After seven seasons, Bravo’s Below Deck is still making waves. It’s one of the more authentic reality shows out there, showcasing the real lives of crew members who work on a mega-yacht during charter season. With cameras all over the vessel, the film crew has been able to document some unbelievable moments.
Steamy love affairs in laundry rooms, crew members who lied on their resume to get on the show, and crew members who literally set the yacht on fire. Looks like life isn’t easy on-board Captain Lee’s superyacht. Here’s an inside scoop of what’s really going down below deck.
In 2011, producers and a group of nine crew members boarded a 50-meter yacht and sailed across the waters of Sint Maarten. Over the course of six weeks, they filmed all the drama that went below deck, including the fights, love affairs, and never-ending tension between crew members and their wealthy guests.
The first season aired in 2013 and proved to be an instant hit. An average of 1.4 million viewers sat down each week to look at what goes on behind the scenes of their sunny cruises and pleasant vacations. And to the viewers’ delight, the show uncovered some ugly truths. But that’s what people love, right? Juicy drama. So, the network decided to renew the show for Season Two.
Producers like to switch up the names of the yachts they use for the show. The vessel’s original name from Season One was Cuor di Leone but was renamed Honor for the series. Season Two featured a yacht named Rhino but was given the name Ohana instead. Season Three had Mustang Sally, but the show gave it the name Eros.
As for the original crew members of the yachts, they were given time off to relax while cast members took their place for the duration of the filming. Not a bad arrangement, right? It’s probably entertaining to see your yacht on TV like that, action-packed and full of drama.
While each season’s crew members are a bit different, there’s one person who stays the same: Captain Lee Rosbach, the anchoring force of the crew. Surprisingly, the marine expert mentioned he “wasn’t really prepared to be on TV. It all happened accidentally.” He never even auditioned for the role!
Lee explained that first officer Aleks Taldykin was supposed to command the superyacht. But because the boat owner wasn’t comfortable with Taldykin managing his yacht, it ended up being Rosbach. Lee claimed, “If it hadn’t been dumped in my lap, I never would have done it.”
Controlling everyone on board and making sure everyone is doing their job is no easy task. So, it makes sense Captain Lee is making the most money out of all of them. So how much is the stud of the sea raking in?
The experienced captain makes approximately $210,000 a year, depending on the yacht’s size and the number of crew members on board. But don’t forget the guests’ generous tips. According to chief stew Kate Chastain, “A good tip would be $5,000 a person. For seven days of work.”
Crew member Eddie Lucas confessed that he didn’t have much experience working on luxury yachts before joining the show. He worked in the less glamorous world of tugboats in Baltimore and returned there once the season wrapped up.
But Eddie said that regardless of whether the boat is a regular sized yacht or a super luxurious “Below Deck’ one, it’s never smooth sailing, “There’s always going to be drama when you’re living so close to everybody. That’s just a way of life. The difference is that on Below Deck, there’s no privacy whatsoever. The only privacy you ever have is when you’re using the bathroom.” Yikes!
Who wouldn’t want to be part of the Below Deck crew, right? It’s the perfect opportunity to sail to exotic lands on a lush superyacht under the best conditions possible. But, initially, people were super hesitant to join the crew.
According to producer Courtland Cox, “it was very hard to get yacht crew members to commit to doing the show because it was an unknown entity. People didn’t know what Below Deck was.” They didn’t want to “jeopardize their future employment potential.”
Now that Below Deck has become such a sensational hit, people are flocking to audition for the show. Cox says the main reason yachties are so eager to be part of the crew is not to become famous or experience what it’s like to work on a massive boat, but because they want to show their families what they do for a living.
“The vast majority of people that do the show, they always say, ‘I want to do the show because I want my friends and family to understand what my job is,’” Cox explained, “And they’re like, ‘If I go on Below Deck, I will have a tangible, visible thing for my family and friends to understand what my job is.’”
Captain Lee Rosbach insists that the onscreen drama is 100 % genuine. He called it “a pretty accurate snapshot” of what it’s like to live and work that close to each other for weeks. Drama is bound to happen, and not because cameras are there to document it.
Other members have backed Lee’s claims, saying that the show isn’t scripted and that everything they say is their genuine response to the event and their conversations are as real as it gets. The only time when producers intervene is when they edit the filmed material and choose which scenes are most fitting for TV.
