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Nautilus Council member Catherine Wannell (nee Caseman) worked on oil tankers as an ETO cadet. She says careers at sea could be more inclusive by getting the basics right – such a providing correctly fitting safety clothing, gender neutral documentation, and for companies to bring back support for chartership status
What was a typical day in your job as an ETO cadet?
I have spent much of my sea time completing the tasks in my training record book (TRB), writing reports and preparing for my orals.
The morning and early afternoon are usually spent undertaking planned maintenance, with the time after our afternoon break spent preparing permits for the following day and writing up the work orders from the morning on the planned maintenance software. Unplanned maintenance is also undertaken as and when the need arises.
Why did you decide on a career at sea?
Before I applied to become a cadet, I went to university after finishing school and studied BSc Physical Geography at the University of Leicester. I decided to apply to work at sea as I was looking for a career which would offer me something different from the usual graduate office job that my peers were aiming for. I never actually believed I'd get a place and as such only applied to one company for a cadetship. I was inspired by the stories told by my late grandfather who worked as an engineer in the Merchant Navy in the fifties. After he died, I applied through the National Archives at Kew and was able to find further information on his seafaring career.
Tell us some of your career highlights – and challenges
I think for me the true highlight was the feeling of progression, especially during my second trip where I really gained in confidence. I felt by the end of my last trip I was ready to finish the cadetship and qualify.
In our company, female seafarers are invited down to the office once a year, so we are able to bring up issues and make recommendations to resolve them.
I've always found the company to be very clear on diversity and inclusion and have felt very supported. I did spend three months during my second trip as the only female on board and it wasn't something I really noticed.
The college are beginning a female seafarer networking/mentorship scheme which was starting just as I left for sea which I look forward to getting involved in now I'm back for phase 5.
I have had a few issues with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). For example, my hand size is a seven but the smallest glove size available from the company suppliers is an eight. The other female cadet on my last ship was a six.
For me the true highlight was the feeling of progression, especially during my second trip where I really gained in confidence. I felt by the end of my last trip I was ready to finish the cadetship and qualify Catherine Caseman, ETO cadet
How can women be made to feel welcome, and retained in a career at sea?
I think attitudes are changing, and this has become more visible in the changes I have seen in the time since I began my cadetship in 2016.
A real concern for me is managing future family life and seafaring. I'm not sure how to resolve this issue to be honest, but I'd also like to see better support and more leave for new mothers and fathers who are seafarers, so they don't feel that moving ashore is the only option.
I believe retention could be aided by varied secondment opportunities ashore and ways to develop professionally, such as clear routes and support to get chartered status.
I will qualify with a foundation degree but will struggle to progress to chartership unless I top up to a BEng. We used to get company support to do this, but it is no longer available; I'd like to see this reintroduced.
Moreover, when enquiring about the Marine Engineering BEng top up course at Warsash, I was told it would not be running this year due to lack of interest which reduces the already limited flexible learning options.
I believe we should remove gendered language from documentation; as an example, my sea service testimonials refer to 'he' or 'his' when referring to me. This small change might help to make women feel a bit more welcome.
One of the things I am privileged to enjoy is that my company sees women at sea as an asset and therefore there are many pathways to speaking up combined with a good mentorship scheme for female seafarers which I recommend to other companies.
What are the best things about your job?
I particularly enjoyed some of the ship competitiveness in the last trip as we entered two teams into a group competition called: "Run-a-Muck". We did well but the other team came joint second out of hundreds of other teams, with their dedication to evening table tennis powering them through.
I love the idea of constantly learning at work and being challenged. I'm excited to finally qualify and be able to build on the foundations of the cadetship. I also love the idea of constantly learning at work and being challenged.
Would you recommend seafaring as a career?
I am always recommending seafaring to everyone. I don't necessarily think it's the right career for everyone, but I believe it can be very rewarding.
I would like to think that it lies at sea, but we will see what the next 10 years holds. During that time, via distance learning, I'd like to top up my Foundation Degree to BEng and possibly study for a Masters and work towards becoming a chartered engineer.