Captain Christina Jackson answers questions about gender equality in yachting

Captain Christina Jackson is a Master 3000gt yacht captain with over 23 years of experience in yachting. Her impressive and long-standing career has allowed her to witness and be a part of the changes in the industry paving a path for the new generation of skilled female deck crew.

We’ve been following Captain Christina’s yachting career ever since we’ve first placed her as a Chief Officer on M/Y SYCARA III back in 2005 and have since supported her throughout her yachting journey. Recently we’ve had a chance to talk to her about her views on gender equality in the industry and how much it’s changed since she first joined.

As a part of the process, we’ve reached out to yacht crew to see if they have any questions for Captain Christina and sure enough the questions started coming. Here we are bringing you some of the questions and answers we’ve gotten in that exchange.

 

How do you compare the present situation regarding gender equality to when you first started yachting? Do you see any change? – asked by Ben F.

I see changes for the better to when I first began in yachting but there is still a long way to go. When I visited my first crew agent for a position as a deckhand, it was advised that I should look for a stewardess position as it was unlikely that anyone would take a female on deck. This was in the early 90’s and I had several years experience on large sail training ships and was a trained rigger and sailmaker.

There were few agents back then and everyone gave the same advice, so my first job was as a temp stewardess on a high performance sail yacht. I ended up helping to de-rig the vessel during a refit. This led me to a deck/stewardess role on a traditional yacht for $1000 per month. Through this position I was able to gain a deckhand job through the captain, when he moved yachts, so, in a way, it was important that I made those choices. But today I believe there are many more options open to females on deck. However, there is a lot more work needed when it comes to male crew in the interior department and female crew in the engineering department.

It is not rare to see a female on deck on todays yachts. Captains and owners appreciate that females can undertake the position as well as a male, but also bring a different dynamic.

 

As a captain, do you look at gender when hiring crew? – asked by Paulina S.

I would like to say that I don’t and that I employ solely from the candidates skills and experience, but this would be in the ideal world.  Sadly, there are other considerations when putting together a crew, crew dynamics being the one of the first considerations. Sadly, the cabin arrangements, as much as I find this annoying, are an important part. MLC is now an important part of yachting and we must take this into account. It may not always be possible to employ a male or a female crew member, depending on what crew you already have. But, where I can, I like to look at talent first and cabins later.  How can I rearrange to employ the best person for the team?

Another consideration is owner preferences. They may only want female Interior department, for example. I might not always be able to change their mind and this might be something that has to be worked on in the future.

Ideally though, I look at person’s skills and experience and I try to fit this in so that the owner is getting the best benefit of the best crew.

 

Is it harder for a female captain to gain the respect of the crew? What have been your experiences? – asked by Hannah R.

Not any more. Most people understand that a female is perfectly capable, if not better suited to this role. It is surprising though how often I get congratulated when I am introduced as a captain. I hear things like: “oh, well done”, which I know is definitely meant with best intentions, but I imagine it would never be said to a male captain.

There are however some crew, sadly to say, the older generation, that perceive a female captain with suspicion and don’t feel we can have the same knowledge and experience as a man. But to be honest, this is a minority and I find that just doing my job generally brings them around. I would never make any special effort to impress someone who felt this way, the important thing is to do your job well and work well within the team.

 

I’ve noticed that male crew often assume that we can’t do the more physically straining jobs. What in your opinion would be a good way to change that? – asked by Klara C.

Wow, isn’t it incredible to think that in todays day and age that this is still a factor? I know many women who are more physically able than a great deal of men.

This really shouldn’t be a consideration on many levels. If a yacht is being run with health and safety in mind, with proper procedures and training for lifting, then no one would be expected to lift heavy weights without assistance, male or female. And also, having two people lifting items often saves on potential injury and damage..

Working smart and not stupid, comes to my mind. There is normally more than one way to skin a cat and brute strength is rarely the most effective in long term. Use of cranes, block and tackle, moving wheels, should all be items considered and bought up as solutions to risk assessments on potentially physical straining jobs.

It really just shouldn’t be a something that comes up anymore. How to change this – I think that goes back to the ethos of the yacht and training. Things have improved somewhat in the last 20 years. I remember when I was interviewed in early 2000 for a C/O position on a large sail yacht, I was asked if I could lift a F11 fender without assistance, which I could. The interviewer then said: “Wow, you must be really butch”, which was actually the last thing I could describe myself as. So I think we’ve made some improvements since then.

 

Have you ever considered leaving the industry because it’s frustrating to constantly convince everyone that you’re as good as the boys? – asked by Paulina S.

It can occasionally be frustrating, but that can also be fun to know that I can prove all of those people wrong just by doing my job well.

I think what is a little more frustrating is the amount of opportunities that come the way of a female captain, compared to male captains. It’s difficult to pinpoint if it’s because of prejudice, tradition or a particular generation, that the industry seems to prefer male captains. I think it will just take time and more females following the career path and applying for the role of a captain so in the future we have some parity in this area.

Another thing to take into account for a female wishing to follow this route, is the potential number of sacrifices that perhaps do not apply to males. Considering your ultimate life goals is important since the role of a captain doesn’t really fit with the stereotypical family roles. This is of course not to say that it cannot work because with the right support it can, but it is another hurdle to be considered.

Another unspoken prejudice is age. You often see many 50, 60 year old male captains driving yachts and you don’t see many females of the same age doing it. I remember a magazine headline from many years ago “Yachting, if you are not young and beautiful, you need not apply”. But really, we don’t become less competent with age, we just get less “yachting”.

Its not all bad though as occasionally being a female can work in our favour. Today you have 300 plus applicants going for the same job and if only two of these are female, our CV can stand out amongst the crowd.

 

How do you see the future of yachting in regards to gender equality? – asked by Mark B.

There is much work to be done but it is moving in a better direction. It will be up to the new generation of crew to take on the roles that they wish to follow, regardless of their gender and regardless of potential hardships.

Up to crew agents to support crew relative to their experience rather than gender.  To captains and senior crew to be role models and mentors to the new generation and encouraging them to seek success.

Management companies also have a crucial role. They can often be the direct contact to the owner before they even have a yacht and crew, so how they portray the gender roles of different positions can be long lasting.

Ultimately, it will be up to the new generation of crew, to keep challenging the gender roles in yachting, by working hard for their owner, yacht and crew and this in turn will provide them with a great base to begin their future in yachting, regardless of their gender and their role. The more females opting for careers on deck and in engineering and the more males opting for careers in the interior, will provide more options for crew agents to pass on to captains/owners and management companies and the more options, will eventually reduce gender discrimination.

There is no overnight fix, but we keep moving forward and the introduction of Mentoring programs and organisations such as She of the Sea, are positive, and also highlighting the success of different captains, engineers and interior crew., through social media, yachting magazines and forums.