and when to also say no.
I have some friends in the yachting industry who have also chosen to stop drinking alcohol, and at the end of the day everyone has their reasons. I’m not here to convince you to give up drinking alcohol. I’m just giving you guys an example of one important boundary that I established for myself, yet I constantly crossed. Whatever it is that gives you the utmost happiness, DO NOT lose yourself by overworking yourself for someone else on their shiny new toy or following along with whatever your crew wants to do. We are all human at the end of the day, so PLEASE put your needs first.
2. Putting yourself first has a direct impact on how well you can work as a team and will ultimately create positive crew dynamics:
Working and living with a crew 24/7 is not the norm for many in our society. If you’ve worked on a yacht, then you’ll know just how hard it can be sometimes feeling like you’re trapped in a sardine can! You won’t always get along with every single crew member on your team, but you will learn how to adapt to your environment and accept different personalities.
Some crew will become your best friends overnight, while others might rub you the wrong way. It’s the worst when they’re your superior, because you can often feel trapped working with a boss who may not treat you so well or you may not necessarily agree with their managing style. I’ve been there and I’ve quit because of it more than once.
I’m not one to stick things out if I’m being treated poorly, yet I know many people in the industry do just that. We’re told to show longevity on our CV’s and eat shit for a while. While I completely agree that longevity does look good, I do not agree that you should stick it out on a yacht where you’re constantly bullied, verbally and/or physically abused. Yes, these things happen in the industry, just like any other. People just don’t like to talk about it. Well, here I am talking about it. Someone has too!
My opinion (and this is my opinion based on the fact that I value my self worth and mental health) is that you SHOULD leave an environment that is toxic or no longer serving you. I wish I walked off my first boat as soon as the bullying started. I actually stayed on for a whole extra month, after the Chief stew began belittling me, putting me down and verbally abusing me. I put up with it, because the inner voice in my head said: “but you have to stay on for longevity!” FUCK THAT NOISE. Screw the crew agent that put that in my head. But, I’m also glad I didn’t, because I became stronger and more resilient for it and learned what NOT to do as a future leader.
The moral of the story is, if you’re not being treated right in your team and you’re unhappy, then everyone on your team will notice the energy shift. There are so many good yachts out there and amazing leaders and crew. You just have to find the right boat and know when it is time to stick it out or when it is time to leave. This is one of my reasons for starting my own coaching business as a yacht crew and mindset coach for women. I want to help women learn from my mistakes and ultimately learn to thrive in an industry that isn’t so easy to navigate through.
If there is another reason your energy may be down on board (personal reasons of sort), then do reach out for help. If you’re feeling positive and happy, then the crew morale and energy will go up because of it. If there’s one person that’s feeling down on the team, then do something to lift up their spirits. It’s a team for a reason – so look out for your fellow crewmates. Help raise them up instead of bringing them down. That’s really what the industry should be about if you ask me!
3. Putting yourself first will make it easier to show up for your guests & show them that you want to be there to deliver that 7-star service:
Can you imagine if you take care of steps # 1 and # 2, how much easier it will be for you to show up happy and excited to work. I used to get so down on myself during charter or boss trips, because I would put so much pressure on myself to have to show HOW happy I was. Often, it felt like I was forcing a fake smile. Why? Because I wasn’t taking care of myself first and foremost. I would skip my meditations, I wouldn’t workout and I would binge eat all the junk food in the snack cupboard and wonder why I put on 10 lbs. I was essentially depressed at some points during these trips.
Because I neglected my needs, I couldn’t show up as a happy and positive person. Of course, there were also times where I was actually working so hard to put my needs first when I could, but I was working with people who were bringing my energy levels down (e.g. the belittling Chief Stew). In this case, I did everything in my power to try to be happy by meditating, working out, and doing yoga, but the guests could tell there was crew tension. It’s pretty easy to read human behaviour and understand emotions, you just have to listen to the way people speak and watch their body language.
If you’re happy, then the crew will be happy and in turn the guests will be happy. It’s all about energy. As humans, this is what we feed off of. When I worked with people who brought negative energy onboard, it brought my mood and happiness down instantly. I worked with a captain recently who was so narcissistic and constantly tried to bring others down. There was never any constructive or positive criticism that came out of his mouth. He only made a comment when you did something wrong. There was zero direction and leadership on his part. I felt like I was back on that first boat, where I was constantly walking on eggshells.
I stuck it out on there for almost 4 months, all because I was promoted to be a Chief Stew essentially (being the sole stew on board). I reorganized that boat on the interior from top to bottom and got zero recognition for it. I learned everything on my own and got help from YouTube and my friends who were Chief Stew’s (yes I literally threw myself into the deep end as someone who came from mainly working on deck). I am pretty proud of myself for taking on a role that I wasn’t at all prepared for, but managed to do a pretty good fucking job. Yes I am celebrating my own wins. And you should too! Although my job was pretty cruisy when guests were off, as soon as we got booked for charter in The Bahamas, it was obvious we were ill prepared as a team.
