Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

3 Leadership Lessons From A Badass Female Yacht Captain

Use these 'below deck' leadership strategies in your boardroom.


With nearly three decades of experience chartering yachts all over the world, Captain Sandy Yawn has weathered crises from fires in the engine room to being pursued by pirates.

Courtesy of Sandy Yawn

Suffice to say, she knows how to keep a cool head under pressure.

Yawn has three priorities: safely navigating her boat, making sure her guests get the best service possible and being a strong leader for her crew.

As a female captain in a predominantly male field and a cancer survivor, Yawn says she isn’t afraid to take on new challenges. Her latest includes becoming a cast member on Bravo’s reality series Below Deck: Mediterranean.

We spoke with the captain to ask for her top leadership tips.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

1. Mentorship starts with being able to listen.

“What I've learned is sometimes taking the time to actually have a conversation with someone about where they are in their lives [makes the biggest difference]. Just that little chat may change their direction. So I take the time to talk to the person and just share my own personal experience with them.”

2. Turn mistakes into teachable moments.

When I find that people make mistakes, in the past I was more quick to respond. I think with age and experience, I now stop and pause and I think about where the person was in their mind [when they made the mistake]. I don't make snap decisions like I used to. They are human beings, they are not machines. Maybe they didn't get a good night's sleep. Maybe they're going through a divorce. Maybe their mother has cancer. I think of that and that's the pause [I take]. And then I think about how I can make this a teachable experience instead of a reprimanding experience.”

3. Always remember that you set the tone.

“[In emergency situations] do I feel stress? Absolutely. Do I show the stress? No. Because that is part of the training. So I always think about that. They're looking at me. They're wondering what my next move is going to be. And they are going to base their behavior on that. [And day to day] if you don't have rest you're not going to produce. You’re going to be grumpy in front of the guests. You're going to make mistakes.”

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks