How to handle the drama onboard

Sep 10, 2013 by Rob Gannon

I didn’t plan on writing about this, however; it seems there is a certain TV show out there that is getting a lot of attention these days. That’s right; I’m talking about “Below Deck.”

In case you haven’t heard, this is a reality-type show about a pretty dysfunctional yacht crew. Wow, the drama going on here makes for entertaining viewing but does not make for a quality crew.

After talking to and reading some opinions of real folks in the industry, some seem to be quite unimpressed with what’s going on there on the good ship Honor. It does get pretty wacky but remember, it’s television. I’m pretty sure there is at least one crew member on there that in the real world would be fired or certainly on notice to clean up her act.

However, it’s hard for a captain to fire a TV character. That would mean the network kicking a main character off the show. Bravo must be calling the shots on that. Soap opera-type shows need antagonists and agitators; real, high-end charter yachts do not.

That’s not to say there is no drama on charter yachts. The lifestyle of working and living together in confined spaces can contribute to some tensions and yes, some drama.

So I want to address “real” crews regarding this issue with just some tips on how to handle personal conflict and drama when it starts brewing.

Now, ideally it would be great if it never got to be an issue in the first place. To increase the odds for that, the vessel may want to have a system and an understanding in place about how drama and disruptive situations are going to be handled. It could be stated and clarified when a crew member is hired. Clear procedures and boundaries with consequences for going over the line, can keep some nonsense at bay.

This is not to suggest a Captain Bligh approach that can make everyone miserable, just structure and basic respect. Crews need to have fun, to let loose a bit and enjoy some down time. Some yachts are busy and weeks or months can go by without much away from the people crew live and work with. A bit of time off is not always possible and that alone can cause stress and tension.

So here are a few do’s and don’ts for personal conflict and drama.

1. Do talk with the crew member you may be having some difficulty with. Respectfully speak about what you’re feeling and how the two of you can proceed.

2. Do remove yourself or refuse to be involved with gossip and stirring up trouble.

3. Do care more about positively contributing and the quality of your work more than self-conscious, insecure concerns.

4. Don’t, when discussing or debating an issue or point of view, ever launch a personal attack. This is where wounds are formed that can take a long time to heal and can divide a crew.

5. Don’t drink too much if you tend to get nasty and mouthy. All the frustrations that haven’t been discussed when sober should not be addressed under the influence. Now if you get all nice and mushy with a few drinks, well, go right ahead.

6. Don’t blame everyone and everything else if you’re in the middle of some drama. You have a role in this. You have something to do with it.

Remember, just being respectful, nice, grounded and doing your best to be a positive part of a team will keep you out of much of the muck. You may work with some who aren’t your favorite people but try to focus on what you do like about them. Come on, there must be something. Even if it’s just one little thing, try to focus there.

This profession isn’t for everyone. It takes great patience and stamina at times. You have got to like other people and yourself. You have got to feel good about you and be strong and centered. That kind of strength will keep the drama away.

Confidence and a healthy self-esteem comes from a clear mind, not one all fogged up and bogged down in drama.

Rob Gannon is a 25-year licensed captain and certified life and wellness coach ( Comments on this column are welcome at


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