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A man and woman in nautical uniforms are featured in this image from 51 Minds Entertainment.
Captain Lee Rosbach and Kate Chastain led the “Below Deck” franchise for years. (Image: 51 Minds Entertainment)

The first iteration of “Below Deck” began airing on Bravo in the summer of 2013. A brief 11 episodes revealed a reality show different from the usual “Real Housewives” fare. In this case, the wealthy people vacationing aboard a luxury yacht were not the show’s stars, but instead served as rotating groups of charter guests. The real stars of the series were the hardworking crew of the boat, the peasants who at night rest their heads in bunkbeds located — you guessed it — below deck.

The peasants, sometimes called sea rats, have to actually work — and in very unflattering outfits. Again, not your typical Bravo aesthetic. The drama stems not only from their interactions with each other (boat-mances are inevitable), but also their interactions with the often demanding charter guests.

Since the inaugural season, four other versions of “Below Deck” have joined the franchise, and there are now only three weeks a year that pass without a new, original episode from one “Below Deck” series or another. I didn’t stumble upon the brilliance of “Below Deck” until early in the pandemic, but since then I have watched every season of every iteration at least twice. (Embarrassingly, I’ve seen one certain season at least a dozen times.)

Hop on board to see which spinoffs in the franchise have — and have not — earned their stripes. Ranking them was more difficult than anticipated, at least for the middle three on my list. I’ve also highlighted each franchise’s best and most necessary seasons, in case you’d like to watch (or rewatch) with potential bingeing shortcuts in mind. Let’s set sail!

The Original ‘Below Deck’ Anchors All Five Shows

A group of people in boating uniforms pose on a dock in this image from Bravo.

The choice to place the flagship “Below Deck” series first in my rankings may seem like an easy out, but I’ll give you three specific reasons the original will forever reign supreme.

Kate Chastain, Chief Stew for seasons 2 to 7, is the epitome of cool. 

Kate Chastain’s ability to remain unbothered is #lifegoals. She’s the show’s raison d’être. Don’t get me wrong: Captain Lee Rosbach, who steered the ship in seasons 1 to 10, is iconic and noteworthy. But he wouldn’t be the Captain Lee we know and love, the curmudgeonly Stud of the Sea, without Chastain providing some levity and humanity.

Despite Chastain being significantly younger than Captain Lee, they’re the dream team, as close as family. Their friendship hasn’t shown signs of sinking even after both left the show — in real life and on television in the form of recap shows, most recently “Couch Talk With Captain Lee and Kate.”

Season 3 of the original “Below Deck” is among the top five most memorable seasons of reality TV. 

The Season 3 crew is the perfect mix, but there’s one cast member who stands out as more memorable than all the rest: Raquel “Rocky” Dakota. Rocky’s most hysterical antic? Taking off her clothes and diving overboard in just her underwear in an attempt to escape the boat. This was her only season on the show, and it was glorious.

The near-fatal man-overboard incident in Season 6 put the “real” in “reality TV.” 

The infamous “fourth wall” between the boat’s crew and the show’s crew disappeared instantly during Season 6, when an errant line pulled deckhand Ashton Pienaar overboard. A cameraman had the foresight to release the line. If he had not, Ashton was within seconds of dying. Just writing about the incident made me tear up all over again.

There are many other people and events that put the original “Below Deck” a notch above the rest, but these three standouts cement it as the best show in the franchise.


Bingeing Shortcut: Chastain’s six-season run is impressive and shows a full character arc. Watching seasons 2 to 7 will give you more than enough of an introduction to the Below Deck franchise, while providing something that resembles a long-term storyline via her personal growth — not to mention her loving relationship with Captain Lee.

‘Below Deck Sailing Yacht’ Is Known to Be Nauti

A group of people in orange polos stand on a boat deck in this image from 51 Minds Entertainment.
The crew on “Below Deck Sailing Yacht” happily waits for their passengers to come aboard, never knowing exactly what shenanigans will be in store. (Image: 51 Minds Entertainment)

“Below Deck Sailing Yacht” was an exciting third installment when it joined the franchise in 2020, since the first two series take place on motor yachts and this one introduced a sailing yacht. Four seasons in, the core cast of Captain Glenn Shephard, Chief Stew Daisy Kelliher, Engineer Colin Macrae, and Chief Officer Gary King is solid.

