Below Deck, a reality TV series about crew aboard charter yachts, premiered in July 2013. Little did anyone from the Bravo television network know what the result would be. It became a hit. In fact, Bravo announced just before the end of season one that it averaged 1.4 million viewers per episode. This, in turn, led to four more seasons (and counting), plus a spinoff series. And, of course, millions more viewers new to yachting.
Now a franchise, with a Below Deck series and Below Deck Mediterranean series, the program grabs headlines. They’re mainly about the drama and shenanigans among the crew members. But there are other cast mates, too. They’re the luxury charter yachts where the crew work and live. Through 2017, six yachts, each 150 feet or larger, have been featured—one even appearing twice. While each was already an active charter yacht, anecdotal evidence suggests some have reaped the rewards of publicity. The same is true for yachting professionals involved in their appearances. Even without direct correlation between the show and charter bookings, there’s undeniably a Below Deck effect.
Jennifer Saia, president and charter specialist for B&B Yacht Charters, was involved with four of the filming charters. (In case you’re wondering, the television crew does pay for using each yacht, and therefore charters them. Saia says the production crew books about eight weeks for a season of filming Below Deck or Below Deck Mediterranean. The charter guests who appear are real paying clients as well. Saia says the couples pay about $5,000 each, plus gratuity, for two-night mini-charters. Outside of filming, charters last a week). Specifically, Saia arranged for the yacht Sirocco, featured in Croatia, as well as two yachts renamed for the episodes. They were Mustang Sally, appearing as Eros in the Bahamas, and BG, appearing as Valor in the Caribbean.
While she can’t recall anyone mentioning the show and requesting these specific yachts, Saia does say “it was good exposure for the boats.” It was especially good for BG, the only yacht to appear twice. “It worked out well for them because they actually had a following,” leading into that second season, Saia explains. “When we went back to book that boat for the second time, the owner was so pleased with how the boat looked on TV, and the exposure for his own branding,” she adds.
As for that branding, BG’s real name became public just prior to her first appearance. In addition, when the producers asked if they could book BG for a second stint, Saia says, the owner “really, really wanted the real name to appear instead of Valor.” However, due to the expenditures already laid out to create a nameboard, crew uniforms, and related items labeled Valor, the producers kept that name.
Even though Saia hasn’t had viewers request the yachts by name, she has seen her own business grow. “I got a few charter leads as a result,” she explains. “‘Oh, we saw this TV show, we’re interested in chartering.’” In addition, she says, Capt. Lee Rosbach, who appears on Below Deck, referred some of the mini-charter guests to her for full-week charters. Saia is also confident the overall profile of yacht charter has risen. “I do talk to people who have found out about it” from the programs, she says. “They say, ‘Oh, I love that show! I’d love to charter!’ I could be at some random restaurant, and I’ll meet somebody who’ll say, ‘Oh, you were involved in Below Deck? Oh, that’s cool!’”
Capt. Sandy Yawn, the captain from the Below Deck Mediterranean episodes, has had similar conversations. In fact, she says, on three separate occasions, people on planes have stopped her and shared their first-time charter experiences. “I think it’s good for the industry because it reaches the middle of America, and people who knew nothing about charter,” she explains. Saia agrees. “Anything we can do to expose more clientele, even if they’re not going to charter something that big—just to get them started is good,” she says.
There’s yet one more positive Below Deck effect, interesting enough. “It’s actually an economic stimulus for any location that they do the filming in,” Saia asserts. “There’s a hundred-plus people involved in the show who rent hotel rooms, rent cars, buy provisions for the yachts,” and a lot more. “It’s huge!”