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Merchant Navy Medal awardee Heather Enness tells what it is like to be a 'mummy at sea'
6 September 2022
Heather Enness is the epitome of a Careers at Sea Ambassador. She qualified as a second officer/DPO in the oil and gas industry, then as a master in December 2021, and is currently working as a DPO on a drilling rig after a stint in the ferry sector. In September 2022 she was awarded a Merchant Navy Medal for her services to the promotion of diversity and well being within the maritime sector
What is a typical day in your job?
On the ferries, it was my responsibility to load the ferry with the passengers and freight alongside the bosun, as we were loading different car decks, I would also take a navigational watch on the passage between the two different ports.
I qualified as a master mariner in December 2021, whilst heavily pregnant and recovering from Covid-19. My current role is as a DPO onboard a drilling rig.
Why did you choose a career at sea?
I was always going to join the Royal Navy (RN) as an engineer, but when applying for universities one of the options I chose alongside various Engineering degrees was BSc Marine Studies (Navigation) at Plymouth University. When I went to the preview day, having been accepted onto the course, they indicated that there were three courses that were all practically identical, however I could get sponsorship for the Marine Studies (Merchant Shipping) course, which of course was a very appealing concept. So I took the sponsorship forms and 15 years later, here I am with a wonderful career under my belt and still going strong despite having two young children.
I chose to do my A-levels first, and then was more of a student at Plymouth University opposed to a cadet at a nautical college.
Tell us some of your career highlights so far – and challenges
My favourite moment at sea has to be transiting the Suez Canal, sat on the helideck of a multi-purpose offshore support vessel, listening to the main theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, while going past the Mubarak Peace Bridge with the sun and a slight breeze in my face.
I do believe you have to be tenacious to be at sea, and be able to hold your own. I have faced challenges, whether that be waking up in the middle of the night to find a crew member sat by my bed watching me sleep, or having an officer become obsessed with me, at the start of a four month trip; but that's where you have to just stand your ground, and not be afraid to speak up about problems. These cases are rare, it doesn't happen to all female seafarers, and honestly, I can't say it has affect my outlook on a career at sea, whatsoever!
My favourite moment at sea has to be transiting the Suez Canal, sat on the helideck of a multi-purpose offshore support vessel, listening to the main theme from Pirates of the Caribbean, while going past the Mubarak Peace Bridge with the sun and a slight breeze in my face
How can women be made to feel welcome and retained in a career at sea?
Retaining females at sea is an interesting one, I would say it depends on the industry you're in. For instance, I have my two young girls, so I do not want to be working away in deep sea, for months at a time, even five weeks on/off was too much. Companies haven't opened yet to the prospect of job shares, and it is definitely something the maritime industry as a whole should look at for all females to help them properly return to sea following maternity leave.
What are the best things about your job?
I'd be lying if I didn't say that the best thing about my job was the time off. I get criticised a lot for working away from my young children.
People say that 'you'll regret missing watching your girls grow up' and, don't get me wrong, they have a valid point, however, working one week on/off or even three weeks on/off, I get to see them change. I come home and they've developed, I would never have noticed that development had I have been at home on a day to day basis. So yes, I'm away, but I like to see the silver lining in things, and therefore get no mum guilt whatsoever from being away from them.
Being a working mother at sea is why I set up my mummy.at.sea Instagram account.
Would you recommend seafaring as a career?
I do recommend seafaring as a career regularly, as I am a Careers at Sea Ambassador, and love going into local schools and spreading the word of a career at sea.
There are a lot of seafarers who would disagree and say that there are no jobs out there any more for British seafarers, but I whole heartedly disagree with that notion. I wouldn't consider myself highly qualified, but I can certainly get myself a job, and in different sectors too where I possess no experience in that sector. The jobs are out there, you just have to have the right attitude to get them.
I find the idea of 'quitting the sea' quite difficult, and the more people who tell me that I won't stay at sea because of my girls, the more it makes me want to prove them wrong. I do however see myself in a role ashore that allows me to still go on board ship.
Tell us one thing that people may not know about your job
People may not know that the key to having a successful time on board is to be inclusive. Just because I'm an officer does not mean that I see myself as better than the crew. I treat them as equals and as a result they have my back, and the cohesion on deck just simply works. Oh, and a 'thank you' goes far, as does making them a cup of tea.