Against The Tide

Zanele Mthembu, South Africa

March 2, 2022

As a navigation cadet, I report to the Chief Mate of that vessel to be assigned duties accordingly. My daily tasks vary from daily maintenance on deck, Tank entries for inspection, Gangway Watchman, Conducting Drills & facilitating Resilience Training and partaking in operations such as Mooring, Bunkering, Stores, Cargo Ops, Passenger Transfers, Helicopter Ops, Towing Operations and the list is just endless. My heart however, is deeply rooted in the Navigation Bridge where I rotate between the 4hour Sea watches each week. If there aren’t any operations requiring hands on deck then I’m assigned to a Deck Officer for assisting with their duties.

I’ve mostly sailed on an Emergency Towing/Rescue vessel on standby 24/7 for callouts along the South African coast and I love how each operation has always required me to work exceptionally well under immense pressure. I also love how beautiful and unpredictable the ocean is because regardless of the job planning, safety meetings and toolbox talks held, the environmental conditions aren’t always favourable but having a successful operation at the end of it all is what makes it so much fun and worth it.

I’ve been told it’s a Male dominated industry countless times and yet It’s always a shock to deal with the traditional mindsets and patriarchal norms. I’ve experienced exclusion from certain tasks because of perceived physical strength or doubt in my judgement, constantly having to prove or work harder in executing any task with no feedback on the performance or progress made. Initially when I started my training it all deflated my confidence however I reached a point where I reminded myself of all that I wanted to achieve in this industry and it helped me to identify my strengths and weaknesses and come up with strategies to improve where I fall short and since then I easily dismiss anything that isn’t in line with my growth and I’ve found My Voice and that way no opportunity with regards to training has missed me. One challenge I’m still yet to unpack and overcome is the intentional discredit of females and harassment in the workplace.

One thing I’d advocate for is for all females to receive equal opportunities at sea and constructive feedback and support in their duties. Females have always gone the extra mile to prove their competence and it’s about time they are given the platform to outperform themselves through promotions.

My advice to other female seafarers, is to remain fearless and confident in yourself and to always treat every task/duty with much importance because work ethic will make your reputation go ahead and speak for you.

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