Because the Captain gave us no direction and had zero communication skills, we suffered as a team. The guests could sense that something was off, and it wasn’t until we went dead ship in the middle of the ocean for about an hour and lost our mate on the tender that we realized what a shit storm we really were in. After putting up with bullshit from the Captain and my owner on that boat, I emailed my resignation letter and left the boat a couple of months later when I saw that there was no way I could stick it out any longer. At the time I thought MAYBE I could actually progress as a Chief stew if I did 6 months at least on this boat, but there was no way I was sacrificing my sanity for a good paycheck.
I promised I would never work with a superior crewmember that belittled me ever again. Sometimes you don’t know how it might turn out when you take the job (this is what happened to me), and this is why you must also decide during the 3-month probation if this is a yacht you CAN actually stick it out on. I’ve forgiven all the people who have wronged me and hurt me recently in the industry. It’s important to let that shit go for your own peace of mind. If you’re someone in yachting who is thinking about being a leader one day, or you already are one, then please do your best to spread kindness and lead by example by ensuring your crew’s mental health comes first. So, to reiterate again… help to lift your crew members up instead of tearing them down. The guests will be able to tell if your team is faking it or not. It all starts with YOU!
4. Putting yourself first by taking time for yourself even if it’s for a few minutes to breathe and journal will remind you of your WHY for being in this industry:
Writing down your WHY is so important. So many of us take jobs because we think it might look good on paper or we do it as a “means to an end.” If you’re a seasoned yachtie or an aspiring yachtie, ask yourself why you entered/want to get into the industry in the first place? Was it to quit your 9-5? Travel the world? Save a shit ton of $$$ living expense-free? Meet new friends? Find yourself?
Whatever your WHY is, flow it out. So many people don’t know why they do the things they do these days. I practice self-awareness daily, and doing so through journaling and reflection is the best way to do it in my opinion. When you put pen to paper, the truth easily flows out.
Write down your short term and long term goals. We all have them! I had so many “why’s” & so many goals that I wanted to hit while working in the industry. Some of those goals shifted now that I exited the industry earlier than I expected, but it’s because I decided to take my coaching business full time to help others and work solely for myself.
When I used to work in the industry, journaling out my thoughts and feelings was a form of therapy for me. No matter if I was having a bad day or a good day, I would get it all out. Taking a moment to breathe and appreciate the little moments also became a practice. Getting to kitesurf on beautiful private islands, getting to jet ski with the guests, swimming with the famous pigs in the Bahamas, going to tour Capri with the guests…. the list goes on.
When I took a moment to practice gratitude, I felt present and connected with myself and the universe. The industry can be such a wonderful experience if you focus on the good! Don’t take things for granted, but do appreciate every moment that brings you happiness and joy. Also do acknowledge, reflect, and appreciate the hard moments by asking yourself what it taught you, how you learned from it, and how you’ve ultimately grown as a person.
5. Putting yourself first & asking for help is OKAY because you shouldn’t have to face your challenges & struggles ALONE:
Whatever challenges or struggles you might be going through or you might experience in the future while working in this tough industry, DO NOT hesitate to reach out for help. There are so many mentors and coaches out there that will listen and help you if you just ask.
Speak to your friends and family back home as often as you can. Open up to crew members that you are friends with and can trust if you feel comfortable doing so. Be open to working with a therapist if you think it might help you (I recommend The Crew Coach).
If you’re an aspiring yachtie, then do reach out to me if you’re interested in my coaching services. My mission is to help you break into the industry confidently and to teach you how to thrive on board by working on your mindset and personal development whilst simultaneously becoming financially free and traveling the world!
Read further to see how you can get help in the industry…
Here is an earlier piece I wrote on bringing awareness to mental health in the yachting industry.
Yachties, You Are Not Alone!
Mental Health Awareness in the Yachting Industry.
“The community needs to be more focused on their mental health. Many are struggling out there and feel they have nobody to turn to.”
– Alex Haubrich
I woke up every morning disoriented in the darkness of my claustrophobic cabin, drained after hours of tossing and turning the night before, and bathed in the kind of sweat only severe anxiety can give you.
Months of incessant bullying from the Chief Stew of the private yacht I was working on was keeping me up at night. Her belittling comments, ranging from awful to blatantly illegal, rang often in my ears.
“You know how you don’t like onions,” said the cook/stewardess, “well, you’re like an onion to me, and I don’t like you!”
I pride myself in being a go-getter and always maintaining a positive attitude and strong mindset despite being a greenie, but even the happiest of individuals feel the drag of the anchor at times.
Every time I asked a question, I was ridiculed for not knowing the answer. Whenever I made a mistake due to improper instruction, I was yelled at. I felt like my mind was in a constant battle, switching between the generator and shore power, causing a series of blackouts.
“You can jump off the bow and swim away for all I care!” she would yell at me.