Rosbach is fully responsible for choosing his own engineer and first officer. He also has the authority to fire any crew member he feels is stepping out of line and jeopardizing public safety on board. It isn’t the most pleasant thing to do, but it’s necessary at times.
If Lee wants to fire someone, he usually waits until the charter’s over. That way, they can pack their stuff and head out straight away. Letting someone off mid-sea is pretty harsh and happens only in extreme cases.
The wealthy guests on-board don’t mind being filmed. They know what they’re getting themselves into and are specifically chosen by the production crew. That being said, there were still some incidents in which guests complained about how they looked on TV.
But whose fault is that if not their own? Crew member Eddie Lucas commented, “I’m sure there are guests that have not liked how they’ve been shown, but it still surprises me – you know you’re coming on a television show, so if you act like an idiot, that’s on you.”
Season Five finished as the highest-rated season, with almost 2.6 million viewers each episode, a groundbreaking achievement for the franchise. But the reason viewers stuck around until the very end of it was because of how messy it was.
Fans called the fifth season “a sinking ship,” and captain Lee himself mentioned, “it was one of the worst seasons that I’ve experienced just because we had a bunch of rookies on-board, total lack of experience. Life on board is difficult enough, to begin with. It’s made even more difficult and compounded by inexperienced crew.”
In March 2015, Bravo announced a spin-off show called Below Deck Mediterranean. At first, it seemed like the only difference between the two was the cruise location (Below Deck Med was filmed in Europe). But once it premiered, it became clear that other aspects were setting the two shows apart.
The fact that the crew in Below Deck Med isn’t American plays a huge role in the ship’s social dynamic. The crew is more outgoing, outspoken, and a lot more dramatic. Incredible right? Who would have thought non-Americans would be the louder ones in this case?
To prepare yachties for the worst, all crew members must go through a two-week first aid course. They must secure STCW Basic Training and an ENG1 Seafarer Medical Certificate, at their expense, of course. It isn’t as pricy as a degree or technical education, but still, it’s a couple of thousands that not all of them have on hand.
But understandably, there are no exceptions when it comes to safety. And everyone must abide by the rules. So, if you want to cruise the high seas, you got to learn how to do CPR, how to firefight, and how to act when the moment of truth arrives.
For a man who claimed he could be “very sneaky,” Eddie wasn’t acting too discreet when he cheated on his girlfriend, Amy, with stewardess Rocky Dakota. Seriously, what was he thinking going all out in the laundry room like that? Did he really think he could get away with it?
Their rocky affair didn’t last long, but it inspired producers to add cameras to a room everyone thought wasn’t worth filming. Lucas would often text Rocky to meet her in the laundry room, so the crew added cameras straight away.
Lee revealed, “It’s when I fell coming out of the shower. I have marble floors in my bathroom, with this little postage stamp of a bathmat. I’m not exactly small, so I stepped out, missed the bathmat with my wet feet, and slipped. I was bouncing around my bathroom like a ball in a pinball machine.”
In Season Eight, Lee fell out of the shower again. But this time, he seriously injured himself. “I’ve had better days,” Lee told his crew member Eddie Lucas. “I’m at the hospital right now… I’m embarrassed to say, but I fell in the shower. Went down pretty hard, busted a couple of ribs.”
Sometimes things get so crazy on board that the crew members themselves question whether production intervened and caused things to happen that way. Good to know we’re not the only ones feeling a bit skeptical when watching a reality show.
Producer Courtland Cox assures his crew, time and again, that the things happening on-board are 100 % real and have nothing to do with production. “Put us [production] out of the whole equation of things because as you all know, things that happen on boats are so crazy and so unpredictable and so unimaginable that you just have to embrace it.’”
In Season One, stewardess Kat Held snuck off the yacht after Captain Lee clearly told her not to go out. Lee then spied on her through the security cameras and laughed as she quietly went ahead anyway. Producer Cox said, “That’s one of those moments where it’s like, it’s so perfect the way that it happens as Lee’s watching it and laughing at Kat walking off the boat.”
“You couldn’t script that any better than what actually happened in that real moment,” he continued, “As a producer, watching those things really happen on the boat, those are the things that, in the midst of a crazy production when you’re tired, you see those moments, and you’re like, that is completely amazing and magical.”
When Don Abenante walked out in the early episodes of Season Three, the crew was at a loss for words. “That was a shocking, incredible, unforeseen departure where we all were like, ‘Wait, did that really just happen?’” Cox said. “That was shocking and amazing.”
