Below Deck Stars That Had Near-Death Experiences

Melding the worlds of the wealthy guests and the working class cast members, "Below Deck" follows Captain Lee Rosbach's crew as they serve to make the yachting experience of multimillionaires one to remember.

First airing in the U.S. in 2013, the Bravo series became an international hit after gaining popularity in the U.K. during the COVID-19 pandemic. Featuring intoxicating conflicts and entangled dramas, the show set on a superyacht gained a massive following and Rosbach found the widespread appeal of the show unsurprising. He aptly characterized the show's charm and told The Guardian that "Below Deck" is "Downton Abbey on the water." Addressing concerns that "Below Deck" might adversely affect the yachting industry, he added, "A lot of people thought this would be the death of the yachting industry, but that hasn't happened. I've had very little backlash."

While the show features the cast and crew having a great time, they are also leading a very dangerous lifestyle. After all, cruising on the water isn't all that safe. With that being said, some of the stars of the series had some near-death experiences on and off the show. Take a look at the life-threatening stories of these "Below Deck" cast members.

Ashton Pienaar's accident in Season 6

Ashton Pienaar almost lost his life on "Below Deck" after he made a critical error when he stepped onto the waterside of the line while the crew was towing the tender. This mistake resulted in his foot becoming entangled in the rope, which ultimately led him to be pulled into the water and dragged alongside the super yacht. Were it not for the assistance of Bravo cameraman Brent Freeburg, he would likely have succumbed to the incident, an experience that visibly humbled him.

Pienaar gained notoriety among the "Below Deck" cast due to his arrogant demeanor. The accident appeared to trigger a change in his behavior, prompting Pienaar to become more mindful of his actions. During the Season 6 reunion, he said (via Bravo TV), "It was a massive wake-up call. I think you get complacent, you start forgetting things on deck. It's a dangerous job we do, and I think it was just a massive wake-up call." 

However, this change was short-lived, as his conduct took a further negative turn. In the 7th season, fans saw his violent side when he got frustrated with Kate Chastain. His attitude was so bad that even Captain Lee Rosbach does not want to work with Pienaar anymore. He was well aware of his actions and was deeply remorseful, in an interview with "The Daily Dish" (via Bravo TV) he shared, "From the outside it's just extremely regretful to watch that type of behavior. ... I'm ashamed."

Captain Lee Rosbach's spinal stenosis

Season 10 of "Below Deck" aired in the autumn of 2022, with filming taking place earlier. Prior to the start of shooting the series, Captain Lee Rosbach underwent surgery. He shared this news on Twitter while responding to a critic's remarks. On December 15, 2021, he wrote, "Just a FYI, I have been in a hospital bed all week recovering from a serious spinal injury." He also confirmed to a fan on Twitter that he was dealing with spinal stenosis.

Spinal stenosis is a condition characterized by a constricted space within the spinal cord. It frequently occurs in the lower back and neck and is often attributed to degenerative changes in the spine linked to arthritis. Some individuals, like Rosbach, qualify for surgical intervention, which aims to create more space within the spinal column to alleviate the symptoms associated with spinal stenosis. 

Thankfully, he was treated as this condition can be deadly and, after the surgery, Rosbach relied on a cane for walking, which can be seen in Season 10. However, he ultimately decided to leave the show since he thought he was not able to do his job properly. In an episode (via Bravo TV), he said, "I owe it to my crew to do right by them. ... There comes a point if a captain is really being objective, he should be putting the best interests of his crew first." 

Eddie Lucas' most terrifying boat incident

Eddie Lucas spent years working on tugboats and with his intensive experience, he was prompted to recount his most distressing boating encounter in his appearance on "Below Deck Mediterranean" star Malia White's podcast, "Total Ship Show." Reflecting on the incident, Lucas detailed, "The worst thing I've ever done on a tugboat, which is probably the worst thing I've ever done a boat ... was first when I became mate, we were working a ship — it was an inbound ship — container ship, coming in. It was a black hull, it was about 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning, I was [driving] the ship."

However, things quickly turned ugly as Lucas further elaborated that since it was do dark he couldn't see much. As he was navigating the ocean without a clear vision of the surroundings, he failed to realize that he was gradually approaching the hull of the ship. He was in for an unfortunate event as he crushed into the bow flare of the ship. "All of the windows around me pretty much exploded in and the wheel house started getting crushed in on me, and then it started pushing us over, and if it kept pushing us over," he said.

Thankfully, while his vision was impaired at the time, his critical thinking was still intact. He concluded, "It was a very close call but I was able to put both my engines in full reverse and grind my way out of there."

Captain Sandy Yawn's heart attack

Captain Sandy Yawn, the fearless leader on Bravo's "Below Deck Mediterranean," has candidly shared her experience of suffering a heart attack. Known for her composed and cheerful demeanor, Yawn navigates the high-pressure world of mega yachts, which often involves moments of extreme stress and life-threatening situations. However, a few years ago, one of the most terrifying episodes of her life unfolded not on the open waters, but within the confines of a cycle class.

Yawn was in the middle of a SoulCycle session when she began to experience discomfort that she soon realized were indications of a heart attack. Describing her ordeal in an interview with People, Yawn shared, "I remember thinking I was going to clip off the bike so I don't fall, I didn't want to disrupt the class, and I certainly wasn't going to call 911 in the middle of Beverly Hills. So I decided to call an Uber, and then I called my sister — and I survived."

Thankfully, Yawn's awareness saved her life since she was well informed regarding symptoms. The captain added, "I was watching my heart rate on my watch and it didn't go down, and I started to feel lightheaded." According to American Heart Association, the usual symptoms of heart attack are chest discomfort, pain in arms, neck, jaw, or stomach, difficulty in breathing, cold sweat, and even nausea.

Charter guests who almost died filming for Below Deck

While yachting guests are only brief stars of "Below Deck," they've also found themselves in danger on the show. As seen on the YouTube video on Bravo TV's channel, a near-death experience happened in the 6th episode of Season 4, with the luxury superyacht Valor anchored in a picturesque bay. Two guests decided to partake in tubing, a recreational activity that involves being towed on top of the yellow tube by a speedboat. The supposed to be fun ride nearly resulted in the tragic loss of these charter guests. While Barry, the ship's first officer, was driving the speedboat, an unexpected gust of wind underneath the tube flipped it over, causing the guests to be stranded atop a reef. Initially, the situation appeared manageable, but the force of the reef-generated waves came crashing down on them.

The relentless waves not only impeded their ability to swim but also subjected them to the peril of drowning or being battered against the rocky and sharp coral beneath the water's surface. In this pivotal moment, deckhand Nico stopped what he was doing and demonstrated courage by endangering his own life to dive in and rescue the guests. They were immediately checked by the medical team and fortunately only sustained cuts.

There is always the looming danger of drowning during water activities, especially boating and swimming. Although there are people who were wondering whether "Below Deck" is real or staged, it's great that the audience hasn't witnessed a tragic incident.