The Bravo Network, the cable TV juggernaut responsible for spawning the Real Housewives franchise, has a new ratings darling.
Below Deck, which premiered in 2013, took the cameras below deck of a superyacht in the Caribbean to chronicle the crew and – unlike the rich housewives – these characters actually work for a living.
Many carry out technical jobs or are tasked with the enormous – and sometimes impossible – duties of keeping the guests safe, satiated and entertained.
Opulence and decadence are still such central themes that money could be considered an unofficial cast member. While the wealth gap between the guests and crew is wide, no one’s shy when it comes to talking about money.
The crews of the show - now in its tenth season between the original and its spinoff Below Deck Mediterranean - have pocketed anywhere from $56,650 to $168,000 per charter, according to a tally from Decider. That’s an average of about $12,480 for each of the nine crew members for about two-and-a-half days of work.
That’s not a bad gig for seasonal employees who have minimal living expenses, because rent, health insurance, furniture, utilities, laundry, toiletries, food, and uniforms are covered while onboard.
But are these figures realistic? Here’s how well the Bravo crews are financially faring against actual yacht crews.
What can you expect to make in salary?
Yachting salaries are monthly and based on experience, education and the size of the vessel with the understanding that the larger yacht, the better the pay. Salaries are often paid in the yacht’s local currency, but are presented in U.S. dollars here. The salary data comes from the September 2019 issue of Dockwalk, a magazine for superyacht captains and crew.
The exterior crew — or deckhands, led by the bosun — are trained in boat mechanics and are charged with keeping the superyacht polished and fingerprint-free, and assisting guests with the use of the boat’s “toys” – banana boats, jet skis, slides, rafts, water trampolines and similar water recreation inflatables.
At the helm is the captain. In the hierarchical culture of yachting, not only is the captain the highest-ranking member of the crew, but the captain is also the best paid.
Captain: $5,000 to $28,000
Bosun: $2,500 to $6,000
Deckhand: $2,500 to $5,500
Junior deckhand: $1,750 to $2,750
Interior crew members are known as stewards or stewardesses – stews for short – and are led by the chief stew. They work around the clock shifts to indulge guests’ every whim. Behind-the-scenes chores include never-ending laundry, obsessive cleaning, bartending and front-of-house meal service.
The chief stewardess is both the highest-ranking and highest-paid of the stews. Reporting to the chief stewardess are the second and third stew.
Chief steward(ess): $3,500 to $12,000
Second and third steward(ess): $2,000 to $7,000
As depicted in the show, the chef is always a department of one with every meal service hinging on their execution. In exchange for the pressure and heat of the kitchen, chefs are compensated well.
Chef: $4,000 to $12,000
What can you expect to make in tips?
One element of the show’s highly formulaic arc is what’s known as the tip meeting. Led by the captain, the crew assembles moments after waving goodbye to their charter guests to anxiously learn how big - or small - their cash tip is and to divvy up the loot. Cheapskates are quickly outed and often bad-mouthed by the crew.
In the real world, tipping the crew is also customary at the conclusion of a charter. Gratuity is at the guest’s discretion, but 5% to 15% of the base rate of the charter is common. The base rate of a charter can vary, but costs can balloon into the millions depending on the duration, number of guests on board and the vessel's luxury quotient.
“Money is the one thing yachting has,” Sue Price director of operations USA of Viking Crew, told Yahoo Finance. But she warned: “Don't get greedy walking in the door. Show that you’re a good worker and a good crew member.”
What qualifications do you need?
Yachting life calls like a siren to those who crave unconventional work environments and are consumed by wanderlust. Besides keen attention to detail, passion for hospitality and a cast-iron stomach to weather inevitable rough waters, the training required to work on a superyacht can cost a couple thousand dollars.
The baseline training requirement for a captain or deckhand on a commercial sea vessel is completing the International Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) 2010 certification.
Many yacht owners and charter companies require the same designation of their stews, even though it’s not a legal requirement, a representative of Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said.
Certification costs are typically paid out-of-pocket along with travel to training companies, which are primarily found in Florida and Australia. For instance, the five-day course at Resolve Maritime Academy is $900.
Private companies also host professional courses for so-called yachties to acquire and hone their skills. At Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale – the same school that trains the Below Deck crew members – a five-day Introductory Steward Training runs $999 and a 10-day Senior Steward Training costs $2,499.
While a college degree is not required, it can make you stand out, said Price, a 25-year industry veteran.
“A college education is better to walk in with than [being] an 18 or 19-year-old looking for work. The owners and clients are educated people and you’ll have a lot of personal interaction,” said Price, who added that yachting was a “phenomenal way” to pay off student debt.
To get a taste of the life below deck, the 7th season of the Bravo show airs Monday nights at 9 p.m. ET.
Stephanie is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.