We spoke with Sophs, a veteran deck crew, about how her experience has changed over time -- and what you might expect working a deckhand job today -- as a guy OR a gal.
I feel our society, in general, is evolving when it comes to questions of equality. Many countries are working towards anti-discrimination laws, better equality and smoother gender treatment in the workplace. We are seeing a lot more women in leadership roles and a lot of media campaigns coming through that are bringing equality awareness to the forefront.
I believe that our industry is moving in a similar flow. There’s been a huge increase in recent years with women fulfilling more of these roles that traditionally were not considered open to women.
I think girls, in a predominantly male environment, will naturally work hard to try and prove themselves. There are plenty of Captains out there that recognize and support this, as it can often raise the standard when everyone is working at this level.
I was actually very close to quitting the industry before ‘Girls on Deck’ started. The group was born purely out of my frustration with a lot of sexism that I was experiencing at the time. A lot of that experience was coming from a yacht management company, not a captain or a specific boat crew.
I really wanted to get some advice and find other females that might be going through the same thing, but I just couldn’t find any of them, although I knew I couldn’t be the only one in this situation.
I was really surprised about how fast the ‘Girls on Deck’ community grew and I was blown away by the support I received back then and continue to receive today. I believe female friendships are extremely important in life and without some of these girls, I am really not sure I would be where I am today. There are some truly inspiring women out there and I’m so proud to see all of their success and achievements.
I’ve been lucky to have worked with some really supportive Captains and crew. The only challenges I have come across personally, other than the yacht management company I mentioned above, have been dealing with the culture of some of the owners who just aren’t used to seeing women drive boats!
I haven’t had any issues with on the crew side at all. I’ve worked with an amazing female engineer who was described as one of the best engineers the Captain had seen.
The bottom line is, Captains are looking for crew that can run their vessel to the best of their ability. Having diverse experience and being able to work well together are also really important. I really don’t think the gender of the crewmembers comes into it these days.
I would encourage them not to give up whilst looking for that first role. There are a lot of people out there willing to help you. Stick to your path and try not to veer away from what you really want. Be prepared to work hard and seek advice from current crew.
There will be a few people out there that may try and discourage you; please do not see yourself through their eyes. Crew agencies and Captains are becoming more open about these placements and once you prove yourself, then you are more than worthy of that role.
And of course, the Facebook community ‘Girls on Deck’ is a great platform to ask for advice or find a mentor. Also, make sure your banter is en pointe, as you’re going to need it!
One thing I’d love to see disappear from the rumor mill is the idea that we’re not physically strong enough. It’s simply not true. I can heave a line, carry large fenders and pull Seabobs out of the water with the best of them.
I hear a lot of girls talk about when they first start on board a new boat; the guys are often coming over to help. I love the gallantry in this, but the male crew soon learn, once we’ve settled into our roles, that we’re more than capable to do the work ourselves. Knowing that you can ask for help at any time strengthens the crew bond and I think that’s extremely important on board.
For the new, younger crew members that have been through a crew induction with me on board, will know that after all the safety boxes are ticked, I give two pieces of advice:
Yacht life is really what you make of it. If you are prepared to work hard, take courses and climb the ladder, then you will be rewarded as such. I’ve also seen a lot more marriages than divorces during my sea life, so you never know what this life will throw at you!
The traveling has definitely been a highlight and I’m certainly not knocking the financial rewards either, but aside from those obvious perks, I’ve made some incredible friends and my career has really helped me grow as a person.
I will be vulnerable in saying that I really didn’t think I had the Officer path in me, but I wanted to honor my late father who was a Royal Naval Commander so I started to push myself in that direction. Learning from experience, taking all of my courses and exams has really helped me build my confidence, not only on deck but also in life.
Our lifestyle is not for everyone. We work in a relatively confined environment, possibly with people that we wouldn’t hang out within the real world and then there’s a lot of nonsense that we have to deal with, like crazy demands from the guests, the long hours, the lack of bananas in the crew mess and missing out on your life back home. These challenges have forced me to grow mentally strong and I absolutely love it!
Without a doubt, Antarctica. I was extremely lucky to be offered a position on an explorer vessel and spent a season down there. It was a truly humbling experience and made me look at the world in a different light on my return. It really changed me as a person and I’ll always be grateful for the experience I had that season.
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