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 final part of our three-part feature, meet Shawntel, Vanessa, Caroline, Sarah and Leila...
Shawntel – 3rd Officer, Philippines
Ship type: General cargo vessels
Type of work: I am responsible for Navigation and Safety/Security maintenance. This means, on a normal day, I do two four-hour shift as a navigation officer and three hours of maintenance jobs daily. I am in charge of ensuring good working condition of all life saving appliances, e.g. lifeboats, rescue boats, lifejackets, etc.
Time as a seafarer: I did my cadetship way back in 2014
Path into the industry: I became a 'she-farer' to quench my thirst for travel and adventure. It was a long way coming to where I am now. I completed my degree under the Norwegian Shipowners Association (NSA) Philippines Cadet Program, took the licensure exam to earn my OIC-NW, then underwent series of company assessments to work my way up.
Best thing about being a seafarer: To view the world in a wider perspective. Seeing the world first hand, bit by bit, makes me realize and be more aware of the world we live in and understand the role I play in it.
Most challenging part of working at sea: Being away from the people I love the most and go live and work with total strangers. But on the contrary, from these total strangers comes my favourite memories onboard.
Favourite memory from a voyage: There was one particular memory I am very fond of during Christmas Day. We seafarers love Christmas as much as everyone on land, but this is actually the saddest and loneliest day of the year when we feel most vulnerable. We long for our families the most during this season. What we did last Christmas? In the afternoon of the 25th, we gathered in our recreation room and with anything funny in particular, we all laughed and laughed and laughed until we’ve got tears in our eyes. Just a simple moment amplified by everyone’s desire to be happy. I will never forget that day.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Seize the day. We now live in a world where we are welcomed and embraced, so we have to ride the waves brought about by these changes and reach for the top. There is no limitation to what you can achieve, especially not our gender.
Vanessa – Chief Stewardess, Australia
Ship type: Motor Yacht
Type of work: Managing interior operations and maintenance, guest relations, 5 star service delivery.
Time as a seafarer: 2 years
Path into the industry: I was previously flight crew and made the switch to yacht crew! I started off with the obtaining my STCW and ENG1 which when coupled with my inflight service and event management experience; was the perfect mix to kick start my new seafarers career.
Best thing about being a seafarer: All of the wonderful places our job takes us! Not too many other careers do you start the day in one incredible destination and end the day in another!
Most challenging part of working at sea: Pouring wine in rough seas! (joking) Although rough seas make service delivery interesting and it's not nice for the guests when seasickness can occur.
Favourite memory from a voyage: Last year we heard ‘pan pan’ distress call and were first on scene, our crew worked together to save six crew from a sinking vessel.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Reach out and ask all the questions, there is a huge support network out there and we would be happy to help develop your pathway to the most fun career out there!
Caroline – Second Engineer, Sweden
Ship type: Used to work on RORO-vessels but now I am working on yachts.
Type of work: As Second Engineer I am the lead engineer in the engine room. Responsible for and in charge of everything from daily routines with planned maintenance to taking actions when unexpected problems occur. One day you can spend the whole day by the computer only doing paperwork and the next day you are wearing a dirty boiler suit crawling around in a tank or overhauling an engine. That's one of the best parts, all days are different from each other and you get to do a lot of various work tasks!
Time as a seafarer: 11 years (messgirl 3 years, school/engine cadet 4 years, engineer 4 years)
Path into the industry: Started as a messgirl on a RORO-vessel, I didn't need any training for that. I really liked working at sea and have always liked being with my dad in the garage at home as well so I decided to combine the two parts and become a marine engineer, for that I studied four years at the university and got a Bachelor of Science in Marine Engineering which gives you all training and certificates needed for being a junior engineer up to Chief Engineer. All you need to advance after the graduation is sea time.
Best thing about being a seafarer: The vacation you get on a rotational contract and that you are able to travel the world while getting paid!
Most challenging part of working at sea: Being away from home and your loved ones, not always with the possibility to even talk to them.
Favourite memory from a voyage: Too many to choose from, on each vessel you get a 'new family' that you experience different things with but one favourite is when we sailed in the north sea and I did a 10-day yoga challenge together with the Chief Officer onboard. It was the first time he tried yoga and that together with some rough sea made a lot of people laugh! Haha. Or the time we had 25 alpacas onboard, they are such hilarious and adorable animals!
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Do it! You have exactly the same rights and possibilities as a man. Don't let old rumours scare you, yes the industry is still dominated by men but I have always been happily welcomed onboard and most guys actually believes that a woman’s presence onboard makes the crew behave and look nicer.
Sarah – Senior Third Officer, UK
Ship type: I work on a cruise ship called Boudicca.
Type of work: We are single watchkeeping onboard so I am in charge of a navigational watch on my own with one lookout. On top of this, when we’re not on the bridge, we are also responsible for either all FFE or LSA equipment onboard and their respective inspections and maintenance.
Time as a seafarer: I’ve been a qualified officer for just over a year.
Path into the industry: I studied a BSc degree in Navigation and Maritime Science at the University of Plymouth and then spent a year on my sponsoring company’s ships.
Best thing about being a seafarer: That’s a tricky one, probably all the amazing places we get to visit.
Most challenging part of working at sea: Being away from home and family for long periods of time.
Favourite memory from a voyage: New Year’s Eve in Sydney during our Grand Voyage.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Don’t let any negatives get to you, use them to build and become the best person you can be!
Leila - Chef, UK
Ship type: Yachts
Type of work: Provisioning, menu planning, cooking, stock rotation, galley cleanliness
Time as a seafarer: I started working as a seafarer in 2016
Path into the industry: STCW ENG1 and my Ship's Cook Certificate
Best thing about being a seafarer: Discovering new horizons, flavours, cultures and people from around the world as part of my job.
Most challenging part of working at sea: Being away from your support network after a difficult day at work can be challenging.
Favourite memory from a voyage: Seeing any type of sealife in their natural habitat makes me so happy. The day I saw sea turtles in real life was unforgettable.
Top tip for women wanting to work at sea: Top tip for other women wanting to work at sea is to:
Develop a thick skin and don’t take things too personally as working and living with your co-workers is very different to seeing them at the office during 9-5 hours and then being able to escape back home at the end of the day.
Learn to be compassionately assertive, by standing up for yourself and others while still being respectful and professional.
Just go for it! It can be extremely challenging at times but growth happens outside of your comfort zone.