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Crew Relationships on Board: Casanova or Creep?

A friend of mine once commented that working on yachts sounded a bit like living in an episode of Love Island. I have to admit, at times it can feel that way. Close proximity can breed sexual attraction, happy hook-ups or the blossoming of beautiful and lifelong romances.

As in Love Island, there is a lot of good-natured jostling for the attentions of one another, socialising in swimwear and next to no privacy. Male and female crew love to eye up crew on other boats, rank them in attractiveness or compete for the favour of a new team member. It is often very entertaining and within the bounds of normality to us. Many of us met our partners at work on the same or neighbouring boats. There are many yachty babies out there, born to parents whose wedding speeches are full of comical getting-together-at-sea stories.  A couple of my crew mates over the years have actually been yachty offspring themselves. 

Of course, though, that’s where the Love Island similarity ends. On a boat we are also at work, not prancing about in a Majorcan villa. We’re not on a few weeks’ jolly. We are living on board and trying to get on with a challenging job. Amorous desires in a floating workplace can get… complicated. Many of us have experienced awkward and unwelcome approaches from colleagues and even owners and guests too. 

On the whole and with one another’s support, we can keep ourselves safe from the guests (that is if we want to – let’s not get into that one now), but where does yachting stand in today’s world in terms of inter-crew romance?  There has been a definite shift in the world, and iffy behaviour that a few years ago may have been laughed off or quietly dealt with through gritted teeth, is now, thankfully, not deemed acceptable at all. Consent is the word on everyone’s lips – but do we all really understand what’s appropriate at work and what’s not?  Is it possible you could think yourself the boat Casanova but you are, in fact, the boat creep?

If all involved parties are happy and consenting, it can mean some fun and games and a round of applause in the crew mess the next morning. At the other end of the spectrum is the worst-case scenario and sexual assault. But in between those two polls we need to consider the grey area and the problem of power dynamics and seduction in the workplace.  When one party is senior to another (whether the senior is male or female), what one party deems to be seduction can be perceived by the junior person as coercion. 

In a crew setting, the chance that the person you are flirting with/pursuing/hooking up with is exactly the same seniority as you will be fairly low, and so, inevitably the issue of rank and power comes into play. Add in to the mix the fact that yacht crew are always away from our home support networks and living in our workplace, sharing cabins, we are permanently in a more vulnerable position. 

So, when is making a romantic move a good idea and when is it inappropriate? How much of a defence is ‘being a bit clueless’ or misreading signals when the consequences are that a crew member now feels unsafe or just plain cringey in your presence? 

If you are planning on lunging at a colleague in the near future maybe ask yourself a few questions first.

  • Am I superior in rank to them? This is a MAJOR factor. You might know your intentions are not sinister and you would never force yourself on someone, but if the person you are lusting after is junior to you, professionally and/or in age, just think about the fact that they might be scared of you, scared for their career prospects if they turn you down, or scared of authority figures in general. Even if YOU think you’re not scary, you have no idea what has happened to that person in their past.  You may be female and they are male, but you could still make them feel extremely awkward about saying ‘no thanks’. Unless they are basically licking your forehead with lust, let the junior person make the overtures.

  • Have they shown ANY romantic interest in you whatsoever? If not, guess what? They are probably not interested. 

  • Are you on the boat and at work? My dearest friend once had a relief captain lunge at her on watch, on the deck of a sailing yacht, in the middle of the night, in the middle of the Atlantic. She was understandably terrified and pushed him away. “I just kept thinking afterwards that if he were a total nutter he could have done something terrible and just pushed me overboard. He must’ve been mad to think I even wanted him to make a move on me on watch. That thought made the horrible situation even worse,” she said. It doesn’t get much more vulnerable than that. She endured the rest of the trip with her kind male crew mates making sure she was never alone with him again. Even if you consider yourself an attractive proposition, it’s best to keep the romantic overtures for social time. Most of us are mentally braced for that kind of behaviour out in bars and clubs, NOT in our workplace and home.

  • This is a tricky one, but are you really drunk? And are you able, in your drunk state, to tell if the other party is too drunk to give proper consent? This is a really messy grey area that we have had many crew chats about because, quite often, both people are so drunk their memories of the whole hook-up are foggy.

  • I can’t believe I have to say this, but I have actually had to say it in real life too. Are you gay and the object of your affection straight? Or vice versa? Because really, no, they are not going to change their sexuality for you. No, it is not your job to ‘unrepress’ them.

  • Do your crew mates have a jokey nickname for you that refers to your sex-pest-like behaviour? Maybe have a think about that for a minute…

  • Does the object of your affection run out of the crew mess muttering about polishing a winch (not a euphemism) every time you walk in?

  • Have you just masturbated into a plant pot?

If the answer is yes to 8) well, I’m not really sure where to go with that.  Apart from therapy maybe, or the nearest police station.

Obviously, I joke about romantic cluelessness on board more than the more sinister prospect of predatory crew. Firstly, because actual predatory behaviour isn’t funny at all, and secondly because in my experience most crew are a solid lot, more likely to help each other dodge a sleazebag than be one. But they are kicking around. We all most likely know one or two. If the worst does happen, I feel like we are in a marginally better position now due to movements like #MeToo in the wider world, but on yachts it’s still difficult. 

Smaller and private vessels often leave junior crew with no place to go if they have been harassed on board, especially if the offender is a head of department or ‘in with the boss’.  Larger boats usually have a DPA but most crew I know are too concerned with their references for their next job and don’t want to ‘make a fuss’ about any kind of mistreatment, sexual or otherwise.  So, all in all, that’s great news for you if you are the boat pervert. 

Sleazebags aside, for the rest of us maybe dating off the boat is the path to the simplest life, or at the very least thinking hard before you propose a tête à tête in the bosun’s locker. But we’re all human, and humans don’t have a great track record of thinking when it comes to matters of the heart. Or indeed matters of the skort. If we were ruled by our heads, none of my department would have had to retrieve a strapless bra from a dock flowerbed before. Ah – that was a fun morning meeting. 

So, in short, if you got hammered last night and got a bit ‘athletic’ in the crew gym with one of your colleagues, I just hope you were both high fiving with shared enthusiasm at what transpired. And please don’t forget the anti-bac wipes. After all, no-one likes a soggy Peloton.

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