Monday, May 12, 2014

With Drama Below Deck Safety Suffers On Deck - The Media's "Reality" Of Yachting Is Fake

I was having a rather intense conversation with a captain friend of mine (and member of the Yacht Captains Association) about a continued effort by the media to glamorize our industry without paying attention to the reality of the inherent dangers in yachting.  As a result, we have begun to see an influx of young crew who enter the industry with the misguided notion that it's okay to party and screw their way through the industry; responsibility be damned.  We both agreed that, as a result, our industry could be heading down a very slippery slope.

Here's a little reality you won't see on any reality show.

The IMO puts out stats on merchant mariner casualties each year, and the statistics show that deaths among crew run between 100-200 crew each year for all reporting sectors.  According to the USCG between 700 and 1,000 recreational boaters will die in the US each year.  In the past week alone the Sun Sentinel has reported on a man killed after being caught up in the props of a boat;  two boaters who were rescued by the USCG after their boat flipped and; another accident resulting in death in the Jupiter Inlet.

Furthermore, so far this year we’ve seen hundreds of passenger deaths due to a lack of attention to safety and another couple dozen people died after their 30' boat capsized with more than 60 people on board.

“But Gary – this has nothing to do with yachting.”  Perhaps. But it DOES show that maritime activities have inherent dangers that result in thousands of injuries and deaths each year.  And it does show (unscientifically) that it appears people are more likely to die in the recreational marine industry than in the commercial industry. And while certain desperate circumstances may be the driving force in some cases, these deaths support the notion that no amount of passion, emotion, desperation or drama can override the realities of the dangers of our industry, nor can these aspects prevent injury or death. Stated simply:  In the reality of an onboard emergency there is no room for drama.  

It's a bit of a paradox, actually.  Because the most important safety element on board a yacht - the human element - is the same element a certain "reality" TV show uses to exploit conflict and salacious onboard drama in order to sell their show to networks and advertisers.  Basically, they are cashing in on a huge part of what responsible yachtsmen and women do NOT want in the industry - drama.  

It's funny to watch the trends the media creates.  Put out a show about Navy SEALs and everyone wants to be a SEAL.  Put out a show about space and everyone wants to be an astronaut.  Put out a show about drunk, horny yachties and suddenly that’s what permeates the industry. 

Perhaps, instead of focusing on the crew member sitting on a PFD while hanging on the anchor chain drinking a beer making out with a stew while on charter, these shows should show more instances of deck crew engaged in MOB drills or collision/grounding drills or fire drills, or an engineer dealing with a fuel leak or a chewed up impeller.

And instead of showing idiots running around naked and drunk maybe the show should infuse its content with sidebars on the dangers of onboard fires or what happens to the guests and crew when a guest’s son is killed while riding a waverunner, or a guest has a heart attack snorkeling, or a crew member is injured doing their job in order to protect the guests.

And lets not forget about crew members in foreign ports who are mugged, robbed, beaten, raped and murdered… THIS is the unglamorous reality of our industry; yet viewers are more concerned with who the deckhand is screwing or what type of bug the stew is going to have up her butt today. TV "reality" is produced while REAL reality is ignored.

Whether we (or "reality" TV) choose to acknowledge it, we work in a dangerous industry.  More people die in marine-related incidents each year than in aviation-related incidents;  BUT the media continues to focus on all the BS drama that a lot of crew seek to avoid.  Why?  Because drama labeled “reality” sells.  This needs to change.

I’m going to give another shout out to the Yacht Captains Association because I truly believe we need an organization like this in order to re-direct our industry back to an ideology of “Safety First.”  We need responsible and qualified captains and crew who take their jobs seriously and focus on the safe operation of vessels, and who understand that if the vessel is operated safely the fun will naturally follow.

We need a paradigm shift in our industry.
These days we are seeing an increasing number of MCA and USCG ticket holders taking positions for which they are not suited which, potentially, puts everyone on board and within the vessel’s LOA in danger. We see green crew hired on large vessels for which their present skill-sets are not adequate.  We see captains who overlook alcohol and drug use or who overlook basic watchstanding guidelines whilst underway.  And now we have the added benefit of a "reality" show that glamorizes irresponsible and/or unqualified crew.  And it all contributes to increasing the likelihood that an accident will happen…and accidents WILL happen.

Steps need to be taken to redirect the focus of yachting from this perceived carefree, glamorous lifestyle back to safety.  The MCA and USCG must step up their efforts of safety compliance and enforcement, insurance companies must also overhaul their underwriting guidelines with regards to who can and can’t operate a vessel, and everyone in the industry should support the YCA in its efforts to support captains, to assist captains, to mentor captains and to ensure that capable and qualified captains are onboard (and in command of) yachts; captains who understand that safety is our number one priority – not ratings or readers.  And crappy reality TV shows need to be more responsible when they represent our industry to the general public (yeah, that'll happen…).  A paradigm shift.

Regardless of your feelings on the glamorization of our industry (I think it’s clear where I stand on the issue), when it comes down to it the FACTS regarding our industry remain the same in spite of any contrived "reality" a TV show chooses air, and the facts are: the work is hard and requires knowledge, experience and skill; the danger is high and requires situational awareness, maturity and responsibility and; the injuries and deaths are real – the TV shows and articles are not.