Women in Boating: Captain Sandy Yawn
With over 27 years of yachting experience, Captain Sandy Yawn has chartered yachts from the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Being only one of a handful of female captains in the mega yacht industry, she has overcome many stereotypes and conquered every imaginable obstacle both on land and at sea. Captain Sandy was on Bravo TV’s Below Deck Mediterranean as the show’s first female captain aboard the 154-foot mega yacht, Sirocco.
How did you get into the marine industry?
I was 13 when I started washing boats for money and I loved it. Later in life, I got back into it. It wasn’t a career that I pursued, because I didn’t really know there was a career in yachting. My life took me somewhere else, then at 24 years old I reconnected with the marine industry.
What is an experience that you will never forget in your beginning stages of boating?
My first trip to the Bahamas, seeing how clear the water was. It felt amazing to realize that this is what I’m going to experience in this industry. I felt like a little kid at Disney World — seeing the fish, dolphins, and the beautiful crystal turquoise water.
As a woman captain, have you come across guests that do not trust your experience, solely being a woman?
I know I’ve been turned down for a captain position because I was a woman. The only reason I knew this was because the yacht manager told me. I think once a guest steps on board with me and sees how I operate and that I am in charge, they begin to gain confidence in me and my ability.
If you had to choose a favorite crew member of Below Deck Mediterranean, who would it be?
I don’t really have a favorite. I enjoy helping anyone that is interested in becoming more than the position they
hold. That really stands out to me, and to get to mentor someone like I was mentored, is a great opportunity. When I see people that are interested in the industry, I’m going to get behind them.
What is the biggest difficulty you’ve faced in the industry as a female captain?
The stereotypes — I’m sure just like any profession, it happens. The whole stereotype, “She’s a woman, can she do it?” Usually when I’m maneuvering or docking I see the eyes and everyone comes out to watch. It’s a skill set that I’ve mastered though.
What is the largest yacht you’ve captained?
157 feet — I’ve been co-captain on bigger vessels, but it’s not about the size. The bigger they are, the easier they are to maneuver since they’re heavier and less affected by the wind and the current. The smaller the yacht, the harder it is, just like a tiny airplane you bounce around everywhere. It’s all about displacement.
What was your most frightening experience onboard?
I was in the Red Sea, where there’s a lot of pirates. When people are desperate they come after anything. We were making our way to the United Arab Emirates because the owner wanted his boat there to celebrate Ramadan. We ended up sustaining a mechanical fire so we pulled into an island off of the coast of Yemen to
make some repairs, which is no place you want to be. We eventually found ourselves in the middle of a military zone surrounded by gunboats!
How do you prepare your crew on charters for unexpected events?
We’re required to do fire drills and man over board drills every time I step on a boat. I make sure people understand their responsibility and they sign off that they understand so legally everyone is covered. We do our drills and mark it in my log book.
What is your favorite thing about being a captain?
My favorite thing is leading and inspiring my crew. It’s pretty cool to drive out into the pure black darkness and think “I am in charge of all of this.” I’m also going to be able to look back at my career and see the success of my crew members. If you could change one experience in boating, what would it be? I don’t think I would change anything, because it’s through all my mistakes that I’ve learned how to be a better captain.
What is the most bizarre thing you’ve seen while boating?
Once I was cruising across the Gulf of Leon (crossing from Spain to France) and I witnessed the most mysterious fog that I’ve ever seen in the Mediterranean. I felt like I was in New England, because it wasn’t a mist, it was a solid wall of fog. I stopped the boat before it went into the fog, and I made the first officer go to the bow and stick his hand into it because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
You’ve beaten cancer and survived a life-threatening motorcycle accident. What motivates you to push forward and continue your career in yachting?
It’s because I have the will to live, not just exist or survive. I want to experience life to the fullest. You know when you’ve had one of those days that you consider the “best day ever”? When you’re surrounded by your friends and everything is perfect. Every day I wake up I think, I’m going to try and make it one of those days.
Do captains take vacations? If so, when was the last time you checked out of work?
Every chance I get to take a vacation, I’m on it. I just went to the America’s Cup in Bermuda. That was incredible, you can dive off the cliffs there. Vacation is my favorite thing to do in between work.
Besides boating, what are some of your other passions?
I love music. I don’t play it, but I listen to it all the time. I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano.
Tell us about the youth organization that you support.
I support my sister’s school — Jacksonville School for Autism. She is my hero, she left her corporate career and founded a school for her son who was diagnosed with autism.
What’s one piece of advice you have for aspiring marine industry professionals?
If you want a career in the yachting world, commit to it and be consistent. A lot of people think the marine industry is closed and difficult to break into. It’s not the easiest industry to get into because people are cautious. If you’re serious about your career, and you do the footwork, go to school, attend boat shows, show up at the seminars, etc., you will get there.
For more information on Bravo’s Below Deck Mediterranean visit: bravotv.com