Getting paid to sail to exotic locations around the world might sound idyllic, but the crew members on Below Deck have it anything but easy. From grueling shifts to demanding guests, it's no wonder every episode brings drama on the high seas. Think you could cut it? Here, we've rounded up the rules of yachting, plus all the ins and outs of filming the reality show. Spoiler: It sounds like a lot of work.
Everyone has to apply online.
Yachties who wants to give reality television a try can find the application for Below Deck posted online as Bravo begins casting for each season. All that's required is some basic information, a yachting resumé, and a short video introduction.
Crew members have to meet an age requirement.
All applicants must be at least 21 years old to join the show.
Visas must be secured before filming.
Since yachting is an international industry, there's a lot of logistical details involved. All Below Deck crew members are responsible for securing the appropriate visa to work in that season's filming location.
All licenses and certifications must also be secured.
Potential cast members must provide the proper paperwork that says they are able to work on the boat. "Each of the crew members has to have an STCW, which is a standard set by the maritime industry for watch-keeping and just being on board—it's basic first aid, firefighting," Captain Lee Rosbach told Reality Blurred.
Cast members must sign a contract.
In order to be on the show, every crew member has to sign a contract with Bravo, as well as a waiver and release form for appearing on television.
Candidates for public office can't be cast.
Bravo isn't about to let you launch your political career on their show. In order to join the cast, the contract says that you can't be a current candidate for public office. You also can't run for office until a year after your episodes have aired.
Background checks are mandatory.
The show vets each cast member thoroughly to make sure they can get the job done safely—and they'll also bring the drama. "It's almost impossible to find a real functioning crew and step on with cameras and say go," co-executive producer Rebecca Taylor told The Triton.
Be prepared to work hard.
No one on the boat is banking a typical eight-hour work day. As former cast member Kate Chastain revealed, cast members sign on for 16-hour or longer shifts.
The cameras are rolling 24/7.
The crew members are filmed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In addition to the camera crew on board, there are hidden cameras around the boat, including in cast member's cabins.
Don't expect any privacy.
The bathroom is the only place a cast member is allowed to have privacy. As such, it's the only place onboard without cameras. But if there's more than one crew member in the bathroom at the same time, the camera crew can follow them in.
Filming continues for more than a month straight.
Each season is put together from around-the-clock footage of the cast members shot over the course of six weeks.
The schedule is airtight.
Other reality shows can lengthen their filming schedule to capture extra footage, but Below Deck can't extend beyond six-weeks due to the extra expense of chartering the yacht. It's up to cast members to bring the drama in the allotted time.
A charter season is longer in real life.
While the schedule on Below Deck seems grueling, it's not as long as a typical charter season. Production typically books the boat for six weeks within a boat's months-long season— so it's basically a charter within a charter.
Guests really do pay for their charter.
"They spend their real money to be on the show," executive producer Mark Cronin told Bravo TV. But since it may not be the most relaxing trip, guests that are featured on the reality show get a 50% discount on their charter.
The guests pay tips out of pocket, too.
It's entirely up to the guests what they tip crew members. So if the crew feels slighted by a small tip, that's all real.
The charter guest's airfare is covered.
The cost is built into production's budget, so charter guests are flown in and out courtesy of Bravo. Talk about a nice perk.
Some rooms on the boat are off-limits.
There are a number of rooms devoted to production that aren't shown on camera, nor shown to guests. Production typically sets up their control room in one of the boat's staterooms, while the actual master suite is also occupied by crew, rather than guests.
No speaking to the production crew.
Bravo is pretty strict with maintaining the fourth wall, and Below Deck takes this rule very seriously. While filming, cast members are not allowed to interact or even acknowledge the presence of production.
No shoes on deck.
Ever noticed the crew members walking around barefoot? There's a reason. "The crew members and guests are generally not permitted to wear shoes on board the yacht so as to prevent damaging the floors," Bravo confirms, "which explains why they don't always look the cleanest after a hard day's work."
Make time for real boating duties.
Sometimes it feels like the onboard drama supersedes the duties of the crew, but it doesn't. Each crew member has been hired for their actual yachting experience, and is expected to deliver. "These are real yachties. These are people whose careers depend on this," executive producer Courtland Cox told Bravo TV.
And no matter what, don't say Bravo.
Being cast on one season doesn't guarantee a spot on another.
Below Deck brings in new cast members every season, but often keeps the same captain and chief stew around for multiple seasons. However, no one signs on to be a Below Deck cast member indefinitely.
Everyone must listen to the captain—even producers.
When it comes to docking or sailing during high winds, that decision is entirely up to the captain. It's a bummer when the charter can't leave the dock, but production isn't allowed to influence the captain's decision.
Anyone can be fired at any time.
The captain is the boss, and has the authority to fire anyone who isn't performing or breaks a rule. Period.
Violence is not tolerated.
