Founder of Yachts Mermaids, an online platform which provides resources, tools and support for female yacht crew, Marien Sarriera isn’t afraid to discuss the more difficult aspects of yachting that are seldom aired in public. From substance abuse, mental health, sexual harassment and more, Marien talks to OnboardOnline about all the issues that most of us are too scared to openly broach – but need to.
How did you first get into the yachting industry?
I graduated from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale in 2006 with a Graphic Design bachelor’s degree, however even though I’d been living in the city since 2002, I never interacted with the yachting community until my last year of studies. That’s when I met Chris, an Australian deckie, who introduced me to the industry and after graduation I signed up for my STCW and a stewardess course. Two weeks later I was off to join my first boat. Fourteen years later, here we are, writing about it on OnboardOnline!
Tell us about Yachts Mermaids and what inspired you to set it up?
Yachts Mermaids is a platform which provides resources, tools and support for female crew. It is changing the paradigm, encouraging more women in yachting to create sustainable careers and a healthy work/life balance at sea and beyond.
The Yachts Mermaids Support Directory is a collection of experienced individuals and corporations who offer useful services such as mental health care, life support, career progression and spiritual guidance. There’s also the Mermaids Kick-Starter Bible which is an interior management system that helps stews to excel in their work and fast track their careers.
More recently, we launched Yachts Mermaids UNCENSORED, a radio show for Yachting International Radio that is raw, to the point, hard-hitting and – most importantly – uncensored. The show addresses taboo issues in the industry which are overdue some airtime, but it’s not for the overly sensitive.
The whole concept started off really simply with the Mermaid Kick-starter Bible. Stewardess friends of mine kept asking to borrow my interior management system because it just works! From my own experiences, I had put together a series of documents which covered every element of managing the interior, ensuring that no detail went under the radar. It meant the interior team knew what was expected of them and we were able to be really time efficient.
It came to my attention that nothing like this exists to date – a comprehensive but concise and digestible manual to help guide budding chief stews to manage their department. After many revisions and with contributions from other successful and innovative women, I finally made the Mermaid Kick-Starter Bible available online.
Since then, Yachts Mermaids has taken on a life of its own and has grown from being a tool for stewardesses to a platform for all women in the industry to find the support they need to empower themselves.
For me, Yachts Mermaids is too important for women in the industry to let it lose momentum. With recent feminist rights campaigns such as #metoo and the proliferation of mental health awareness, there has never been a better time for women to stand together and support each other.
What are you hoping to achieve through the platform?
The truth is, though we’re not always keen to recognise it, many of us need help, in our personal lives or at work. That’s where Yachts Mermaids comes in. The platform makes it easy for women in yachting to access the support they need, as and when they need it.
With the radio show and with our social media activity, we’re challenging the norms and stirring up a new narrative. We’re asking the questions that are relevant today and we’re daring to demand answers. Although we are a support network of women for women, the narrative we’re challenging is so much bigger than that: feminism means equality for both men and women, and the yachting industry is years behind the rest of the corporate world in terms of progress.
We all know that being part of a crew means being part of a team, regardless of your job description or salary and, in order to succeed, ALL members of the team need to feel supported. I have captains and department heads asking where they can find specific guidance or support for members of their team who are struggling with stress and mental health issues. Yachts Mermaids isn’t just for stewardesses, and it isn’t just relevant to women. We all need guidance and support in our lives, and we are the bridge to that.
This is how Yachts Mermaids is breaking the mould and why it’s so important that we extend its reach as far as possible. I strongly believe that a good leader has the power to impact positive change with trust, alignment and integrity rather than the conventional, dated techniques of jurisdiction and fear. I want to share the message that it’s time for women to step up to positions of leadership, from any rung on the career ladder, not just the top, and encourage and strengthen each other. We are sharing tools to assist women on their journey, for the benefit of themselves, the women around them and the industry as a whole.