He called it quits because Captain Lee went off on him after he jumped in the water with Rocky Dakota. I guess Abenante couldn’t handle the scolding, so he decided to walk away.
Season Seven was the only season Captain Lee didn’t fire anyone. Which says a lot about the guy’s temper. On second thought, it says a lot about the hired crew’s performance. In any case, producers were never too shocked when Lee handed someone a plane ticket home.
“The firings are not really surprising ‘cause you see them coming for a while,” Cox said. “Sometimes sad. Sometimes not sad. Sometimes overdue.” Even though Lee didn’t fire anyone in Season Seven, he says that he clearly should have in retrospect.
If you’re going to be working on a massive, luxurious yacht, you better be ready to deal with some high-maintenance guests. They pay good money to board the ship and want to be treated accordingly. In other words, they’re a difficult crowd.
But Below Deck would be nothing without its flamboyant guests. And while the crew isn’t too thrilled to deal with their petty demands, the show’s producers are happy to host them. Cox stated, “They make for great entertainment. Guests are difficult, and so I love that.”
In such an intimate environment, romance blooms quickly. But the honeymoon phase doesn’t last for very long (does it ever, though?). Season Seven’s Courtney and Brian found love below deck until Brian ended it over a text. And Eddie and Rocky’s steamy affair ended even worse.
But Season Two’s Adam and Malia was probably the most frustrating, especially for producers. They lied about knowing each other before the season started, and when things heated up, producers were angry to discover this wasn’t the first time. Producer Mark stated, “Well, we weren’t happy about it. We were like, ‘What? This is terrible. We didn’t know this.’”
Below Deck isn’t your average reality show where you follow a wacky family’s life or a desirable bachelor who hands out roses to women in a mansion. Below Deck is a documentary about what it’s actually like to work on a mega-yacht with real guests.
Cast members work around the clock to operate the ship and ensure everyone is safe and satisfied. They deal with different weather conditions and have actual problems throughout their shifts. Producers can’t just meddle with the cast whenever they feel like it.
Well, that’s a surprise! We thought that working behind the scenes of this show meant that you could enjoy all the luxurious wonder the cruise has to offer. Apparently not. The rooms are all packed with guests who paid good money to sleep in those rooms.
So, that means the film crew has to sleep in hotels nearby. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound too bad either. The hotels might not be as lavish as the superyacht, but surely the rooms are comfortable enough to have a good night’s sleep.
While the film crew sleeps on shore, the vessel continues its journey across the waters. That means the crew has to sail back to them each morning and make it on time to set up their equipment and get the day started.
They call in a water taxi every morning to get them to the vessel’s location. Once they wrap things up in the evening, it’s usually a water taxi all the way back to shore. Then they arrive at the hotel, sleep, wake up, water taxi, and do it all over again.
Cruises are no joke. Just like airplanes, cars, or any other form of transportation, ships require a lot of attention and care to ensure everything is going according to plan. That means that everyone on board has to be trained properly.
Producers, cast, and crew attend safety orientation before the first day of filming. Of course, if anyone steps out of line during the season, they’re almost immediately taken off of the show.
There are cameras practically everywhere on the ship. Production decides where to place the cameras and at what angle according to the amount of traffic in that area. And because the vessel is massive, it takes the crew around two weeks to outfit the ship.
14 days to decorate the entire ship with the proper audio and visual equipment needed to tape the show!? Each season, the number of cameras changes and their locations too. For example, after Eddie and Rocky’s affair in the laundry room, producers decided to add more cameras there.
The show has plenty of shots of people walking from behind. And that’s not because of laziness or bad editing, it’s because the yacht’s hallways are terribly narrow, and there’s just no other way to film that area.
Both filming and moving around the vessel is challenging. It’s no wonder that the crew claimed that their least favorite areas on the boat are the narrow stairways and the claustrophobic corridors.
The control room is the yacht’s sacred space. It’s like a vault that holds the most precious treasure of them all – the unedited footage. Everything producers leave out, and everything we’ll never get to see is down there in the control room.
Guests are always trying to get a sneak peek at the footage, and it’s completely normal to see them go back and forth along the nearby corridor to catch a glimpse of something newsworthy.
When we see people on TV, we immediately assume they’re making money. Especially on reality shows, where ratings are so high, we believe each member is making enough money to retire afterward. But this isn’t the case for the Below Deck crew.
