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Second officer Cora Bonham talks perseverance and deep sea voyages

6 March 2020

Second officer Cora Bonham grew up landlocked with no connection to the sea, but her tenacity and perseverance in seeking cadetship sponsors paid off; she is now helping deliver a new class of e-flexer ro pax ferries

What is a typical day in your job?

I work for a ferry company providing transport for people across the Irish Sea. I am a deck and navigation officer. I load and unload vehicles and I oversee navigating the vessel safely from Cairnryan, Scotland to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Why did you choose a career at sea?

I wanted to do something different with my life. I come from the countryside surrounded by farms. I wanted to broaden my horizons and travel the world while being paid for it.

I finished school at 17 years old and then went to university to become an officer at sea.

Tell us some of your career highlights so far – and challenges

I started my cadetship trying to find a company to sponsor me but most companies only seemed interested in people with a maritime background. I didn't have any connections to the sea, but I applied to many companies anyway. Eventually I got a sponsorship with Northern Marine which helped me through my cadetship and found me a permanent job as an officer once I qualified. I was never extremely book-smart, so studying was always hard for me. I failed many exams but always pushed myself to bounce back and try again.

Recently I completed my first ever deep sea voyage. I was chosen by my company to be part of a newbuild delivery team to sail on the first of their brand-new e-flexer ro-pax vessels. The vessel was built in China and delivered to the UK at Christmas 2019. The 10,000-mile journey took me to China (on my first ever trip out of Europe) last November and returning home to the UK just in time for Christmas.

On a few occasions I have come across the 'old school' seafaring type, who still believe it's a man world and women shouldn't be at sea. I just rise above it and ignore these kinds of people. I am perfectly capable of doing any job a man can do.

I like the opportunities the job has to offer and being in a job where I can always progress in my career and earn more respect and responsibilities Cora Bonham, second officer

How can women be made to feel welcome and retained in a career at sea?

I think you need to have a good personality and learn to fit in. If you see yourself as being different to the men at sea, then they will treat you differently. I come from a big family with lots of brothers. I grew up trying to fit in with them all my life so going to sea, and quite often being the only female on the vessel for long periods of time wasn't a big deal for me. You can still be professional and friendly and be respected.

What are the best things about your job?

The best thing about my job would have to be all the amazing memories I have of places I visited so far. I like the opportunities the job has to offer and being in a job where I can always progress in my career and earn more respect and responsibilities. I also like the time off that comes with my job, and enjoy coming home after a trip and having lots of time off to catch up with family.

Would you recommend seafaring as a career?

I enjoy my career, so yes, I would recommend it.

I have just recently achieved my Chief Mates ticket and got promoted right away. I have also started ship handling on my vessel under the guidance of the senior master and I'm enjoying that challenge. As soon as I get enough sea time to get my masters unlimited ticket I will hopefully have enough experience and confidence to apply for a job as master. As I get told day in and day out by my colleagues, they have never met any female masters with this company so maybe I can be the first.

Tell us one thing that people may not know about your job

I am the only female officer on my ship. I have been a qualified officer for almost four years now and I have never ever sailed with another female officer on any ship yet. I hope someday my bridge team could be all females instead of me being the only one!


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