In honour of International Women’s Day today, we spoke to a group of women from across the industry about their work as seafarers and asked what advice they would give to others wishing to follow the same path. In the first part of our three-part feature, meet Suneha, Alesia, Désirée, Rachel and Grace...
Suneha – Captain, India
Ship type: Tankers
Type of work: I’m responsible for the entire ship and its cargo and my crew and environment. Daily task is to ensure that ship is being operated with utmost diligence and care – most importantly SAFELY.
Time as a seafarer: 17 YEARS completed in Jan 2020
Path into the industry: I was incidentally selected by Indian National company SCI, while undergoing my mechanical engineering stint at National Institute of Technology. I happened to be the first girl deck cadet of SCI. Later I joined NYK where I was the only female Master Mariner. I’m the first female Captain of my company TORM which is a 130-year-old Danish Company, being a proud moment not only for TORM but also for India.
Best thing about being a seafarer: Being fearless in any adversity and accomplishing every challenge with determination and a sense of pride, ensuring loved ones are pampered and the world delivered of its daily dose of life.
Most challenging part of working at sea: Working together with different experiences and viewpoint as a team ensuring synergy to achieve the goal of safe ships and clean seas.
Favourite memory from a voyage: The memory that tops it all, is the day I took over command in the most amazing and unexpected manner, as all the crew members got together and presented me with epaulets in a very ceremonious manner. And yet another memorable day was a recent equator crossing ceremony where I was Queen of the Seas – Amphitrite.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Be yourself at all times – Be sure of achieving anything and everything you desire with equal aplomb – No leeway whatsoever but sheer competence – Know that you don't belong but DESERVE to be here.
Alesia – 3rd Officer, Ukraine
Ship type: Chemical tankers
Type of work: I am responsible for routine navigational bridge watch and of cargo watch (which includes loading and discharging multiple parcels of chemicals and using ballast water treatment unit, nitrogen inert gas units) as well as being in charge of mooring/unmooring operations, and assistance during anchoring operations. In addition, the maintenance of all fire fighting and lifesaving equipment and related safety equipment, supervisory and hands-on roles during drills as well as anything required by day to day chemical tanker operations. I am also Assistant Safety Officer.
Time as a seafarer: Since 2016
Path into the industry: When I was at school, I found out about the job at sea and thought it would be interesting. Then I went to our National Maritime Academy in Odessa and after four years I graduated. I applied to work with Stolt Tankers and after one voyage as a cadet and one as a deck officer trainee I became a Third Officer.
Best thing about being a seafarer: Broadening your mind. Every day is different, every navigational watch and cargo watch is challenging with multiple ports and people of different nationalities and cultures, you never have the same day as previous one.
Most challenging part of working at sea: Not being so critical of myself when everything is going well.
Favourite memory from a voyage: When I first had my own cargo watch and I was in control of different grades of cargo. Everything was going fast and I had to keep in mind different things at the same time when we were loading and discharging cargo as well as doing ballasting. When I had done my watch I thought it was quite challenging but I really enjoyed it.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: If you want to be accepted in a difficult and intensive job environment, you just need to do your job with a professional attitude to the best of your ability and you will find that your gender is not of importance.
Désirée – The Netherlands, 3rd Engineer
Ship type: Gas tankers
Type of work: Monitoring, maintaining and repairing ships machinery systems.
Time as a seafarer: 2 years
Path into the industry: I studied 'Maritime Officer' at the Rotterdam Mainport University and got my licence for deck officer and marine engineer. I completed all necessary courses to become a seafarer and did an advanced training for liquefied gas tanker cargo operations.
Best thing about being a seafarer: Freedom.
Most challenging part of working at sea: Working at sea is not only a job, it's a lifestyle. The most challenging is that is has a big impact on my social life.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Believe in yourself and never give up.
Rachel – 1st Officer, UK
Ship type: Cruise Ships
Time as a seafarer: 6 years
Path into the industry: I spent three years as a Deck Cadet spending half of my time at Maritime College learning theory and the other half at sea gaining practical experience.
Best thing about being a seafarer: Every day is different with new challenges to overcome and things to do – sure beats an office job!
Most challenging part of working at sea: Being away from loved ones for months at a time.
Favourite memory from a voyage: Laying on the monkey island my first trip as a Cadet in the Indian Ocean and looking up at the night sky – with no light pollution, it was truly magnificent.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Don’t let anyone question your ability, passion or sincerity – if you want to work at sea, then do it. Man or woman, gender must not define you, or what you can become.
Grace – Freelance Chef, USA
Ship type: I freelance on private and charter yachts (both motor and sailing), typically ranging from 64-130ft.
Type of work: As a freelance chef, I am hired for specific short trips onboard yachts that do not have a full time chef. Usually these are privately owned yachts that do not run with a full time crew and I am brought on when the owners have trips. However, I also work on charter yachts from time to time as a fill-in chef. One of my favourite parts of being freelance is getting to do yacht deliveries! Working freelance allows me the privilege to meet a wide variety of people and gain experience on many different types of yachts – both of which I greatly enjoy!
Time as a seafarer: 5 years
Path into the industry: My first job after college was as a deckhand on a traditionally rigged tall ship that chartered in mid-coast Maine. After three seasons as a deckhand on sailing vessels in Maine and Florida, I obtained my yachting certifications and got my first job as a chef on a sailing yacht. Since then, I have freelanced on a variety of motor and sailing yachts as well as several private estates. I have also attended two chef’s academies in England and Canada to continue expanding my culinary skill set and I am scuba and free dive certified.
Best thing about being a seafarer: Constantly being surrounded by beautiful scenery and getting to live and work on the ocean.
Most challenging part of working at sea: Rough weather, potential seasickness, and limited provisioning options in secluded locations.
Favourite memory from a voyage: Getting to free dive under a sailing yacht while a couple hundred miles offshore during a yacht delivery! I also am absolutely giddy every time I see dolphins while underway.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Don’t take no for an answer and never let someone tell you you can’t do something because you are a woman – weigh all your options and find a solution utilizing your unique skill set.