‘Below Deck:’ Is It Hard to Get a Job in Yachting If You Are a Person of Color?

Below Deck has often featured a number of crew members from a variety of countries and backgrounds. From South Africa to New Zealand, Below Deck provides a pathway for viewers to learn about crew members from other cultures.

While the show has featured people of color, second stew Simone Mashile observes that for the most part, people of color are not widely represented in the industry.

Simone Mashile
Simone Mashile |Karolina Wojtasik/Bravo

During the first episode, she remarks, “So I’ve calculated that like, 0.02 percent of people in this industry are people of color,” she says. “Oh, it was such a mission to even get the first job because they were looking for like these blonde, blue-eyed people. So I’m excited about learning how to do service and being like a well-rounded stew.”

Discrimination may be widespread

In a Triton 2013 survey, one crew member had never worked with an African American crew member. “In 17 years of yachting I have never worked with an African-American crew member and have seen them actively discriminated against in the hiring process. I have also only worked once with an openly homosexual crew member. Life was not easy for her onboard. It goes on and on and on.”

In Ft. Lauderdale, Florida a yacht company simply refused to hire a woman because she was black. Prospective crew member, Diana Melton accidentally received an email from her potential yacht company employer. According to the mistakenly delivered email, she wasn’t going to be a fit because she was “black and over weight,” The Sun-Sentinel reports.

The email in full addressed that Melton would do a good job but the author was concerned about discrimination. “I do think she would do a good job. However, I am not sure she portrays the image we are looking for here. … I am also a bit worried abut [sic] the discrimination issues the boats have. … As she is black and over weight, these are two issue boats do not employ for. … [T]he majority not being US flagged they can discriminate.” Melton did not get the job Luxury Yacht Group, and Broward County took the yacht company to court.

Some nationalities are banned

Some yacht owners go as far as to ban certain nationalities. Jo Morgan from Onboard Online shared that South Africans were simply not hired on some yachts. This isn’t true when it comes to Below Deck but Morgan experienced it in the industry. “I have worked on several boats with a ‘No South African’ rule imposed by the captain,” Morgan wrote. “The reason given is usually the visa issues they face, followed quickly by: ‘and they had servants themselves, so they have troubles being one.’ 

Also, “Or the other common complaint: that they are used to being cleaned up after and having their washing done for them, leading to some friction with the stewardesses. But if that is true, then why are so many South Africans successful in the industry?  Why are so many that I’ve worked with such excellent team players?  And, if we’re honest, don’t many of us struggle with owners’ demands and the realisation that, in their minds, we will never even approach being equals?”

Morgan also observed sexism and homophobia on yachts. Again, Below Deck transcends this stereotype but Morgan says it persists. “An Eastern European first mate recently told me he would never, ever hire a girl on deck, no matter how strong or competent. ‘It’s not right. Girls don’t belong on deck.’  I rolled my eyes and walked off to the crew mess; it wasn’t a fight worth having,” Morgan wrote. Plus, “A Filipino crewmember I know recently refused to share a cabin with a gay crewmember.  The captain acquiesced, and a crew cabin-shuffle took place. This is an issue that is being faced more and more, with more openly gay crew joining the industry.”