Sexual Harassment within the Superyacht Industry

I recently presented at the Monaco Yacht Show on sexual harassment. At the Sea Changes forum, the PYA publicised the results of the sexual harassment survey and shared sexual harassment cases from both female and male crew. The results were shocking.

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Already we are beginning to see the positive impact that this forum has had on those who attended. Since the forum, we have received reports that crew have already started to initiate open discussions and develop their behavioural guidelines on dealing with sexual harassment onboard. 

I encourage you all to reflect on your respective workplace culture. Is it something to be proud of, or is there room for change?

These sorts of dysfunctional behaviours that are occurring are defacing the industry’s claim to a 7-star industry. Poor leadership, whether from Heads of Departments or happening in onshore yachting related organisations, is unacceptable and needs to be addressed with the utmost priority.

Sexual assault and harassment are dealt with very seriously in the corporate world. There are no excuses for the repercussions of such behaviour to be managed any differently within the yachting industry. Realistically, individuals will endeavour to shut down these conversations and make comments such as “don’t bring the #metoo hashtag into it”. 

This type of reaction and motivation to suppress such discussions tells how unwell the industry is.

Working in isolated industries that are not well regulated can bring a host of issues for employees ranging from mental health problems to being targets of sexual harassment, assault, and bullying. The corruption and fear around exposing these behaviours contribute to the perpetual cycle of abuse.

There appears to be confusion around the definition of sexual assault and harassment, especially when cultures onboard tolerate such behaviours to the point that the behaviour becomes normalised.

Having worked on yachts, I witnessed the impact of bullying first-hand. Seeing the distress and toll that poor behaviour can have on the victim and the team, I was also at a loss on how I could report it.

Recently, Burgess approached us to run a seminar for their conference in Monaco on bullying and mental health. It is great to see that some of the Yacht Management Companies recognise the impact of burnout and mental health issues on the crew.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are terms that are used interchangeably, and I’ve attempted to clarify them below. 

From my research, it would depend on which country the act was perpetrated in to be deemed a criminal offence. So as you can imagine, working on yachts can make it even more complicated to make a report and trust that it will be dealt with effectively by the law. 

It is important to note that it is common for victims not to speak up about their experiences due to feelings of shame and guilt and fear of putting their livelihood at risk. As a community, we need to work collectively by naming or reporting behaviour that is deemed to be inappropriate. If we don’t act, we become part of the problem, and nothing will change.

Sexual assault is a term used to describe a range of criminal acts that are sexual in nature; this can include unwanted touching, kissing or forcing the victim to touch the perpetrator in sexual ways.

Sexual harassment, on the other hand, is a broader term that we can break down into three core areas, one of which includes sexual assault. It is important to note that sexual harassment can be verbal, written or physical.

Defining Sexual Harassment

  1. Sexual Coercion is when the perpetrator manipulates the victim either implicitly or explicitly for their sexual gain. An example of this was when a HOD attempted to manipulate a stew to oblige his sexual requests. Upon refusing, she was ordered to detail the engine room until 3 am. Subsequently, she was continuously in fear of her safety which led to mental health issues.
  2. Unwanted sexual attention – including unwanted kissing, groping, hugging, touching, and ongoing pressure for dates. It becomes a criminal offence when it is unpleasant and unwelcomed by the recipient. This is essentially sexual assault. Please note that behaviour of a sexual nature that you agree to, such as flirting, is not sexual harassment.
  3. Gender Harassment – This is conduct that discriminates based on gender and can include crude sexual terms and images. Be mindful of how you talk to each other in the crew mess, etc., and your email content. Two examples that I can share here is a HOD called a crew house asking if there were any green stews available who were a size 6 with a big “rack.” Then another example of a gender harassment incident was that during an interview, the captain asked a stew what her menstrual cycle was like and whether she got bad PMS.

By no means is it my intention to point fingers but rather ignite change and ask ourselves how we can make things better. My perception is that captains and heads of departments are not getting the leadership training they need, so it becomes even more challenging to know the right way of doing things when you have not been taught how. What our leaders lack is emotional intelligence skills in the areas of compassion, self-awareness and empathy.

According to the World Health Organisation, “Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her potential; can cope with the normal stresses of life; can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to their community”. This definition encapsulates how difficult it is to achieve optimal mental health daily and how abhorrent acts such as bullying through to sexual assault can critically impact one’s mental health.

I highly recommend you watch the following clip, which succinctly summarises sexual harassment: YouTube sexual harassment clip

Common mental health issues as a result of bullying and sexual assault can include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • OCD
  • PTSD
  • Personality Disorder
  • Substance Abuse

We need to take care of each other and be aware of any changes in behaviour amongst our colleagues and be prepared to take the necessary cause of action.

On a side note, alcohol and drug abuse put the individual at risk and are a huge safety issue for others on board. These incidences need to be handled sensitively. The crew should be supported in getting the attention and care they need for their recovery. In this instance, the employer or head of department should be adhering to their duty of care.

Sexual Harassment within the Superyacht Industry

What protective measures can we put into place, and how can The Crew Coach (TCC) help?

  • We need to create a safe space where crew can feel comfortable expressing their feelings and can openly share where they are at with their mental health.
  • Having a go-to person to speak to – doesn’t need to be someone from HOD. It needs to be an approachable person that crew members feel comfortable in talking to (it would be advantageous to train the nominated crew member in mental health first aid contact TCC for further details).
  • Having clear procedures around harassment and bullying displayed in the crew mess.
  • Training on how to build a culture that doesn’t tolerate bullying and harassment. 
  • Changes in recruitment processes – educating HODs on how to hire crew focusing on soft skills. The Crew Coach will be opening a recruitment division soon. Karine is an accredited profile assessor in DISC Advanced, which focuses on human behaviour within the workplace. In addition, she also uses her psychology background to screen candidates to find the right blend of soft skills to be a competent crew member.
  • Investing in professional development training for the crew in interpersonal skills. (The Crew CoachN2 People Skills, Crew Glue).
  • Doing performance appraisals and exit strategies correctly. We offer a people and culture service supporting captains and yacht management companies. (The Crew Coach)
  • Counselling services – The Crew Coach provides an in house counselling service for crew. Our service is unique in that it provides crew with an ongoing counselling service. You only need to tell your story once; we forge long-lasting relationships with our clients so that they can re-engage with our service at any point in their career). 

Karine is a qualified counsellor and has worked onboard yachts to empathise with her clients, which is a core counselling skill. If your English isn’t your first language, I would suggest contacting ISWAN. ISWAN is an excellent resource as they have counsellors who can speak different languages. Another alternative is contacting Medair for support; they provide crew with a certain number of free calls per year.

What can I do if I am being sexually harassed?

  • As hard as it may be tell them to stop: if it is possible, tell the offender that their behaviour is offensive and unacceptable and that you want it to stop immediately. If this isn’t possible, you should discuss it with a fellow crew member who is of higher rank.
  • Keep a written record: you should keep a written record of everything that has happened, when it happened and the names of any people who saw what happened. You can keep notes in your phone if you want.
  • Contact DPA, PYA, Nautilus International, MLC.

You may feel scared about making a complaint, but it is important to know that it is against the law for someone to treat you unfairly or harm you because you made a complaint against them.

Sexual harassment, discrimination, and bullying are prevalent within the industry. Unfortunately, poor work cultures take time to change, but it isn’t impossible to change them. We can all say that we are aware that there is a problem, and to some extent, we are part of the problem. But we can also be part of the solution.

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