Tell us about your talk show ‘UNCENSORED’ on Yachting International Radio – that’s quite a brave move?
Yes, I am truly honored that the founder of Yachting International Radio, Rhea Rouw, offered me the opportunity to host such a special show, especially during these times of awakening and paradigm shifts within the yachting industry.
In our first episode of UNCENSORED we ventured into the reality of what happens to most crew members after a work harassment incident or sexual assault on board a superyacht - very insightful if you want to understand the crisis that we are facing in the industry by not having a proper and professional support system in place and enforced as part of a vessel’s regulations and safety plan.
On our second show we explored the reality of substance abuse, suicide and mental health on board superyachts. We also talked about the fact that there is no HR-type support system for crew, especially on private vessels, and what we can do to change that.
During our third episode we had fun exploring the reality every yachtie has encountered at one point or another… Day 277 without sex! Such a fun and insightful topic.
What reaction have you had so far?
Crew are resonating with the topics and are feeling seen, supported and inspired to speak up. We have had a few crew members reach out to us and say how much they appreciate the show because it empowered them to voice their opinions and share their stories. Both Rhea and I have a real desire and passion to support our fellow crew through this show by creating a platform for others to speak up, find support and become an inspiration to help others that may be facing the same circumstances.
Is the success of UNCENSORED a turning point for the industry – a catalyst for change?
I believe everything can be a catalyst for change if we desire. YIR and I have the desire for others to feel seen, heard and supported, and us showing up is part of the turning point you’re referring to. As the great Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
It’s also fair to say that as owners are becoming more conscious of their choices and how it affects the industry as a whole, we can see a shift is happening.
You talk frankly about female empowerment and gender issues on board superyachts - what do you think are the most common barriers for female crew?
I think the most common barrier for female crew is the fact that many women are disconnected from their feminine energy, their bodies, their emotions, their desires and their voice. Simply said, they are disconnected from themselves. When you live your life from this place you tend to manifest situations that, even though they are learning experiences, may not be as pleasant as you wish.
These manifestations can come in many forms including sexism, racism, bullying, gender harassment, depression, isolation, discrimination, degrading comments, intolerance, inappropriate comments, offensive jokes, personal humiliation, critical remarks, ostracizing, intimidation, direct threats of intent to inflict harm, physical attacks, threats, damage to personal property, and much more.
For me, there is no room for a pity party. We as individuals need to own the part of the equation that allows the victim/perpetrator game to take place. It’s only when you take responsibility for your part in a situation that the narrative can change, not only for you but for the entire industry. Taking responsibility for your life and leading by example is key to shifting the whole model of the yachting.
Do you think women are still being held back because they are women or because they are less assertive than their male counterparts?
In all honestly, women are not being held back by anybody or anything other than themselves. Many females have this false sense because they haven’t realised that in order to see inclusion in society and work, they need to get out of their own way, connect with themselves and take action in the direction they truly want. Woman tend to talk about problems more than taking action to find solutions. When we identify a problem and we offer up solutions, those around us tend to fall in line and real change occurs as a result.
Are women supportive enough of other women?
I proudly say that yes, we are. It is in our nature. We may not practice it all the time with every woman we encounter, but we are indeed supportive beings. How many women can say that they have never supported another woman? No one, because we all have. For me it’s a matter of leading by example and being the change. I want to see more of that which is why I choose to live my life in inclusion, support and sister/brother hood.
Do you foresee a day when female crew will be able to forge long term careers in yachting as well as having children?
It is already happening - I know many women who have children and continue working as crew. Maybe they don’t get to see their children as often as they would like, but it is happening. I also know of women who have successful freelance careers that allow them to be at home and on board. I think it’s a matter of how each individual wants to design that part of their life. Anything is possible - if you want it, it can be achieved.
The gender pay gap is another hot topic – does it exist in yachting too?