When she spoke to me this way, I felt the tension in my chest as my heart began beating faster and a lump would sit painfully in my throat as if I had just swallowed and choked on the pit of a fruit. My complaints to the captain were met with indifference.
I had no choice but to let go of the bowline and resign from my position as a deck/stew. The day I walked off the passerelle and became FUNemployed, was the day I decided my mental health became my priority.
“Feeling on edge, excessive worry, mind blanks and confusion” are some of the psychological symptoms of anxiety according to The Crew Coach (2009)
Besides being illegal, workplace harassment can impact your mental health, which makes living and working in the same confined spaces tough. Today, I want to raise awareness and bring change within our community. This old-school mentality centered around “mental health talk being for the weak” and the normalizing of abusive behaviour in yachting culture needs to be eliminated immediately.
Resources Available If Your Vessel Is A Place Where Worker Abuse is Rampant
It’s not always easy for individuals to leave toxic work environments. We need to encourage one another to stand up and speak up for ourselves when things are going south. Are you or any of your crew members currently in a position that is making you or them feel anxious, depressed, and even unsafe? If so, then it is time to break the anchor chain of stigma surrounding “talking about feelings,” and start using all of the support systems available to you.
Friends, Family, and Colleagues
I reached out to close friends and family, and individuals who have experienced similar situations in the industry for advice. Speaking with others can help with the kind of isolation that workplace harassment breeds.
Breaking the silence around this kind of toxic workplace culture and building community with others who can support you is essential. The Facebook group “Yacht Crew – That’s Not Okay,” created by three yachties named Nathan, Matteo, and Shereen, aims to “raise awareness of unsafe and destructive practices in the yachting industry so we can all benefit from greater wellbeing and better onboard conditions.” Here, yachties can find a safe space to discuss their work environments via the private message function and get advice on what to do next.
Make use of The Crew Coach Mental Health Handbook created by Karine Rayson for signs and symptoms of suicide, depression and anxiety. This handbook also provides you with anxiety management strategies, an outline of a mental health first aid plan, an action plan for how you can help fellow crew, recognizing and understanding assault in the workplace and support systems you can use.
Check out the Life is for the Living event which took place in Palma last year. Keep an eye out on Facebook yachting groups for more events like this that offer support and raise awareness for mental health issues in the yachting industry.
Get Legal Support
Nautilus is a Yachting Union you can file a formal complaint with. Nautilus will follow up with the captain, management company and owner. Check out their ‘Who can support you’ album for more details.
Yachties, remember that we are all human beings who deal with negative situations differently. “Just bite the bullet and tough it out!” is not the best advice. I’m not a licensed counselor, but I do have a psychology degree. The reality is if you are not feeling your best mentally or emotionally, you can’t perform to your best ability at work.
Let’s stop the shame surrounding mental health. Instead, let’s spread awareness in order to make the yachting industry a safer and better place.
Hire a Coach
I am a Yacht Crew Coach who helps women break into the yachting industry so they can become independent, financially free and learn to survive and thrive while onboard their first yacht!
My aim is to spread awareness about the industry by coaching women to dive deep into working on having a positive mindset, putting their mental health first, and learning to navigate through any challenges and adversities that they may face onboard.
You can book apply for a free 30 min discovery call with me here!
Karina Greco is an avid kiteboarder, water sports enthusiast, adrenaline and fitness junkie and full-time traveler. In 2018, she decided to give up her career as a teacher to become a deckhand in the Super Yacht industry. She has a passion for spreading positivity and optimism through her writing, by sharing her life experiences and connecting with individuals who want to maximize their personal growth.
My Reflection on this piece today…
I wrote this piece back in 2019, right after my first bad boat experience. I was constantly bullied, belittled, and verbally abused by the Chief Stew when I was a green deck/stew when I first got into the industry. I remember when I went to the Captain to tell him about how I was feeling, I was met with indifference.
He said to me, I quote, “Back in my day when I joined the Navy, we got yelled at and there was no room for people who had feelings!”
I replied, “Well, it’s a good thing I didn’t sign up to join the navy, now did I?”
I remember how shocked I was to hear the Captain say this. Mind you he was dating the Chief Stew, so it only made sense that he took her side even though he seemed embarrassed by her actions and probably did think it was wrong of her deep down inside.
I’ll never forget when the Captain told me that I belonged in a box on a big yacht where I could be given one task and simple instruction because I wasn’t a fast learner, I was too slow, I asked too many questions or simply wasn’t cut out for the industry.
Ever since that day, I made it my mission to prove to myself (and not to anyone else) that I could do whatever I set my mind to. Fast forward to a year later, I have worked on plenty of yachts as a deckhand, sole stew, kiteboard & wakeboard instructor, fitness & yoga trainer, and videographer.
Although I have now exited the industry, I have now made it my mission to help others break into the industry and go after their dreams too, no matter what others may say. I’ve refused to let the opinions and judgments of others cloud over me. I have become resilient because of all of the adversities I have faced and I know that this is just the beginning of my story.
Love & Light,
December 30, 2020