Today women find more opportunity and room for advancement in the Merchant Marine than ever before.
U.S. Maritime academies are actively seeking female enrollees to learn all aspects of seafaring life. Women in the Merchant Marine choose a life at sea following the example of women who have ridden the waves for centuries.
Women in the wake of history
Women have a rich history as sailors that is often overlooked. Some, such as Queen Teuta of Illyria who lived just over 200 years B.C. and Anne Dieu-Le-Veu of the 17th Century were pirates. Others such as Skipper Thuridur, a celebrated Captain in Iceland, commanded fishing boats. As time passed women were all banished from careers at sea, some resorted to disguising themselves as men to gain access. One such sailor, Hannah Snell, left England in 1747 to find her husband for the next four years she portrayed herself as a man as she searched acquiring the skills of a sailor and a fighter. Her return to England where she put aside her male persona caused quite a stir.
During wartime, women have served aboard ships to protect the interests of their countries. Sadie Horton, was the first and only female Merchant Mariner to receive veteran status for her time spent on a coastwise barge during WWII.
Women have often had a significant impact on maritime history, yet it is also rarely recognized.
Women aboard ship today
Beginning in the 1970’s, maritime academies began to welcome women. It is estimated that between 12-15% of the graduating classes of U.S. maritime academies are women. The women often earn their degrees then continue on to gain their licenses as 3rd engineers or 3rd mates. Taking advantage of educational and advancement opportunities many go on to captain commercial vessels. A life at sea can be difficult for women and it is not for everyone. Many stay on for a few years and then move on to raise families. The Merchant Marine is working to make resources available so that they will be better able to support women with children that choose to remain in the Merchant Marine.
The future of women in the Merchant Marine
At a time when the Merchant Marine has seen a decline since WWII, women are increasingly choosing this field as their career. Doors are opening wider and there is more acceptance among the ranks. The Merchant Marine industry is working to give women equal opportunity and a gateway to career advancements that they have been denied in the past.
We should all be proud of the women that rode the seas in the past and offer our support to the female Merchant Mariner that we sail with today.