Bravo network pays the cast a small appearance fee, and the remainder of their salary comes from the yacht company. Both wages are average, and the people who really boost the cast’s income are the guests themselves. The cast makes between $1,000 to $2,000 per charter episode.
Watching the show, you can’t help but wonder if the guests are even enjoying themselves with all the drama going on below deck. I mean, even if they can’t necessarily see the crew fight, they must feel the tension in the air, right?
Apparently not. When guests were asked about their overall experience of the cruise, their responses were always positive. It seems that they’re completely unaware of all the drama happening underneath their noses.
What do you if you want to get it on with your crew member, but you’re surrounded by cameras? You have to get creative. No one wants to make out in front of the whole world, so the cast needs to come up with unconventional spots, like the laundry room.
But production quickly catches on to those secret areas, and then they become… not so secret anymore.
Crew member Kelley Johnson came clean in an interview about an incident that almost shut off the neighboring island’s electricity. The ship’s anchor caught an underwater power line and almost yanked it up when the anchor was raised.
Luckily, the crew was able to detach the line before any harm was done. But it was a close call! The production crew wasn’t there to document the whole event, so it never made it to our screens.
On board, Captain Lee is one tough cookie. He has zero-tolerance for any goofing around that might risk the passengers’ safety and hates it when the crew acts like babies who need to be watched over all the time.
But back home in Fort Lauderdale, Lee is an easygoing guy who enjoys going out for drinks and letting loose. Pretty different from the tough front he puts on for the show, right? Well, maybe if the crew weren’t such troublemakers, he would be able to let his guard down in front of the cameras as well.
The tension, confusion, the authentic responses – all of that craziness is what producers are looking for when they’re filming. So, to ensure the interactions are genuine, cast members aren’t allowed to meet before filming begins.
Producers want the cast to get to know each other for the first time on camera. That way, they can work out the complexities of their relationships in the most real and raw setting. This is basically the best way for them to achieve drama, drama, and more drama!
The passengers’ health is at the top of Captain Lee’s priorities. He’ll do anything to help them feel better, as we saw in Season Seven when charter guest Brandy was too sick to cope with life on the boat… and life in general.
Brandy first boarded the ship drunk and out of control, but no one was too worried about it. But then things spiraled to the point where she needed medical assistance. And until they arrived, Captain Lee sat by her side and waited with her the entire time. He watched over the yacht and over Brandy simultaneously. Is there anything this guy can’t do?
We said before that Captain Lee could fire whomever he feels isn’t doing their job well. And while that’s true, there’s no arguing that he’s a lot more patient because, after all, they’re on TV. This means that the show needs some action and some spoiled crew members to spice things up.
So, some people who wouldn’t last a day on board end up staying for the whole six weeks. This is exactly what happened with Raquel “Rocky” Dakota, who should have been fired after the first week. But they kept her around because… Well, she was entertaining.
Mega-yachts usually cost around $150-$200,000 per week to charter. But Below Deck, guests pay way less. They get around a 50% discount! But guests are also asked to tip the cast $15-20% of the total cost (this isn’t a requirement per se, but most guests do it anyway).
When guests aren’t feeling too generous, the cast has to come to terms with their standard base pay and a small stipend from the show. This keeps the crew in an authentic state, where they genuinely need to work hard for their money. If a stewardess started making millions, she probably wouldn’t return for another season, right?
There are certain roles that aren’t really suitable to be on screen, like engineers, for example. It’s better they remain focused on doing their job and not get entangled with the drama on board. But some scandals still happen with technicians here and there, like with Season Three’s Don Abenante.
The mess occurred because he was hired to do something that wasn’t engineering. According to him, he was qualified to do much greater things but was signed on as a deckhand instead. He didn’t like taking orders from above, so he quit after a few episodes.
Working on a vessel is no joke. All Below Deck members are qualified yacht workers, and producers take their level of experience into account so they can assign them accordingly. But do people lie on their resumes? Yes.
Like Andrew Sturby, for example, remember him? The guy who couldn’t tie a single knot? Well, he claimed to have had years of experience at sea, but it was evident he really stretched the truth there. He was fired after four episodes and later admitted that he lied to the public.
Guests are often seen as these snobbish demanding people who get upset over being served pasta in a bowl instead of a plate. Which is true, sometimes. And sometimes they’re only annoying on board, and when the ship reaches the dock, they become different people.
