Love it or hate it, a thing that hit reality TV Under the bridge has done for yachting is to spotlight one of the industry’s few female yacht captains. Fort Lauderdale native Captain Sandy Yawn had three decades of yachting under his belt before signing on to take the helm for Bravo’s second season. While women make up just 2% of yacht captains, her performance is helping to break the glass ceiling in what is still considered by many to be a male-dominated field.
“If people watch the show, they see that I’ve learned all aspects of boating and that I’m a team player,” Yawn said. Robb Report. “I was prepared for the big boats, but it wasn’t an overnight success.”
Yawn started out as a boat washer in South Florida after answering an ad in the local newspaper. Shortly after, the owner of the boat employed her full time and sent her to maritime school to get her captain’s certificate, covering the cost of her certifications and continuing education.
“You don’t have to pull heavy lines on deck to be a captain,” she says. “But you have to know navigation, finance and maritime law, as well as know how to lead a team and learn the power of the word ‘no’.”
Yawn’s entry into yachting is not typical, but organizations such as She of the sea are making great strides towards achieving a diverse and successful yachting industry, regardless of gender. This includes the increase in the number of female applicants, as evidenced by She of the Sea’s 2021 annual report, which shows that only 28% of the world’s 30,000 yacht crews are women.
Even for Elin Signe Askvik, captain of REV Ocean, the largest research vessel in the world, believes that efforts should be made to diversify the industry. “Not just to get more women into yachting, but to have the full spectrum of people, personalities and skills,” she said. Robb Report.
For Askvik, being raised by a sailor helped fuel her appetite for a life at sea, but proximity to water is not a prerequisite for finding opportunities in yachting, says Patricia Caswell , Gulf Craftsyacht captain and quality control manager.
“I didn’t grow up on the water, but when I finished high school my mom sent me on a day trip sailing and the next day I applied for a job. “, she said. Robb Report. “I accidentally fell into yachting, but from day one, that was it.”
Caswell started out as a flight attendant, before quickly realizing she preferred life on deck. She obtained her Australian Captain’s License at the age of 21, followed by her Master 3000 at the age of 30. The subject of working in a male-dominated environment never occurred to her.
“I grew up around motor racing, so I was always with the boys,” she says. “It was just normal for me. I never thought about that.”
Caswell believes that self-confidence and good diplomatic skills are essential qualities for any good captain. “You have to be strong and own what you do,” she says. Yawn agrees. “I encourage every woman to become a female captain. All it takes is a willingness to learn. I know it’s hard for some to accept that I’m the one driving the boat, but I keep it light I know that’s how they were raised.
While the cruise industry has many examples of female captains in charge of large passenger ships, the number is surprisingly low in yachting. In the niche field of submersible pilots, women are even rarer. Barbara van Bebber is just one of four female sub-pilots in the world. Born and raised on the Dutch island of Curaçao, where she directs U-Boat WorxVan Bebber has spent the past 11 years piloting research dives, testing new submarines and teaching trainees the basics of piloting submersibles.
“I never specifically thought about becoming a subpilot because it’s a pretty ambitious concept,” she said. Robb Report. “I grew up around water, animals and deep sea exploration, and am a qualified scuba diving instructor, but I’ve always enjoyed jobs that are challenging.”
Since qualifying in 2010, Van Bebber has recorded an extraordinary record. “I’ve been on expeditions to previously unexplored places, had a new breed of lady named after me, and piloted dives with Richard Branson and Bill Gates,” she says. “I love the opportunities my job presents.”
Passion and drive aren’t just qualities common to captains and pilots, they’re prerequisites, says Askvik. “Anyone who chooses a life at sea will face tough days and surviving them depends a lot on how you handle it,” she says. For superyacht broker Lea Tintaud, it was a “carpe diem” attitude that gave her the positive attitude she needed to learn to fly helicopters.
“In my early twenties, I became seriously ill with stage four cancer,” she said. Robb Report. “I felt like giving up and my doctor told me to think of something I had always wanted to do and promise him I would do it. I told him jokingly that I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. A year later, when I was in remission, he said to me, “I want your helicopter license on my desk within the next three years!” It took me longer than expected, but five years later I was able to tell him that I had kept my promise.
Now able to pilot a Robinson 44, Tintaud found practical application to his skills, bringing customers to visit superyachts in the blink of an eye. “It’s the freedom it gives you, being able to land anywhere and the chance to see landscapes from a different perspective that I love,” she says.
For Caswell, it’s just being at sea. This is where I am most calm. This is my happy place.