I am enrolled as a Merchant Navy Officer Cadet at the NAFC Marine Centre UHI in Shetland.
I am about half way through my training, which lasts for almost three years. My time is split between periods of study at NAFC and periods working at sea as a crew member on commercial ships. During my training I am employed by a shipping company and paid a salary.
At the end of the programme – assuming I finish all my assessments – I will have an HNC in Nautical Science and a Deck Officer’s Certificate of Competency, which will qualify me to work as a junior officer on any kind of ship anywhere in the world. When I have gained more experience I will be able to progress to higher ranks, perhaps eventually to captain my own ship.
I knew that the merchant navy was a very male-dominated world, but that didn’t put me off applying. I couldn't wait to leave home and "travel the world". And in the event I was surprised at how many women there are working at sea.
So far, I have spent about five months working on emergency rescue and response ships in the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean. These ships have to stand-by oil rigs and other offshore installations 24/7, whatever the weather, to respond to any emergency that might arise.
The college side of the training has been great. My classmates (mostly male) have been more like brothers than friends, which is what you need when you're working and studying away from home.
Working at sea can be challenging at times as you have crew from many nationalities and backgrounds working and living together for months on end. Quite often there is a mix of personalities and opinions, and not everyone is as liberated as I am used to at home. Most of the crews that I have worked with have been very understanding and open minded, but there are some who hold strong views about women on ships (mainly that they shouldn’t be there).
As part of our training, we have to demonstrate that we can carry out certain tasks, some of which involve manual labour or working on the ship’s deck. That can cause problems with some of the crew who may think that women can’t carry out physical tasks, or shouldn’t be working at all, never mind on a ship!
We have a brilliant support network at the college. All of the lecturers have an open-door policy and you are more than welcome to go in and have a chat or rant with them, or ask for help. And we have a great student support service. At sea you are much more on your own, so that can be a challenge at times.
My experience, and what I have learned, shows that there is no reason why women cannot pursue a successful career at sea, although it is not without its challenges. I would encourage any woman who wants to pursue a career at sea to do so, but whether you are a woman or a man it is a career that you need to be 100% sure that you want to do. Being away from home for long periods can be difficult, so I think you need to be sure it is what you want to do.
But it is by far the best decision that I have made in my life and I have no regrets. The job itself is extremely satisfying and when you get back ashore after a period at sea you really appreciate the luxuries you take for granted at home.
Would I make the same career choice again? Absolutely!
Lynsey's home and workplace - VOS Valiant.
The Merchant Navy Officer Cadet Programme trains Deck and Engineer Officers for the Merchant Navy.