This was the case with Steve Bradley from Season Three. He is one of the most notorious guests to date, but after the cruise, he took Captain Lee, Lee’s wife, Chef Ben and Kate Chastain to a romantic dinner when the season wrapped. He even invited them to hang out at his home in Acapulco!
What makes reality shows, so incredibly addictive and entertaining is the genius editing by the producers, who know very well how to make someone look like something they’re not. Ah, the magic of editing. But Below Deck producers swear they don’t mess around with the footage too much.
Producer Mark Cronin and executive producer Nadine Rajabi have mentioned that they don’t believe in creating a narrative that doesn’t actually exist. Najabi also said that she gives every crew member a fair chance to explain their actions, so they don’t come out as something they’re not.
If your trademark sentence is, “You’ll get an envelope with a ticket home, make no mistake about it,” it’s fair to say you’re a man worth listening to. Unless you don’t mind losing your job. Captain Lee’s warning sentence isn’t an empty threat. Some members can attest to it.
Like Andrew Sturby, Trevor Walker, and Leon Walker, who were kicked out of their roles (thankfully!). But you have to admit the three guys were pretty entertaining. Leon Walker literally set the boat on fire!
In the early seasons, a yacht broker took care of booking all the guests, so the details about the hired customers were always kept from the yachties and production crew. This was a really smart move because it makes it all the more authentic.
It makes it hard to manufacture any guest-related drama and gives a fair opportunity for all guests to be themselves and for things to happen naturally. Unless you’re a celebrity, like Cynthia Bailey of Real Housewives of Atlanta. In that case, the crew has some information about your character…
If you compare Season One’s production to Season Seven’s, you’ll be astonished at how big the show has become. Producer Cox revealed, “We very quickly realized the yachties that are working on these boats, they’re not going to bed at 10 o’clock; they’re going to bed at 2 o’clock in the morning. We very quickly realized we have to actually bring in more crews and film longer.”
“We have surveillance cameras we didn’t have before. We have handheld cameras,” Cox continued, “So production-wise, we’re capturing, I think, 125 percent more footage than we did in the first three seasons on Below Deck.”
All of the guests are super eager to charter a mega yacht! So, their excitement on board doesn’t necessarily stem from being on the show or seeing the camera crew walk around. They’re just glad they can sail the ocean.
Producer Cox explained, “They’re not people that are coming on because they feel like this is a good chance for them to get on TV. This is a great experience for them to charter a very large yacht with a very experienced and fun crew and have an amazing three-day charter in an amazing location.”
Captain Lee said he believed viewers would be surprised to find out exactly how many people work on the show, “We have a complete production office. As soon as one day of filming ends, the footage is shipped off right away to start working on postproduction.”
They end up shooting around 45,000 hours of film, which gets condensed down into about 900 minutes of an actual TV. It takes a lot of work and patience and a real passion for making the show as big of a hit as it is!
Some seasons have so many great moments that it’s hard to pinpoint which ones deserve time on TV. Because of time constraints, producers pick out the best of the best. But with so much entertaining footage left out, the guys of Below Deck should really consider a bloopers special!
According to Captain Lee, “When you have a really good season, there’s a lot of fun stuff that you can’t possibly show because of time constraints. I would love to see a two hour bloopers special. The footage is out there. Somebody’s laughing at it!”
When cameras on the ship move positions, crew members are put “on ice,” meaning no more talking because cameras aren’t shooting yet. But it’s not always easy to keep quiet, and sometimes members fool around even when no one’s taping it.
Eddie Lucas revealed, ““There was one time in Season One where we were at an ice stage and Ben and I were roughhousing and messing around. Ben was going, ‘Mate, I’ll f*ck you up! I’m gonna get you!’ And I was like, ‘I’m too fast for you man!’… We got yelled at by production.”
Below Deck is continually changing things around and learning from past mistakes. Cox revealed, “I never want to assume that the way we did things last season is the right way to do things. I know that the audience, the Bravo audience, especially, the Below Deck audience, they’re a very savvy audience.”
He continued, “They want things to be different, and so for us, it’s about, are we capturing things that are compelling, and what are the things that we didn’t capture last time that the audience wants to see, and how can we capture that? It’s always trying to stay one step ahead and anticipate what the audience wants to see, but still keeping with the authenticity.”