Captain Sandy Yawn
Captain Sandy Yawn may be one of few female superyacht captains, but she never doubted she could operate a large vessel, meet her clients’ needs, and manage a crew with ease and grace. The 27-year industry veteran found fame on Bravo’s “Below Deck Mediterranean,” where she not only navigated the 154-foot Sirocco — a 2006 Heesen — she also gave viewers insight into how she skillfully navigates the needs of her clients, any unforeseen problems aboard the yacht, and the dramas that unfold among the crew.
MarineMax caught up with Capt. Sandy to ask her about challenges, accomplishments, and her newfound fame as the captain on “Below Deck.”
When did you decide you wanted to be a captain?I worked on a boat and that captain wasn’t the best captain. He wouldn’t allow me onto the bridge. I thought in my mind, I want to be a captain, and I’ll never do that. I am a people person, I love interacting with people, and I think because I think about how I would like to be treated, that’s why I make such a good captain.
Where are your favorite destinations?It depends on the mood. There are so many amazing places in the world to go. Even narrowing down the western Mediterranean is hard. Spain is all about the fiesta, the party. France is more sexy; everyone’s dressed, and it’s all about pastries and wine and cheeses. Italy, I describe as romantic; it’s about the food and romance. So many amazing places. Do I have a favorite? They’re all my favorite. It just depends on the mood.
What do you do when people doubt your skills because you're a woman?My personality isn’t one to prove I’m the captain to people. My style is more finesse. On the 157-foot Trinity I used to captain, I felt so comfortable with the vessel because I went through the build process with the owner. I knew the boat inside and out. When I went to dock the boat and everyone would come out to watch, you could see them saying, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s a woman!’ I’d wink at them and smile. For me, it’s not aggressive; just be assertive and put it on the lighter side. Women actually have brains. They can learn and maneuver and negotiate.
How did you find people within the industry handled a female captain?When the shipyard period came around, that’s when I really felt a challenge. I’d be on board with the engineers. I know equipment. They don’t have to talk to me like I’m an idiot. I selected engineers not by their knowledge, but by their attitude — because I had the knowledge. I felt confident knowing I had the numbers of all the manufacturers and vendors on my phone. They could learn that; the attitude they could not.
How do you run your crew?The crew reflects on the captain, so I expect a lot, but I also believe in people. When I’ve had crew do stupid things, I tell them, ‘Look at where your feet are.’ As long as I believe in the crew and show I’m not above what I’m asking to do, they don’t want to let me down. You have to have people skills. You can’t be a dictator. I’m direct. I’m kind. When I’ve had to fire someone, I say, ‘I like you, I want to stay in touch with you, but I can’t keep you on board because you’re not doing your job.’
Do you encourage other women to captain their own boats and charters?There aren’t a lot of women on deck. I love the TV show because they’re putting a lot of women on deck in front of millions of viewers. My passion is grabbing these young women and saying, ‘You would make an amazing chef,’ or ‘You would make an amazing captain.’ In my industry, deficit of crew is a big issue. That’s where my passion is. We want more women boaters, but we also want more women captains.
What do you think Below Deck has taught people about the industry that they didn't already know?It’s showing America that there is a job in the maritime industry and anything is possible. That’s the greatest thing about the American dream. The maritime career is possible for anyone in America. You have to show up and do the work. But that’s the American dream. I’m creating an ‘I Believe’ tour because everyone is asking how I did it. I believed. When I got knocked down, I got up, brushed myself off again, and I navigated.
Learn Even More About Captain Sandy!
I am from Bradenton, Florida and I grew up on the water. We always water-skied from the time I was little. And as I got older, I started going down the wrong path. I then decided to answer an ad in the paper for detailing boats. I started doing so well at detailing boats that one of the customers offered to hire me full time. He was the one who helped start me on my career path.
The next step was working for him full time. He taught me how to dock, he sent me to sea school, engineering school and invested in my career. I believe in loyalty, and he was so loyal to me and invested in me that I chose to stay loyal to him and I worked for his family for nine years.
I always say to the crew it’s great to work on a superyacht, but you learn boat handling best on smaller vessels. I started on a 67 and then we built a 92 that was later sold. I then worked for a billionaire who went from a 92 to a 157, so that was a big jump for me.I got to watch what it was like to build boats in a shipyard because I went through the build of the 92 at Hatteras yachts and then we built the Trinity 157 which was a custom build where I was the build captain. This helped me to feel confident and comfortable with the vessel since I was able to see the whole build process from concept to completion.
I think it was incredible, Captain Keith did an excellent job. He’s very thorough and puts safety first which is important, but he also makes sure to help the women build their confidence on boats well enough to where they feel that they can take the helm over themselves. I feel blessed to be a part of this because I started on small boats. The other thing I love about MarineMax is their experience with the customer doesn’t end as soon as you purchase your boat, they continue supporting you the whole time you’re on the water.
Even as a captain today I stop, and I take a breath. I make sure to think about my approach and my escape. If my approach isn’t going to work where’s my escape? You need to always have that plan in place. There are some places that you go into where there is no escape. So, then it is all about getting past that fear of what if, just stay with what is. I stay committed and I stayed focused on my approach, I don’t freak out and I think it through. That is the message. Plan your approach, plan your escape. But if there’s no escape, remember to stay committed to your approach. To watch the full From the Helm Boating Broadcast interview, search “ Women on Water with Captain Sandy” on the MarineMax website.