Finding one word to describe Captain Sandra Yawn would be incomplete—Leader, Hero, International Speaker, Businesswoman—and the list keeps growing! For the last 8 years, Captain Sandy has become a fan-favorite captain on Bravo TV’s reality hit, Below Deck Mediterranean. Now, with the release of her new book, Be the Calm or Be the Storm: Leadership Lessons from a Woman at the Helm, Captain Sandy is sharing the wealth of wisdom hard-earned over her notable career.
More than her signature, made-for-TV smile, Captain Sandy is a calming voice amidst a storm of demanding guests and feuding crew members. I am always drawn to her conflict resolution and the wisdom she brings to every situation. Sure, the show is entertaining to watch, but Captain Sandy is modeling real leadership lessons.
Below Deck is the only reality TV I love. My friends and I wait for a new episode each week, mainly because of Captain Sandy. Before we spoke, I felt like I knew her, not like knowing a friend, but like a boss or leader. On TV, she is approachable, down-to-earth, yet forceful—the kind of leader you want to follow. I wasn’t surprised to find she has that same quality off-air.
Captain Sandy and I spoke about her new book, why she loves the Hamptons, and of course, what her dream Super Yacht charter would look like!
It’s great to talk to you! Hopefully, I don’t come across as too much of a fan! Growing up in Bradenton, Florida, I’m sure you were surrounded by boating culture. How old were you when you first got into boating? Did you always hope to become a captain?
Growing up, we had small boats 18 feet and went fishing and water skiing every weekend and sometimes after school. I grew up on the water. I never knew that becoming a captain was a possibility for little girls, and that is why I founded Captain Sandy’s Charities to help fund a high school educational program for schools across the country to build awareness that the maritime industry is an option for kids who don’t go to college or who are like me, I never graduated.
What question do you get asked the most about being a Captain?
Parents always ask, “How did you become a captain?” “How does one get into the maritime industry?” Mainly to help their kids get into the industry. These are the questions, which is why I founded Captain Sandy’s Charities to fund the high school program, so people no longer need to ask—they will have that option in school.
Clearly, you make an effort to give back. How important has mentorship been in your life and career as a captain?
“Each One Teach One,” as Denzel Washington said in one of his commencement speeches. Helping others is one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever felt. It takes sacrifice, investing your time and energy, and sometimes money. But the reward is 10-fold.
My friend saw you at Dockside a few years ago, and they said you were so friendly when you noticed they recognized you! Is it weird to adjust to being in the public eye?
Not so much anymore. I mean, it’s been eight years. Now, it’s about acknowledging it, and I don’t want people ever to feel like they can’t approach me. It’s such a pleasure to be a resource for people. I am humbled every day by the position I am in to help others.
That definitely comes off in the show [Below Deck]. You have an effortless, down-to-earth, conversational tone that makes your book so approachable. How important is it to you to use your public platform to model ideas and share lessons?
Thank you! Honestly, I don’t have all the answers. I’m just sharing my experience, strength, and hope. I don’t know what works for every person, and I just know what works for me. And if what works for me can help someone else, I’m going to share. This is how I did it, and some people might have different experiences and say, I’ll do it differently. And that’s so exciting. Hey, that’s the responsibility of having a platform and sharing that experience, strength, and hope. I feel so blessed.
Beyond Below Deck, you have had a remarkable career as a captain. Can you share some moments you are particularly proud of?
All of it, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, for one, the other is the crew. Unlike the show, we spend years chartering all over the med together, helping change lives one charter at a time. I am still in touch with most of the crew from a vessel called Tuscan Sun and another named Pure Bliss. We worked hard, played hard, and always had mutual respect. We were truly a team.
Before we get to your new book, this is Hamptons.com, so I definitely need to know about your experiences here in the Hamptons!
When did you first visit The Hamptons? What do you like to do the most when you visit the Hamptons?