Kelliher is considered the second-best Chief Stew of all the shows (second to Queen Kate Chastain), and her friendship-turned-love-triangle with King and Macrae is gut-wrenching television. Plus, Season 2 results in a baby for two cast members!


Bingeing Shortcut: Not only can you skip the first season, but you should skip the first season. It was dreadful, and the only person who stuck around for the following seasons was the affable Captain Glenn. Seasons 2 to 4 are must-see TV, but I don’t want the first season to throw you off!

Stern Sandy Makes ‘Below Deck Mediterranean’ Hard to Rank

A group of young people in matching uniforms hold champagne glasses in this image from 51 Minds Entertainment.
The “Below Deck Mediterranean” crew toasts to another successful charter, but the crew’s friction is sometimes hard to watch. (Image: 51 Minds Entertainment)

I wrestled with the placement of “Below Deck Mediterranean” — the first spinoff in the franchise — the most. It premiered in 2016, just three years after the original, and recently finished airing its eighth season. For now, “Below Deck Mediterranean” gets a third-place ranking that could drop in future years. I don’t see it rising. Captain Sandy Yawn is an inconsistent micromanager, and there’s too much turnover among the crew.

The primary reason to watch “Below Deck Mediterranean” is the dynamic between Captain Sandy (who started in Season 2) and the seasons 1 to 5 Chief Stew, Hannah Ferrier. Whereas Chastain and Captain Lee will give you the warm fuzzies, Ferrier and Captain Sandy can barely contain their disgust for each other and are more likely to inspire frustration. Neither is particularly likable, but their power struggle is fascinating and ends with a midseason bang when (spoiler alert!) drugs come into play.


Bingeing Shortcut: The heart of the show lies with the Captain/Chief Stew struggle, so seasons 2 to 5 are your best bet.

‘Below Deck Down Under’ Sea-sed the Day and Should Cruise Into a Great Future

 Nine boat crew members sit on a sectional couch in this image from 51 Minds Entertainment.
Chief Stew Aesha Scott, pictured third from right, always makes her crew feel relaxed. (Image: 51 Minds Entertainment)

“Below Deck Down Under” has been on for only two seasons, and I suspect future seasons will push the spinoff up my ranks. Since its 2022 debut, “Down Under” has shown promise for two reasons, both of which involve boating rock star and Chief Stew Aesha Scott, who we earlier met as a stew on “Below Deck Mediterranean.” Good-natured and clever, this New Zealander brings out the best in everyone and has a sweet relationship with Captain Jason Chambers that rivals the camaraderie of Chastain and Captain Lee.

Besides Scott’s ability to get along famously with most of her crew, she facilitated an aftermath of nurturing following a traumatic evening captured on camera during the second season: Two cast members, a male deckhand and a female stew, were the targets of sexual assault by other crew members. In another life-changing moment, the show’s behind-the-scenes crew didn't hesitate to break the fourth wall and intervene immediately.

Producers made the choice to air the intervention and the raw aftermath. Captain Jason also fired the offending crew members. Meanwhile, Scott’s calm, caring nature amid the chaos gives me hope that we may soon see some needed reality reckoning in the Bravo-verse, which has come under fire in recent years for behavior gone way too far.

Also, Captain Jason is solid eye candy.


Bingeing Shortcut: You can skip the first season. It’s uneventful.

Throw ‘Below Deck Adventure’ Overboard

A group of young crew members line up on a yacht in this image from 51 Minds Entertainment.
The crew looks as glum as the show turned out to be! (Image: 51 Minds Entertainment)

I was tempted to write “Bingeing Shortcut: Skip it” and nothing else, if that tells you anything.

It’s not that the one season of “Below Deck Adventure,” which aired in 2022 and 2023, was awful. It’s that the lack of necessity automatically renders it less interesting. That the promised outdoor adventures were few and far between didn’t help. Its single season’s noteworthy players are Captain Kerry Titheradge, who’s now steering the original “Below Deck” series, and charter guest Heather Gay of “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”

It seems unlikely we’ll get a second season, and I’m OK with that. I have the rest of the franchise to keep me from walking the plank.


Bingeing Shortcut: Skip it.

Season 11 of the original “Below Deck” airs on Mondays on Bravo, with episodes streaming the next day on Peacock. You can stream the other iterations on Peacock too.

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