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Navigating Mental Health: Yacht Crew Share Their Stories

Four of our team members from The Crew Academy and The Crew Hunter, all former yacht crew, share their stories about managing mental health on board yachts...

Looking after your mental health onboard is key if you want to suceed in yachting and feel content.

The superyacht industry can be one of the most intense working environments around. Living and working, day in, day out, with the same group of people can be tough. Add in the extremely long days on charter, long stints at sea and, for many, copious amounts of alcohol, and this could be a recipe for disaster if not handled correctly.

So, what can we do about this? Here, four of our team members from The Crew Academy and The Crew Hunter, all former yacht crew, tell us their personal experience of managing mental health on board.

Phil, Technical Recruitment Consultant and former Chief Engineer

"While I was working onboard yachts as an engineer on rotation, I would obviously look forward to returning home after a stint at sea. However, when I got home, I found I would often be irritable, reactive, and not such a nice person. I found this puzzling because I had been looking forward to being home for such a long time, and now I was there I was unable to enjoy it.

"Looking back now, I guess I was feeling the onset of burnout but just didn’t recognize it at the time. I suppose it's dealing with these same underlying feelings that often lead people to start drinking to make them go away.

"Once, upon leaving a vessel, I went straight on a camping trip in the Brecon Beacons, and within a day or two, I was my normal, relaxed self again. This discovery highlighted the importance of nature for me.

"Ever since then, as well as making a similar trip a priority when I returned home, I also made a concerted effort while onboard to purposely spend some time in nature as often as possible, whether trail running or hiking on a Sunday afternoon, or even swimming a couple of early morning laps around the boat when on charter. I found that a lot of tension and stress would just naturally dissipate, leaving more space to absorb whatever else came along, as it invariably did. It doesn’t always feel easy to make time for it but start with something small and go from there."

Julia, Trainer and former Purser

"To paint a picture of the yachting industry as I know it, the industry attracts individuals from all walks of life, eager to travel to new and exciting places, meet like minded people and earn great money doing it. I think very few newbies fully anticipate the reality of moving onto a boat and integrating with a crew.

"I worked on yachts for a decade and my mental health suffered at times. I developed severe anxiety to the point that I couldn't sleep for nights on end due to a constant replay of events dominating my mind at night, or running through my task list over and over to be sure nothing would be missed. I never wanted to make a mistake. It’s something I still struggle with.

"I witnessed many other crew suffer from eating disorders (trying to fit into a smaller skort). Others turned to pills, alcohol or drugs to cope with the pressures of the job and long working hours. Others suffer in silence and in a non-visible way, on the outside they seem really put-together, but inside they are bottling it up and this results in unexpected outbursts, burnout, disappearing from the industry or, worse, some even choose to leave this world behind.

"Mental health is a sliding scale for each of us, some days it's really good, other days it's poor. Talking about it and knowing that we all experience ups and downs and no one individual is alone is important."

Joe, Head of New Business and former Chief Officer

"There were a few times throughout my yachting career that I struggled with managing my mental health. Once was when we were in Tahiti for 9 months. I was dying to get my OOW, so I locked myself away and studied non-stop. I didn’t want to go out, as I thought that a couple of pints on a Friday would distract me from my goal. In the end I isolated myself from all the crew and lost my usual social self.

"I was dying to go home, so I went back for two weeks. But as I started my return journey to the boat, I bottled it. At the time I didn’t know what was happening, my body just went into shock. I had to take the summer off and was fortunate enough to return to the boat, pass my exam and luckily everything got back to normal.

"Another time was when I was a deckhand and got put on nights for 40 days. I didn’t see any light and got so depressed. If this happens to you, try and structure your break/sleep so you can get an hour in the sun.

"One thing I regret is not having completed my Mental Health training earlier. Looking back, there were others around me who were struggling but I didn’t know enough back then to spot the signs."

Biarta, Interior Recruitment Consultant and former Chief Stewardess

"When I was working as a Chief Stew on board yachts, I used to always encourage the girls to jump in the sea when time allowed for it. Soak up some vitamin D and have a laugh. The best seasons were the ones where we laughed our way through the never ending guests trips, where my interior team became my sisters. When we were all in it together.

"It’s the little things that got us through, eating guest ice cream at 2am when we could barely feel our feet after being on them non-stop all day. Talking, being as transparent as possible with each other and trying to manage the workload fairly and look out for each other. Taking longer breaks if the day's schedule allowed for it and using our creativity to get excited about each table setting, theme night or new cocktail we came up with.

"Everyone handles pressure in different ways, having a strong team to lean on is vital, but sometimes you just need time to yourself and some video calls back home to bring your feet back down to earth."

Advice if you’re struggling

  • Make time for things you love
    Whether it’s reading, drawing, or even just watching a series, mid-season days on board can really take their toll.

  • Stay active and healthy
    Get up early and go for a run or walk if docked, or do a morning workout if space allows. Try to eat a balanced diet, and find foods that make you feel good.

  • Be mindful of your alcohol intake
    Alcohol can feel like a great way to let loose but for those who are already struggling with their mental health, it can often make things worse. Find what works for you and ask yourself if drinking is actually making you feel better.

  • Keep in touch with friends and family
    Some days, working on a yacht can feel isolating so it’s important to stay in contact with people you love back home. A quick message or a video call on your breaks can help you feel more connected.

  • Consider doing some mental health training
    Taking a course in Mental Health Awareness or Mental First Aid can give you invaluable insight into how to deal with mental health struggles, whether it's yourself or your fellow crew members who are struggling. At The Crew Academy, we offer free mental health training for alumni, as well as a free Suicide Preventition, Addiction and Recovery course which is free for anyone in yachting.

  • Seek professional help
    If you are struggling with a mental health problem, don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to health professionals and organisations that offer help and support.

Find more details of resources here via the Mental Health Foundation website.

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