New campaign says women can captain superyachts

Abi Smith  |  19th March 2020

Two top women sailors have launched a maritime mission to help schoolgirls choose careers that will take them to the top ranks of the sailing industry.

Jenny Matthews and Natasha Ambrose, who are both first officers on superyachts, are embarking on a world tour to encourage schoolgirls to consider careers as superyacht captains after discovering that more than 95% of yacht captains and first officers are men. Their mission is to rewrite the narrative of women in maritime by raising visibility and awareness.

Matthews, aged 30 is from New Zealand and joined the superyacht industry as a stewardess when she was 18, said she decided to start the ‘She of the Sea campaign’ because “after securing my officer of the watch ticket in 2018, I realised that in the eight years working on deck, I’d never worked with another woman in the deck department”. The deck department is the senior staff who navigate the ship alongside the captain.

“I wanted to know if there were any other women officers out there,” she said. “It took a long time to find any official statistics, but research by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency shows that just 60 women have qualified as senior yacht seafarers since 2006, out of a total of 1,210 people.”

She continued: “I’ve got to be honest with you – it’s tough to get a job, full stop. This industry is highly competitive with so many people wanting to work in it. And being a female wanting to work in a more male-dominated role can be very challenging.”

Matthews said raising awareness that women can be captains and chief engineers was a key part of the campaign. There is an unconscious bias in the industry where women are seen as stewardesses rather than deckhands. It comes back to the core perceptions people have about what jobs people should do based on their gender, not what they could be good at.

The women said their campaign was inspired by Kate McCue, the first woman to captain a ‘mega’ cruise ship, the Celebrity Edge, a $1bn 130,000-tonne cruise ship with capacity for 2,900 passengers.

Ambrose, 32, from Chichester, West Sussex, said a core part of the She of the Sea campaign was to let schoolchildren know that working as an officer or engineer on a superyacht sailing the world was a viable career no matter their gender – if they worked hard at maths and science.

“The only way to really change things is to get people enthused when they are young,” Ambrose said. “Our phrase is, ‘If she can see it, she can be it’.”

They are planning their own roadshow which they will take to schools in the UK and across the world to encourage girls to study the STEM subjects as superyachting is literally all stem - science, technology, engineering and maths - from designing them to building them to working out where they can go and driving them.

The She of the Sea campaign also aims to connect and support women already working in the industry. “It’s about letting people know that they’re not alone, and we are here for each other,” Matthews said.