women and pilotage

Greetings friends! 

Can you believe we are already halfway through 2017? A lot has been happening in our maritime world; in our Sea Sisters circle we have an upcoming wedding, a recent baby (I can't wait to read the story on that), and a new essay from one of our contributors. In the community at large, we have seen quite a few women recently admitted into pilot training programs around the country, notably Southeast Alaska, Sandy Hook, and Puget Sound. It's very exciting to see more women entering these elite associations of master mariners, and I hope the trend continues to gain momentum. 

To become a maritime pilot is to reach the pinnacle of the maritime industry. As you can imagine, it takes a long time to reach that place in one's career, and there are many obstacles along the way which even the most driven individuals can struggle to overcome. Considering how few women there are in the industry to begin with, it makes sense that the numbers dwindle as you get to the higher ranks. 

I see several factors that prevent women from becoming pilots: first, and the major elephant in the room, is the pressure to drop out of the work force and become mothers. For women who are not interested in having children, this is a non-issue. But the question of child-rearing and motherhood is a complicated issue for women in maritime that requires some examination, in a different setting from this one. 

Another factor is the environment in which mariners work. Tugboats and ships can be cramped, dirty, lonely places. Many of the people I've met have been conditioned to withstand this environment for as long as it takes to reach their goal, but many women are discouraged from being tough or hardy enough to embrace the dirt and muck and noise of engine rooms, cargo, and boat or ship handling, and end up going ashore. 

Many women are expected to become caretakers of ailing family members or aging parents, and once you drop out of the seagoing work force, it can be difficult to find your way back in. Most women experience harassment at work at least once, which can make them question whether staying in the offshore sector is worth it. Gender bias causes many to subconsciously doubt the competency of women whereas men are largely given the benefit of the doubt; repeatedly proving competence and paying a heavier price for a misstep can burn a lot of women out in these male-dominated industries. 

The amount of academic study that goes into testing for pilotage endorsements and for entry into a training program can be grueling and stressful. The amount of knowledge needed to do the job is staggering. 

And lastly, the time it takes to make it to the top is daunting for anyone; to get from zero to pilot will take the average mariner ten to fifteen years, and unless you take things day by day and set small, reachable goals along the way, the thought of putting that much of your life into your career can be scary. Many mariners need support and guidance which can be hard to find - networking and mentorships are enormously helpful in encouraging workers to stay on track (which is what the Sea Sisters community is here to do). 

But I always hold out the hope that by persevering, the few women who start from the bottom can make it to the peak, and show everyone around them that we have the grit to carry on through whatever adversity this life throws our way; that we have the right to choose what is best for us. 

Our contributor Jill, a SEAPA apprentice, has written up some of her best advice for anyone hoping to become a pilot one day, and there are some great takeaways from her words. 

As always, thank you for your ongoing support; fair winds, 

Elizabeth