When former Below Deck Adventure cast member Kyle Dickard allegedly threatened violence against his co-star Nathan Morley, Dickard agreed to leave the show instead of having the incident go on his professional record.
Salaries are earned from the charter company.
The charter company pays each cast member a base salary depending on their position and the size of the boat. A chief stew would make anywhere from $62,000 to $75,000 for a season as of 2019.
Appearance fees are part of the deal.
Each cast member is paid a small fee for appearing on television, but the bulk of their salary is made for their work on the boat.
Any additional payment comes from tips.
For a three-day charter on Below Deck, the crew members typically earn between $2,000 to $2,500 each in cash, former Below Deck chief stewardess Kate Chastain told Entertainment Tonight. "Our charters are a little bit shorter, just so we can make the show, [but] everything else is exactly the same. So, it's prorated," Chastain said. "Anything less than $1,000 would be depressing, which sounds crazy, doesn't it?"
Prescribed medications must be disclosed.
When former chief stewardess Hannah Ferrier failed to report her prescribed anxiety medication on season 5 of Below Deck Mediterranean, Captain Sandy swiftly fired her.
Be prepared for drug testing.
The crew can be drug tested at the discretion of "the Company," according to a photo of the cast contract shared by former crew member Malia White in a since-deleted 2020 Instagram post.
Income is tax-free for certain crew members.
According to Refinery29's Money Diary, yacht crew members who don't reside in one country for more than six months at a time enjoy a tax-free income.
Staff must line up for every guest arrival and departure.
And you have to wear your "whites" (a.k.a. your white uniform) for these welcomes and send-offs. During the departure, crew members must be present when charter guests hand over their tip in an envelope.
Being sober while at sea is a must.
Former Below Deck Mediterranean bosun Malia White clarified that, according to Maritime law, all crew members must be sober when not tied to the dock. "We as crew have to be ready at ALL times to fight a fire, rescue a man overboard, deploy life rafts, launch rescue tenders, administer aid, etc. because we may be a long way from help and be each other's only chance for survival. Meaning when we are at sea—everyone must be sober," she wrote in a since-deleted Instagram post.
Titles must be used in front of guests.
All crew members must use the appropriate titles for their superiors when on charter. That means addressing Captain Sandy as "Captain." Though it may seem like a small thing, respect and hierarchy are a huge part of yachting.
There's no control over cabin lights.
Former cast member Kate Chastain spilled a behind-the-scenes secret when she Tweeted a video of her waving her hands in front of the mounted camera in her cabin. Why? She was trying to get the attention of the show's control room so that they would turn off her lights.
Don't call just anyone a "yachtie."
People have thrown around the word "yachtie" for years. While some don't mind the term at all, season 7's Brian de Saint Pern was offended when Kate Chastain called him one, as it can sometimes be viewed as derogatory.
Crew members who aren't on the show must be respected, too.
The boat’s first officer and engineer stay aboard during filming to make sure the craft operates properly. These crew members are there for safety, and are not typically shown on camera nor get involved with the drama.
Cost of living is covered.
While filming the season, the cast doesn't have to pay any bills or living expenses for their time on the boat.
All food is cooked by the boat's chef.
Although the show doesn't typically air footage of the chef whipping up crew meals, it's one of his most important duties. The crew members' food is provided on the boat.
Most music isn't allowed while filming.
Songs can't be played unless they're licensed for use on broadcast TV, so guests who want to enjoy music in a party setting get creative. “We had one song for the wedding that we paid for," former guest Lee Percenti shared on Patreon's Another Below Deck Podcast. "For the rest of the night, I thought they were gonna make us look weird because we’d go in our room and shut the door.”
Drama must be kept away from guests.
"When they start hooking up or that one doesn't like that one anymore…that stays below deck. The minute that comes upstairs, it starts affecting the charter and the primary goal is to carry out the charter professionally," Captain Sandy Yawn told the Sun Sentinel.
Partying with guests is also a big no-no.
As flirty as guests may get after a drink or two, crew members must remain professional. In season 2 of Below Deck Mediterranean, Hannah Ferrier was caught sneaking a cigarette with a charter guest—something her co-star Bugsy Drake called "completely unacceptable" at the time.
Crew members' days off are true breaks from each other.
Although it appears that the crew spends every waking minute with one another for weeks on end, the cast gets three days off during the season. On those days, they're put up in their own hotel rooms and asked not to communicate with one another, so that storylines don't move forward without cameras present.
Interviews are filmed after each charter.
Cast interviews are a huge part of the show and provide context for what's going on in an episode. The cast members are pulled into the interview room, one by one, following the end of a charter.
Being honest with production—and viewers—is important.
In Below Deck Mediterranean season 2, cast members Adam Glick and Malia White attempted to hide their prior relationship from producers. The truth almost always comes out, though. After finding out, producer Mark Cronin told Bravo TV, "Well, we weren't happy about it. We were like, 'What? This is terrible. We didn't know this.'"
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