I am in my first year as a Merchant Navy Officer Cadet at the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Shetland.
I applied for a place on the cadet programme while in my sixth and final year at Kirkwall Grammar School in Orkney. I was taken on by Clyde Marine Training, who employ me, and started my training at the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Shetland in September 2016.
Coming from a sea-faring family background in a small island community, it was my dad who inspired me to pursue a profession in the merchant navy since a young age, as he had done. As well as being master of the Ro-Ro vessel Shapinsay in Orkney, he ran his own charter vessel Charles-Ann on which I gained experience working as a deckhand. That experience, I feel, undeniably influenced my choice of a career in the maritime industry.
Growing up, I had always realised how male-dominated the shipping industry was. It was only much later in life, while researching options for how to get into the maritime sector, that I realised the different challenges women had, and are still facing at sea. If anyone ever asked me "What do you want to do when you grow up?" I would reply that "I want to be like my dad." Most of the time, the most common reaction was either to act surprised, or not take me seriously. If anything, that made me even more determined to prove that I could do it.
Applying for the cadet programme before graduating from Kirkwall Grammar was a risk, as I didn't have a back-up career plan in place. However, I was certain that this was the right career path for me.
After leaving school, I got a summer job working as a steward for Orkney Ferries on the Earl Sigurd, one of the Ro-Ro passenger/cargo vessels that sails from Kirkwall to the northern islands of Orkney. This was my first experience of working at sea outside of the family business, and it only enhanced my decision to join the merchant navy. I loved meeting new faces every day and the working environment on board with the crew. From day one not only the crew but the passengers also gave me plenty of self-confidence and encouragement for my career decision.
I completed my first college phase at NAFC in January this year, and made some amazing friends and had supportive lecturers in the few months I've spent there. I am now in my first sea-phase and am writing this at sea on board my first ship, the VOS Fabulous, which is an Emergency Response Rescue Vessel operated by Vroon Offshore Services and working in the North Sea. I am here working as one of the crew to gain practical knowledge and experience.
I was a little concerned before joining the ship as I knew of some of the challenges that other female seafarers have encountered. But I can say that I have only had a positive time here with a friendly and welcoming crew.
I would say to any women considering a career at sea to definitely go for it. If you would say you've got a great sense of adventure and would like to travel the world, it could be the career for you. The career options in this industry are endless - land or sea based! It just shows how in many cases nowadays, a male dominated industry is changing to allow more women to join the maritime industry. It's not unnatural to find female seafarers anymore. Stay strong, be brave and be proud of your journey!
Ann (center) on a visit to a ship with her fellow cadets.
The Merchant Navy Officer Cadet Programme trains Deck and Engineer Officers for the Merchant Navy.