And so they’re off! The Med season is underway. For those unfamiliar with it, the Superyacht season is a colourful spectacle, but Seas The Mind is here to talk about the pressures that may come with it. 

Pressure = On

Holiday makers on every coast love to watch the helicopters land, the tenders dropping off celebrities, the lines being thrown.  But for those of us used to being the cogs in the superyachting wheel what we notice is the crew over the side in harnesses at 7am, we remember having dried our seventh shower of the day by 10am, serving 4 hour breakfasts and long, lonely night watches.  Some of us stare at a superyacht out at anchor and see it as if with x-ray vision, like a busy anthill inside. 

We can hear the banging pans in the galley, see the steam rising from the stoves and the irons in the laundry and when those beautiful serene looking yachts slide over the horizon we hear the deafening roar from the engine room.  We know that for some, the pressure is now officially ON. 

In the coming weeks crew will get to know each other a LOT better, and one of the things that will quickly start to become noticeable is their coping mechanisms.  As the hours get longer, the tiredness and the frustrations kick in we all look for ways to cope. 

A Cocktail Of Coping Mechanisms

What we lean on will depend on a unique cocktail of our upbringing, our brain chemistry, our genes and our tried and tested methods from years past.

If you are lucky, if your cocktail is comprised of gleaming A-grade, non-anxious or depressive genes, or your upbringing was smooth, safe and secure, your coping mechanisms are more likely to be of the helpful kind. And even if they were not, you may be someone who has learned through experience and research what works for you and what doesn’t. 

Examples (obviously within the limitations of our work shifts and access to space) are exercise, yoga, meditation, humour, taking care of yourself with nutrition, contacting home or friends on your break, confiding your concerns or troubles with friends on board, swift and calm conflict resolution, online therapy on your breaks… and so on. Sounds great doesn’t it?  Ah what a boat that would be to behold if every one of us resorted to those solid and dependable, non-harmful coping mechanisms.  But I am yet to find that boat.  What a crew usually comprises of is a mix – of the healthy and not so healthy. We are human.  Our previous lives were human and imperfect and it all comes to the surface in the long hours and the heat of the season.


When I am teaching I try to convey the concept of the stress-container.  Many of us have smaller stress-containers: we did not see healthy habits in our caretakers as children, we were maybe not taught emotional regulation, maybe we experienced trauma or long term stress and insecurity – as a consequence we may have far less resilience and are more likely to lean on short term comforts, with negative long term effects.  From an early age we may have learned to dissociate, to be hostile, to shout, to cry, to cling on to others in an unhealthy way.  From a later age we may have discovered the numbing delights of creeping to the biscuit barrel or the sweet cupboard for the sugar-dopamine hit, scrolling on our phones to ‘numb out’, or worse, the pain-killing delights of alcohol or drugs, or sexual acting-out.

Do you know yourself?

What are your coping mechanisms?  Do you know?  What do you lean on when the pressure is on to feel that little bit better?  Are you aware if your coping mechanisms are helping or hurting you in the longer term?  Or are they hurting those around you?  Many of us carry an interesting bag of contradictory habits.  We go for a run and then we binge drink.  We do some deep breathing exercises in our cabin and still end up shouting at our co-worker.  We say a spiritual prayer and then go and flirt with someone we shouldn’t.  For others of us our coping mechanisms have really crossed the line into being almost a hundred percent harmful.  For some of us our coping mechanisms will make us bad crew members, and will sometimes see us kicked off the boat.  In the parlance of the 12 step programs – they are making our lives unmanageable.  

Unpacking Some Serious Topics

My students are often surprised on my course when we discuss addictions and disorders like alcoholism, drug taking, self-harm and eating disorders. When I convey the essential role many people’s addictions have held in helping them survive their lives so far, people can feel confused.  It seems counter-intuitive that these bad habits have served any purpose when they are so clearly self-destructive. 

Living in a binary world

In our binary world we are taught to view so many things as purely good or bad, not to view the ‘why’ of someone’s behaviour but simply the ‘what’.  But human psychology is such an intricate and messy thing. 

Sometimes the clearly harmful habits and addictions we have developed, have also been the very things that have got us through the toughest times of the past.  It doesn’t mean they are to be condoned, especially when they put someone or their colleagues or the vessel in danger, or that we don’t attempt to tackle them but it does affect how we tackle them. Especially in cases of extreme chemical or alcohol dependence, or physical self-harm we need to get people to places of safety before we remove the only emotional release they may have from immeasurable pain.  It may be the only thing stopping them from doing something far, far worse. That is why I teach trying to get them to reduce their harmful actions until they can be removed from the boat, rather than immediate cold-turkey.

Facing up to where we can do better for ourselves

Usually yes, the person needs to be removed from the boat if they are out of control. 

But these black and white scenarios are less common than we think.  What is more common is that we may notice an increasingly obvious dependence on daily drinking or an increasingly rigid dietary restriction.  The person may still be functional as a crew member but their behaviour is causing some concern to their cabin mate or those in their department.  It can be a tricky grey area and we sometimes may feel we need a bit of advice in how to deal with them.  If it is us, and we can feel the unhealthy cycles of behaviour creeping up on us, the first thing to note is it never does any harm to confront our own behaviour and research possible support. 

Don’t worry. Help is out there

There are amazing English-speaking as well as local-language 12 step programs ashore in almost every port. There are therapists available online with minimal effort.  Also, there are helplines for every conceivable human problem, and for those too distressed to consider what or who they may need specifically, there is general help from the Samaritans and ISWAN.  If you feel like you or someone you know is crossing the line, it never hurts to seek or offer help.  And if their behaviour is unacceptable, do not feel bad for drawing a boundary and telling them their time is up on the boat either.  You may well be hastening them reaching rock bottom and finally seeking help with the coping mechanism that has become the thorn in their side.  

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