Luxury yachting has long been an industry in which men have traditionally held deck and engineering roles while women have automatically filled stewardess and interior positions. However, thanks to passionate women – and men – who are keen to see a change, a ground shift for gender equality in yachting has begun.
The conversation is already active is on social media, on Facebook in particular, where ‘Girls on Deck’, a group for female deck and engineering superyacht crew, has attracted more than 700 members in just over a month.
Group members include women and men from all over the globe, sharing personal stories of career progression to inspire others while trading information on job postings and training programs. And the group is gaining momentum as new members join every day.
Caitlin Short, Second Engineer
The idea for Girls on Deck came from a discussion between bosun Sophie Jordan and Alison Rentoul, The Crew Coach, who encouraged her to take up a deck position when she started out in yachting four years ago.
“I have long been passionate about promoting females in traditionally male dominated roles in the industry, stemming from my own experience of trying to get a job as a deckhand when I arrived in yachting in 1998” says Alison. “Even though I had 10 years of sailing experience, having grown up spending every available weekend and school holiday aboard our family sailing yacht, I was laughed out of all the crew agencies when I arrived with the intention of becoming a deckhand.”
Jess Frost, Sole Deckhand 50m
Ever since, Alison has encouraged girls to take a stand and pursue their dreams of becoming deck officers, engineers and captains and, when Sophie came to her in 2012 to discuss her career, Alison recognized her potential to excel in the exterior department.
“The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind and a lot of people told me it would be a hard road. I remember seeing all male deckhands when dock walking, but Alison saw something in me and encouraged me to go for it!” says Sophie. “Within a week I landed my first job as sole deckhand on a 33m, with a very patient, encouraging captain and I loved every moment of it. I’m currently bosun on a 47m and I’m working towards my OOW.”
While Sophie has been fortunate to work with male captains and first officers who have encouraged and supported her, at times she has still felt frustrated by a lack of support, despite her qualifications, experience and sheer hard work.
“While many of my male colleagues have been great, I’ve also come across a few negative ones and it can feel as though we need to work twice as hard to prove our worth just because we are women. Because of this, I reached out to Alison for advice on where I could connect with other women in the industry. We quickly realised it was our common goal to start a virtual platform for women to connect, so we launched Girls on Deck,” said Sophie.
The group is not only for female members however; men are also encouraged to join and share information, advice and job postings for female exterior or engineering crew. Recruitment companies and anyone else interested to promote and support females working in deck and engineering roles is also welcome.
Heidi Hasenfus, Captain/Mate
The stories being shared are inspirational, including this from a member who expressed her joy at receiving her Chief Mate 3000 CoC:
“When I started as a deckie and joined my new boat, I was sent by the boys to wet polish stainless steel on the fairly high mast of this sailing yacht (50m+ high) under heavy tropical rain. They wanted to test me, see if I'd beg to come down. Fortunately, being a rock climber and not particularly afraid of heights, I did not run away. The reason I’m sharing this story is to say, despite the crazy things you will experience, do not give up! On the contrary, we need to train and encourage the next wave of girls on deck to move up, study hard and train the next group of girls. This is why this group is so great!”
Tallulah England, Deckhand
Another reason behind creating Girls on Deck now is Alison’s and Sophie’s desire to contribute towards achieving Goal 5 of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Global Goals. With 2016 being the Year of the Girl, the UN Global Goal for gender equality is focusing on women’s rights worldwide, to ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls by 2020. Adopted in 2015, the goal is one of 17 designed to ensure prosperity for all, with specific targets over the next 14 years.
“For these global goals to be reached, everyone needs to do their part, and we can also do our bit within the luxury yachting sector. We like to think that Girls on Deck is contributing to the global movement and helping to raise awareness of the Global Goal on gender equality,” said Alison.
Heidi Hansenfus, Captain/Mate
The creation of the group also coincides with a general sea-change regarding the topic of gender equality in the maritime sector in recent months. Dr Kate Pike, Senior Research Fellow at Southampton Solent University in the UK, and currently managing a global research project on Gender, Empowerment and Multicultural Crews (GEM), has voiced her support for the Girls on Deck Facebook group.
“Women are still in the minority in many sectors of the Merchant Navy and, as seafarers, they will spend the majority of their working lives away from home. This new channel of communication, and others like it, are a great way for people to support each other and share experiences, best practice, training and career opportunities.” said Kate. “One of the findings from our research highlights the isolation that can be experienced by seafarers, particularly women, and it demonstrates the need for good support networks and communication channels to be in place where people can connect to each other.”
Marlies Sanders, Captain
The GEM Project is an international research programme focusing on gender issues arising from multicultural crews and isolation. Full research findings from the GEM project will be revealed and discussed at The GEM Project Conference on 16 June 2016 at the ITF Seafarers’ Trust in London.
Please check out the group and join us! Girls on Deck
Related article: Girls on Deck: One of the Boys
Katy McGilvray, Deckhand
More information on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
For information and assistance in pursuing a career as a female deck or engineering officer, contact Alison Rentoul: [email protected]
Sophie Jordan and Alison Rentoul