I have heard of it, I just haven’t experienced it myself. In fact, I have experienced the opposite, where I got paid more than mates and engineers, only because I value myself differently than them. This is a perfect example of how the inner world expresses itself in the outer world. I have never had the belief that because I am a woman I will get paid less, so I have never experienced that.
In terms of sexual harassment, is it fair to say yachting lags behind the rest of the world due to its very nature - the belief that money can buy anything, and anything goes?
We can continue to play the game of the victim/perpetrator, play by the old rules and put the blame on someone who has manifested financial wealth, but I call BS on that. For me, yachting lags behind the rest of the maritime world because, until recently, it wasn’t taken seriously as a profession within maritime industry as a whole.
This is an ongoing battle, particularly with respect to the need for proper rights, regulations, and external support for crew to the same standard as seafarers in the commercial sector. As I said, HR is still left to the captains, management companies, owners and crew to figure out, and sadly many of them are not trained to handle situations such as sexual harassment and mental health, to name just two.
Organisations like ISWAN and PYA have been campaigning for some time on issues related to welfare and poor treatment of seafarers in yachting, and I believe more businesses and representatives across the industry need to raise awareness and develop platforms to change the legitimacy of yachting within the maritime sector. The industry is growing very quickly and the necessary regulations and support for seafarers are not up to speed. We need to stand up and ask for the changes we so desperately want to see.
How widespread is sexual harassment among crew and what’s the correct procedure for reporting this and other abusive behaviour on board?
Sexual harassment does not discriminate genders. It is a huge topic and one we will dive into in more detail later. What I will say is that it’s your responsibility as a crew member to ask what boundaries, regulations and support are in place prior to boarding a yacht. Again, it comes back to the individual. Similarly, if something happens on board, you must say something, regardless of whether you’ll lose your job. If you don’t, how can anyone act to change things.
In my experience, I have always reached out to the captain and thankfully they’ve helped to resolve the situation. But if you are not in that position, or he/she is the aggressor then please:
1. Speak up immediately, share what has happened with someone.
2. Write the incident down with as much detail as you can remember, with dates.
3. Go to the port master who should take a report and call the local police department.
4. If you have a management company, you should get in touch immediately with them.
5. I would also suggest you contact ISWAN (International Seafarers Network and Assistance), a charity which supports seafarers worldwide and their free and confidential support service, SeafarerHelp, (www.seafarerhelp.org) is available 24/7.
Whether you have a problem on board, concerns about family, a health issue, a request for general information, or simply need to talk to someone, the SeafarerHelp team is there to offer assistance. Their team is trained in emotional support and listening skills and they can also refer cases to specialist agencies or ISWAN’s regional representatives in the port or country where the seafarer is located to ensure they receive the support they need.
Yachts Mermaids and Life is for Living have also compiled a list of global organizations and contacts that can be of help, which you can download here.
Awareness of mental health is also growing, but is enough being done to make crew aware of the help available to them, and do crew feel able to seek help without jeopardizing their jobs?
Feeling comfortable to seek help is an individual thing, that is why we are inspiring crew through our social media platforms and UNCENSORED to ask for help and speak up. I’m also taking action to create the change I want to see through Yachts Mermaids. On the website crew will find our Support Directory which is a collection of experienced individuals and corporations who offer services for mental health, life support, career progression and spiritual guidance, and we ensure that all the support listed is current and available.
Personally, I would like to see more maritime schools, crew agencies and management companies getting more involved in voicing the support that is available and becoming part of the help themselves.
If you had to list the many issues we need to address in order of priority, what would that look like?
Transparent yacht seafarers’ rights, regulations and support
Accessible human resources at sea for yachties
Leadership in the industry - especially for heads of department
When can people catch your show and how can they get involved?
You can also tune in to previous shows here.
If you have something to say, a story to share or wisdom to pass on, email Marién at firstname.lastname@example.org to be part of the UNCENSORED show!
You can also sign up to the YM newsletter to receive support, inspiration and information on how to create a sustainable yachting career and a healthy work/like balance at sea and beyond.