Against The Tide

Martel Furdson, England

July 1, 2021

As a safety officer, I’m responsible for the testing and maintenance of the ship’s lifesaving and fire fighting equipment, which includes all the lifeboats and rafts, all the fixed systems in the machinery spaces, and all the countless other portable equipment. I am also heavily involved in the ship’s workplace safety program, including the near miss reporting program, the management of the risk assessment database, and the ship’s permit to work program. I oversee the ordering and budget of the safety department, ensuring that the spares are ordered, and arrive in time, involved with 3rd party audits, statutory inspections and surveys and port state control visits, mooring operations and lots of other things! During normal operations I am required to stand a few watches per month to maintain proficiency, as well as being available to the watch officers when they may need to escalate the manning levels. However at the moment, whilst we don’t have any passengers onboard, and we are on reduced crewing levels, I do watches when we are at sea.  

I love the constant variety of my job! Every day can be different – you may start out with one plan but end up doing something completely different, and I think that is a wonderful thing – and after 20 plus years at sea, that still keeps me here. I get to work with some incredible people, and have been to some amazing places, and have had experiences I will never forget. I’m a huge fan of watching the sun rise or set, or the clouds over the ocean, for me it is one of the highlights of my career. I even have the watches “trained” to call me if the sunset looks promising.

When I started things were very different, I started on dredgers in the north sea, which as a 19 year old female was an intimidating and daunting place to be. Cadets were generally not welcomed by the crew and especially not a female one, so several took it upon themselves to attempt to break me or have me quit. Things have improved over the years, or at least changed – the discrimination became much more low key, and subtle – but still present. I have also found myself not only as the only female in a bridge team, but also the only British Officer in a team composed of only one other nationality, which left me set apart for two reasons! The early years were difficult – stepping into a “man’s world” at 19, unsure about yourself and your position within the world in general, and then being subjected to physical and verbal harassment daily, ranging from screamed insults as a wake up calls, being groped and touched up by the crew, to waking up with someone sat on the end your bed every morning. It was hard but there were glimpses of light in the dark, in the form of a Chief Mate and a Bosun who I’ll never forget because they gave me a chance, and whose words cross my lips now by way of guidance for junior officers and cadets. Finding an inner strength and determination saw me through the darkest days and onto a career full of learning opportunities and interest. As the years went by the sexism shifted into a different, less graphic form – being passed over for promotion or manoeuvring, asked to do jobs that no male officer would be asked, being completely ignored, not even being given a chance from the second someone set eyes on me, and having to prove myself time and again. Over the years, I’ve learned to just be better, work hard and smarter, not submit to their will and continue to be myself. 

One thing I’d advocate for is to ensure the ships are correctly and adequately prepared for having women on board, in practical ways, and holistically too – is there someone on board who will advocate for those who haven’t yet found their voice. I’m not saying that female seafarers need babysitting in any way but if the Captain or Mate is fully onboard with having diversity in their workplace, and will call out sexist or demeaning behaviour and let people know it’s not okay, it certainly helps.

My advice to my fellow female seafarers is be yourself. Don’t bend or break to meet the expectations of others – set your own standards in your work and learning, and don’t accept behaviours that aren’t okay. I try to teach my daughters this too. We can do anything and should do everything! 

Martel Fudson, EnglandSafety Officer

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