As the yachting reality television show “Below Deck” spun out of control in mid-September – and I finally gave up trying to find the benefit in it to our industry – we heard from many captains and crew who shared my remorse for the show.
Tucked among those thoughts were queries as to how the show has impacted the charter industry. So I reached out to about a dozen charter agents and managers I know to ask if the show has hurt business at all.
We should all be pleased to know that it has not.
“It has not impacted my business at all,” said DJ Parker, president of Neptune Group Yachting in Ft. Lauderdale and a charter sales agent. “No clients have asked about the show nor have any new ones inquired. No mention has been made one way or the other from existing clients.”
Most of the managers and brokers I talked to said the same thing, though they didn’t all want their name in print associated with the show.
“I have not had many clients comment on the show,” said one broker. “If anyone does, we normally agree that it is ‘staged’ and tweaked for entertainment.”
“While everything that happens on the show can and does occasionally happen, it is really not the norm,” said a South Florida-based charter broker. “I recently met one nice American couple that was looking to purchase a 130-foot Westport and was interested in putting it into charter, until the wife watched ‘Below Deck’ and was appalled. I told her it was Hollywood and that I know Capt. Lee, and she felt a little better, but my guess is they will not buy that large with that many crew.”
Now, that is something to be concerned about. If the show is impacting purchasing decisions, we’ve got an even bigger problem. (I’ll be following up with this broker in the weeks and months ahead.)
“ ‘Below Deck’, in my opinion, is a very sad representation of our industry, and I cringe at the thought of our fleet owners, charter clients, crew, and worst of all, prospective charter clients, watching it and thinking that this behavior is normal,” said Lara-Jo Houghting, a charter manager at Churchill Yacht Partners.
“I take my job very seriously as the modern world of workaholics has very limited time for families to dine together, play together, and create precious family memories (a gift that I had growing up – a child of the 70’s),” she said. “I fear that what is seen on ‘Below Deck’ is impregnating viewers with a wrong view of what a private luxury yacht charter is all about.”
But not all in the charter industry took so serious a tone.
“It has not impacted my business at all,” one charter agent said. “So far, no new clients have contacted me due to interest in the show, nor have any old clients expressed thoughts on the show, either.
“As for your readers who are standing arm-to-arm for the honor of the industry, lighten up a little. It is a reality show … based loosely on reality, right?”
“No impact relative to bookings, but it has become a fun source of discussion with folks who have never known much about the industry,” said Ann E McHorney, director of charter sales with Select Yachts.
“Let’s remember, people who love the water and boats may be well off, but they mostly do have a sense of humor and minds quick enough to know what is real and what is not.
“I know there are some brokers pretty adamantly disliking the whole thing,” she said. “To me, if you add the pluses and minuses on this, we in the brokerage community come out way ahead. …
“We could not buy this much promotional air time. People are seeing Sint Maarten, the BVIs, a beautiful yacht, and crew that are entertaining and fun with personality and character. Too bad they are too often portraying the crew as overly self absorbed and selfish, as I don’t see most crew as being like that, but the show would not work if it was boring.”
One charter broker put me in touch with the new owner of the yacht depicted in the show. The then-named Ohana sold after the winter charter (and television taping) season last year to Roy Carroll, a real estate developer in North Carolina. He and his family had chartered the 154-foot Ohana before, as well as several other yachts over the past 13 years, and his wife fell in love with it. He bought it for her, and its history on “Below Deck” didn’t deter him.
“We bought it because of the sun deck,” Carroll said. “You can get a hundred people up there and still have room. The inside is not real heavy; it’s light and airy. It looks like a beach house inside. It was the right boat for us.
“We’ve had great experiences in our 13 years of chartering and we’ve seen lots of crews,” he said. “I guess we’ve been fortunate to have had really great experiences in our charters.”
I asked him if he had ever seen his boat in the reality TV show.
“There’s no reality in that show,” he said. “In 13 years, multiple charters a year, I’ve never seen anything like what is depicted on that show.
“I don’t think it represents the industry and it’s an insult to the fine people who earn their livings working in this industry, serving others,” he said. “It completely does a disservice to the people we’ve have the experience to know.”
Now named Rhino and completely refit, the vessel has returned to the charter fleet with Churchill Yacht Partners this year. It will appear in the Antigua show in December.
“Our experience in chartering yachts is that it’s an excellent family activity,” Carroll said. “That show doesn’t, in my opinion, have anything to do with family.
“We’ve deliberately rebranded the yacht from the inside out to create a family brand. We’re not interested in any of the silliness that’s on that show.”
So if Bravo TV came calling to charter Rhino for season 3 of “Below Deck”, would he do it?
“Bravo doesn’t have enough money to charter Rhino,” he said.
Lucy Chabot Reed is editor of The Triton. Comments on this article are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.