I had a boat based in East Hampton that I chartered myself, and I loved it! I LOVE the Hamptons. It’s so peaceful, the scenery, the beaches, the food, and the fantastic events. It’s absolutely one of my top summer places to spend my time there in America.
What makes the Hamptons so great for boaters?
The Hamptons is like, oh my god, it is like the British Virgin Islands. Just like in the BVI channel, you can go boating even if it’s rough offshore. Same thing in The Hamptons when it gets rough offshore, you can still go boating. And obviously, the beaches are so beautiful!
When you visit the Hamptons, do you prefer to spend time off the boat?
No way I love to be on a boat in the Hamptons. It’s a boater playground.
What’s the most challenging place to dock your boat in the Hamptons?
Hahah, I don’t look at it like it’s hard to dock. I only see it as a place to dock. 😊
Let’s talk about your new book, “Be the Calm or Be the Storm” You focus on leadership and getting the most out of a team. In your life, did that passion and wisdom come from having really good or bad managers?
Absolutely, we all learn what we want and don’t want to be like as adults. If we are open to learning and having that desire to be a better human for ourselves. I follow that Golden Rule, treat others how you want to be treated. That is how I lead.
Does the book focus on your career beyond Below Deck?
Definitely, I had a long career as a captain. Before super yachts, I was on some small boats, and the different personalities, and I worked for people I wanted to emulate. I thought I liked how they did this, and there are people I worked for, and I’m like, man, I’ll never treat my crew like this life. I learned lessons that if you stay open-minded and try to remain teachable, you’ll like to learn. I surely learned what not to do.
This isn’t a book just for captains, right? From what I have read, there are lots of leadership lessons.
Absolutely, self-leadership. Lead yourself first and then lead teams through storytelling. My experience is that many people tell me they watch the show just for leadership tips, which is super cool.
I was struck by the phrase “Self-Leadership” in your book. Often, we think of leading and following outside ideas or people, not leading ourselves. How have you learned self-leadership in your life?
For me, it was by working the 12 steps. I had to learn to let go of the character shortcomings that didn’t work for me and learn how to build a character that has integrity, loyalty, trust, and the list goes on. I learned how to check my ego at the door and remain teachable. Self-Leadership is making sure I am mentally sound before I embark on leading others.
You speak candidly on TV and in the book about getting sober at 25. How much of the “inner work” you write about have you learned while working the 12 Steps at AA?
As a teenager, I was deemed ungovernable by a judge because my parents didn’t know how to help me. I was court-ordered to treatment, but that didn’t work. I was arrested, and that didn’t work. I was in and out of treatment centers, halfway and ¾ way houses, and that didn’t work. It was when I started to work a 12-step program, got a sponsor, and went to meetings daily— THAT WORKED and continues to work as long as I keep doing the work. I addressed the “WHY” I used. I had to change the people, places, and things I used to hang out with and go to. That is how I continue to stay clean & sober.
Optimism is a throughline of the book (and visible on TV!). Have you always considered yourself optimistic?
I was born an optimist. I only see the glass half full; I see the potential in the people I lead, and I love being an optimist. The pessimist should try having an optimistic, feel-good outlook and see how that changes their outlook on life.
What are you most excited about with the release of your new book?
I just want to hear people’s feedback and reviews on Amazon because I’m curious about what people are getting out of my book. That’s what I wanted. I know my intention, but I would love to know what people are getting out of it.
That is so awesome! I’ll include an Amazon Book Review link in the article! [Click here to review!]
Leadership is an excellent segue to talking about you on Below Deck. So much of Below Deck is about Leadership, and you embody many types of leadership—patience, de-escalating conflicts, and listening—especially dealing with some complicated personalities. Do you ever lose your temper? How do you approach de-escalating conflict on the boat?
