Women in the Workplace: The Merchant Navy

Hello readers,

We are back  with a brand new blog series! Ever since the success of our last series, Ask the Audience, we have been thinking long and hard about what we could bring you next.

The premise of this new series is to interview women working in male dominated fields, in order to find out more about their career paths, celebrate their achievements and see what kind of improvements are still outstanding for women. We hope that you will be able to gain some valuable insight if you’re looking to start your career, if you’re looking for a career change or if you’re just interested in finding out more about other people’s careers.

So without further ado, today we are going to be learning about the Merchant Navy! Our interviewee has asked to remain anonymous but we are sure that you will be itching for a career on the waves once you find out what she does   🙂

1.     What do you do and how long have you been doing it?

I am a Deck Officer in the Merchant Navy. The Merchant Navy is the collective name for the UK’s commercial shipping sector – it covers all non-military vessels from oil tankers, container ships, cruise ships and ferries. As a Deck Officer I am in charge of the safe navigation and cargo operations of a vessel. Only 2% of the Merchant Navy are women, the majority of whom are in the hospitality sector, as stewardesses, waitresses and the like on Cruise ships and Superyachts. I started training in 2013 and qualified as a competent Officer of the Watch in the summer.

2.     How did you get into your field?

I always preferred vocational learning, and the idea of university and debt didn’t appeal to me. I stumbled upon a website which introduced me to the opportunities that a career at sea offered. To become a Deck Officer I undertook a three year training programme with a company that sponsors you through the tuition fees and other costs. You spend half your time at college learning the theory and half at sea learning all the practical skills on board a working vessel. You can also join the Merchant Navy as a rating, a Marine Engineer, Electrician, or any number of hospitality and entertainment jobs.

3.     What do you enjoy about your job?

I enjoy the travelling element, visiting ports all over the world. I love working with such a diverse range of people, from all over the world, working as a team and becoming a family. I really enjoy experiencing the things at sea you can’t really anywhere else – the wildlife (dolphins, whales, even flying fish), the sunsets, and the stars at night. A part of me also loves the isolation that a trip away brings – you can exclude yourself from the outside world and the events and news that are happening back home and around the world – it’s just you, and the crew you’re sailing with and a ship that becomes your home.

4.     Do you have any tips for women looking to enter your field?

You have to be thick skinned to enter this industry as a woman – although the ideology is changing now, there are still lots of guys who have spent the majority of their careers without women on board – they’re having to adjust to the change, and I don’t think they can be blamed for that. As far as the job goes there is nothing that prevents a woman from performing to the same standard as any man. You have to work hard, not be afraid to graft, and be willing to have a laugh. But also willing to stand up for yourself if you ever feel things go too far. It’s also important to not be afraid to ask for help when you need it – so what [if] you can’t lift the 20kg box? There [are] men I’ve sailed with who would struggle too – we all have different abilities and skills and the wonderful thing about a life at sea, is that we pick up the strengths of each individual to create a harmonious and effective team.

5.     Have you faced any challenges at work because of your sex? 

There are definitely challenges – some in a logistical way.. Not having personal protective equipment that fits you properly (overalls, safety boots and gloves especially!), not having any sanitary products on board, or any bins that you can safely put the waste in! Then there are the social challenges of being a woman on board; the occasional comments and suggestive remarks, having to complete a job with twice the efficiency to get half the recognition, and an un-spoken taboo that women aren’t seen seriously because we’re apparently ‘all going to get knocked up and retire to a life at home as a house wife.’ But in general the attitude is improving, the number of women at sea is increasing, and there is nothing about gender that should affect a person’s decision to go to sea… if you love adventure, travelling, challenging yourself, working in a team, and want to try something different – then absolutely go for it.

Visit www.careersatsea.org for more information.


We hope you have enjoyed the first instalment of Women in the Workplace – stay tuned over the coming weeks for many more interesting interviews!

Thanks for reading,

~ Sanya

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