Meet Jessica

Nautilus Council member Captain Jessica Tyson describes her life at sea as 'quite quite unmatchable'.

Capt Tyson, who is also chair of the Nautilus Women's Forum, shares her story of life at sea during our Women's Month series of interviews in support of International Women's Day 2017.

Captain Jessica Tyson

Q:What sector do you work in?

Pilotage and surveying

Q: What is your rank/role?

Master. I was at sea for 18 years. Now I work as a pilot and a marine consultant surveyor.

Q: Why did you decide on a career at sea?

I found it interesting and engaging. I was lucky that I found the career that suited me first time. 

Q: In your seafaring career, what do you consider may have been your ‘boldest moment’ and why? 

My boldest moment was calling the bluff of an employer that when my current contract was up that they either were going to promote me (as previously discussed with them), or I was going home. I had spent two weeks hanging about in a foreign port while they decided what they wanted to do. They promoted me and I will always remember phoning home from the master's cabin and saying “You will never guess where I am”.

My general driving force is self-belief. What you must earn is professional respect?  I also decided that I wanted to be a chief officer, as for me that was where you had the responsibility and the ability to really drive the working of the ship.

I have had great support from my family and friends which is also a key thing. It allows you that space and sounding board to figure out stuff outside of your own head.

Q: What are the main issues you currently face, if any, as a woman seafarer today? How do you deal with them? 

There are without a doubt issues facing women seafarers; past and present. Until society stops trying to put us in slots you will have issues arising. The best way to deal with them is to do your job – and do it well – but don’t let people squash you. You have a voice, don’t forget to use it when you need to. Don’t forget to believe in you.  

Q:What, if any, gender bullying, harassment or discrimination have you experienced? If, so, how did you deal with it?

I guess I did encounter some discrimination looking back, but may not have recognised it at the time. For instance, the time I was promoted to mate and my head office pulled me in to a meeting, not to introduce me to the shore management team of the ship, but to ask for an explanation on a report written by a master who felt that perhaps I wasn’t up to the mark.  I disagreed with him as I felt it was personality issues rather than my capabilities. Self belief and a 'I’ll show you are wrong' attitude got me through.

On another occasion, while dealing with an over pressurisation of a tank on a tanker – head management decided (without speaking to me ) that 'my confidence had taken a knock' and were going to remove me from the ship. I was lucky as I had a very supportive captain and family and that self belief in where I wanted to go. While I had my disagreement, I went and passed my Class 1.

Instances of senior officers being uncooperative in working with me, deliberately looking to undermine my authority with the bosuns, were also commonplace.

You adopt strategies to take out the sting, while knowing that you can do your job. Dont drop to their level. Don’t waste your emotional time and energy.

Q:How do you think women can be encouraged to feel welcome at sea, and retained once they are there? 

Stop thinking that you don’t belong there. You have as much right as anyone else to take the opportunities. Go into a seagoing career with your eyes wide open. It's not easy but it's doable if you want it. No career is ever perfect, but don’t let that knock you down. Don’t be afraid to switch tracks. There are so many aspects of the Merchant Navy and you just may not have found the right bit for you. You can do it.

Q:Where do you see your future – at sea or ashore? 

Both. Personal circumstances dictate that I am ashore for the foreseeable future with my little bit of sea in pilotage, but I still miss the sea so who knows where I will be in 15 years' time.

Q: Would you recommend seafaring as a career? 

Yes I would. It is a unique and amazing experience for better or worse. You make lifelong friends, experience so many different cultures and get to see the raw world.

How many jobs do you get paid to do that let you see nature’s finest electrical storm over the Indian Ocean? Or get to see a pod of Orcas swimming free beside your ship, unperturbed by it?  Or drive a fast speed boat in a bikini? Spectacular sunsets, See snow going upwards in Japan as unberthing? The wind screaming in a hurricane, comaradierie, and mad parties. Yes it's hard graft, yes it can seem thankless and no one knows your industry exists, yes it can be lonely (any job can be even ashore), but wow it is a hell-of-a a ride. You get an amazing sense of achievement and responsibility and it's quite quite unmatchable. 

And it doesn’t have to end if you stop being at sea. Your skills are transferable even if you don’t believe it and then it’s a whole new adventure just waiting for you to begin.