Yes, of course, I’m a human being, and I lose my temper, but when you’re in heated situations, you have to be the calm in the middle of the storm, and that’s a perfect example. It’s a natural, relaxed environment. So I try and make sure I listen—you want them to know that you hear. You don’t want to feel like you are attacking them because I don’t know the whole story. I’m just learning, and I can’t take sides.
You’ve been on Below Deck for more than 5 seasons. How has your approach to the show changed over the years?
We have evolved together. When you work in an industry for some time and are open to change and learning how to be better, do a better job for the whole, have mutual respect, and evolve together. That creates an environment of sustainability, and that leads to your success.
Do you and Leah Rae, your partner, watch the show together? Does she know more or less what’s going to happen?
Of course, we watch it together! For the most part, no, but I know if I fired somebody. I learn so much about the crew from watching the show. I feel like everybody else like, “holy crap, what’s gonna happen next??”
I watch the show with people in the service/hospitality industry who always mention how much they appreciate your leadership style.
Service professionals know that it’s all about the service. You see that as the long goal and want repeat clients, right? Your crew determines the guest experience through their service and ability to maintain the calm when someone’s triggering them in some way.
It was awesome to see you fill in for Captain Lee this season! My friends will yell at me if I didn’t ask if you could share any details about the current season.
All I can say is it will get crazier. Just keep watching. People start melting down, right? Because they get tired, people get lazy, drinking can make things more strained…
Let’s switch gears: Have you always been Captain Sandy, or were you at one point, Captain Yawn?
Most people in the yachting industry go by their first name. So, you rarely get called by your last name. I think that’s more in the military and shipping world. Captain Lee. Captain Glenn, Captain Jason, Captain Kerry…
Have you been watching Adventure?
Oh yeah, I really like Captain Kerry a lot. I like them all. They’re great.
What are the essential skills you look for in your crew on Below Deck?
Character and the willingness to learn.
Are you a different style of captain on Below Deck than on other yachts?
We all bring our experiences, and each one of us has had different views. So yes, we are all different in how we lead.
How has your career as a captain changed since Below Deck?
It’s different from when I was on one vessel full-time. It’s bittersweet sometimes. I miss the longevity of the crew I get to hire. On the other hand, when the crew is cast, I get a new set of challenges, which keeps me on my toes. New boat, new crew, new adventures with Below Deck. It’s fun!
Speaking of new adventures, you are very busy with lots of projects in the works. Can you share some updates with us?
Any update on when your Florida restaurant, Maritime 618, will be opening?
The building can not be saved. We are in the process of demolition and are currently looking for investors to build it so we can fill it!
I’ve loved your podcast, The Captain Sandy and Leah Rae Show. What topics have been covered in the past, and what do you have planned for future episodes?
Oh, my goodness, the fans wanted to hear from Leah, so we created a YouTube Channel – Podcast. It’s about our experiences and how they can benefit others by always choosing to do the NEXT RIGHT THING!
How did you decide to get into podcasting? Do you like podcasts yourself?
We hired a producer and just did it. Sometimes people get stuck out of fear; take the risk. I always say this to myself; If I try it and if it works, awesomeness; if it doesn’t, at least I tried.
If you were chartering a Superyacht…
What’s your favorite water sport? — The French Rivera and The Amalfi Coast
What party theme would you request? — Casino Royale
Superyacht or sailboat? — Superyacht 😉
Caribbean, Australia, Mediterranean? — Mediterranean
Would you have dinner with the captain? — 🙂 All of them!
Thank you for taking the time to talk with me and we can’t wait to see what happens next on Below Deck! Make sure you pick up a copy of Captain Sandy’s new book!
About Captain Sandy Yawn:
As a renowned superyacht captain with over 30 years of international maritime experience, Yawn’s integrity and courage have earned her an outstanding reputation as an elite class of captain and recognition from the International Superyacht Society, which bestowed upon her the prestigious Distinguished Crew Award for her bravery amid a catastrophic fire and pirate threat that occurred in 2006 off the coast of Yemen.