The maritime industry wouldn’t even exist without the seafarers, often dubbed its backbone and lifetime. Seafarers spend three to six months away from their families and loved ones. They work onboard sea vessels to ensure smooth sailing and operations.
But while seafarers are known to love and value their job, there’s no denying that their burning passion for continuing to sail the seawater throughout their career is made possible by the support they get back home. It’s common for seafarers to honor their wives whenever asked about the one person who made their successes and triumphs possible.
However, times are starting to change. Seafarers are no longer just burly and sometimes suntanned men working long hours at sea under the sun’s scorching heat. Unlike many years ago when the maritime industry was exclusively a man’s world, their wives are no longer just the only women they know because even ladies are starting to become a part of this challenging field.
As the modern-day workforce is progressing toward gender equality after being long overdue, women are proving and showing to the rest of the world that working at sea is also a rewarding and suitable career for them, just like it is for men. Now more than ever, brute force and muscles aren’t the only things you need to rise through the maritime sector’s ranks, and ladies have proven this for the past few years.
This article will give you a glimpse of women on the water, how they are the unsung heroes of the maritime industry, and what kind of future this field has for the women out there.
Travel Down Memory Lane: Women and Their History in the Maritime Industry
Women have a rather exciting history in the maritime industry, but for some reason, they never get the celebration and acknowledgment they deserve. Although masculine sailors have become the heroes of numerous stories in the early days, many women have already made a mark at sea for centuries. The only difference is that it was either ignored or taken for granted.
The harsh truth is that it wasn’t easy for women to be part of the maritime industry in the sailing era because only men were accepted into the profession.
Women even disguised themselves as men so that they could work on sailing vessels. But the moment their secret comes out into the open, it will end their career immediately.
Back then, women were given a role in ships, but it was uncommon. Most of the time, ladies on ships were either the daughters or wives of the captains.
As they spent days and weeks aboard the ship with their fathers or husbands, many ladies learned the vessel’s operation and some navigational techniques. If the daughter of a captain lived aboard her father’s, she was historically given the chance to perform some sailing duties until she became a teen. However, she’s still expected to take on the period’s traditional role as a woman.
During the 19th century, the wife or daughter of the captain of several British sailing vessels would often play the stewardess role on board a ship. They clean quarters, serve meals, and keep inventory and financial records.
When the First and Second World Wars during the 20th century came, most men were sent overseas, leaving behind tons of workforce vacancies at home. Making these positions vacant would be a disadvantage for the country, so women started proving that they were equally or even more able than men for traditionally male-dominated jobs.
The industry of shipbuilding wasn’t an exception. During the peak of the shipbuilding boom in 1943, almost 65% of the West Coast’s shipbuilding workers were ladies. These were well-paying positions, approximately 40% higher than service sector jobs. The ladies were primarily welders, and with the ongoing war, production companies started giving different jobs to women.
But even as the ladies proved excellent in their jobs that spurred women’s rights, it wasn’t easy for them to stay in their positions after the war when the men returned home. This was despite them being better than men in terms of performance.
During the 21st century, women established themselves in the modern maritime industry. This time, they no longer had to use disguises to command a ship. Ladies were finally given the chance to choose to work at sea on their terms.
The first-ever female group was admitted to Kings Point, New York’s United States Merchant Marine Academy, in 1974. Captain Wagner was among them, and she became the first woman to earn the Unlimited Master’s License, allowing her to captain any vessel anywhere in the world’s oceans.
Wagner also worked as a harbor pilot in San Francisco. She brought massive vessels into the restricted waterways known for their maritime challenges. To this day, Wagner remains the bay’s only female harbor pilot. She is among the many ladies who made a mark in the marine industry.
What Does the Future Hold for the Ladies in the Maritime Industry?
The number of ladies in the maritime industry has grown significantly in the past few years. However, much work still needs to be done to ensure their representation will be evened out in the workforce and given leadership roles.
As far as the future of women in the maritime industry is concerned, Belinda Bennett is one of the best and most inspiring examples for women who also dream of being part of the marine industry. Bennett was unbothered by both naysayers and statistics. She became the first-ever black cruise ship captain in the world.
Bennett used to work aboard the Windstar Cruises for more than 14 years, sailing their ships during summer months through Europe and during the winter season through the Caribbean. She was recently awarded the prestigious Merchant Navy Medal for Meritorious Service of the United Kingdom.
This kind of example gives you valuable insight into why being a female in the maritime industry benefits the individual and the women who will be part of the sector in the future.
The demographic of the maritime industry will surely change for the better if more and more women in the sector rise through the ranks. Ladies who grow to become the industry’s leaders are crucial to inspire future generations and prove to them that there shouldn’t be any limits for women today.
There is no denying that times have changed over the past few years, yet any woman in the maritime industry must have the drive and determination.
Since men continue to occupy most of the positions in the industry, it takes commitment and dedication for ladies to prove themselves and reach the top of the ranks.
The good news is that one positive sign for women’s future in the maritime sector is the number of support made available for all women who wish to test the waters. For instance, federal grants and many other similar are now available to all women who want to enter the academies for marine training.
With the continuous growth of the support from the community and the system as a whole, it wouldn’t be too much to say that sooner or later, it will become easier and faster for women to become a part of the maritime industry, a sector that was once a field dominated by brawn and muscles.