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What’s it like working offshore as a woman

01/04/20

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work offshore? What’s life really like on board a ship at sea for weeks or even months? And just who are the people who decide to pursue this as their career? As part of a brand-new blog series, WRS has been interviewing candidates who work offshore to gain a personal insight into what life is like for them.

We recently spoke to Makhosi Mbokazi, Crew Boat Pilot & Engineer, who works on vessels in offshore oil fields.

How long have you worked in the oil and gas industry and what made you get into the industry?

I grew up in a rural area in Port Shepstone, South Africa. I never got to travel growing up. Going to town was so rare. I think I started going out to the nearest town at the age of 15, once or twice a year. Everyone at my school was from the small village and spoke my mother tongue. So, I wanted a career where I could travel, meet different people and nationalities and learn about different cultures. In 2003 I heard about working at sea from a lady that came to my school to recruit for a local port authority, which is what sparked my interest. I applied to go to a maritime University. I started my career on container ships in 2007 where I started my cadetship and later sailed as an officer. In 2013, I pursued a career onshore as a change. I worked for the same container company initially, but later I got an offer from an offshore oil and gas survey company to be their vessel coordinator. Just under a year later we were retrenched due to the drop in the oil price. I then decided to re-validate my expired STCW courses, so I went for my class 2 (Chief mate unlimited) oral exam and then went to join an AHTS with another company in 2016. I’ve since worked on a drillship, offshore patrol and offshore research vessels as well. I currently hold a masters <500 COC and am now a Crew Boat Pilot/ Engineer and will continue working offshore in the oil fields.

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Being away from home for months. Sometimes the work hours are long. For women, it’s a challenge being in an environment where sometimes you are the only female. It can sometimes be uncomfortable, especially if the crew on board is not used to working with females and some have made it clear they do not actually like working with women. There were so many myths when I started my career at sea, for instance, that women bring bad luck. That mentality is slowly disappearing as more and more women come into the industry. Because the industry is so male-dominated, women often have to work harder than the men to prove themselves.

What advice would you give to someone about working offshore? What are the pros and cons of choosing this career?

To survive at sea, you have to be very flexible and a fast learner because you can work on different ships with completely different equipment and rules depending on the master and company. Conditions can change drastically from vessel to vessel so you will need to adjust. The crew also changes all the time meaning you always work with different people. This is what I love the most. You get to learn different personalities, cultures, languages… you just have to be open to it. As hard as it is to be away home, at least when you are home you have no interruptions as you’re completely away from work, so you can work on a personal project, spend more time with family (we value this time more because we long for it when we’re at work). There’s no rushing to beat traffic, you’re not on call. And when you’re at work you can fully commit to your work.

Tell us about life outside work

I love to exercise and keep fit as this helps me to stay focused and healthy (you don’t want to be sick 1000nm from land) and I sleep better. I read an article that says 30% of seafarers suffer from depression, mental illnesses or stress, which is so sad. I would encourage seafarers to exercise and to relax when they are off – it works for me. When working, I’m an officer and I have to be professional. But when off I am Makhosi and I have to connect with Makhosi as a person, I read books that are not work-related to escape. I meditate, I do yoga. I have a work routine and away from work I have a personal, not-so-strict routine so that each day I have structure and a purpose. I still paint my toenails to connect to my femininity. I do a lot of self-care on Sundays – it’s how I survive. I also find communication with my family, especially my children to stay in tune with their lives, is really important. Some ships do not have gymnasiums, so I carry some equipment that I can use in my cabin or on deck if there’s space and good weather like a skipping rope, ankle weights, etc.

What’s it like being a woman in a male-dominated industry?

The numbers are increasing every year, but we are still nowhere near where we would like to be. There is progress though. In 2018 I joined a drillship as a Chief officer. The ship was at anchor in Walvis Bay in Namibia. The crew were notified that they’d be receiving an officer, but I think the Captain forgot to mention that it would be a female officer! When I arrived, the crew thought I was the Captain’s wife which was hilarious! The majority of the crew had never sailed with a female officer before, but they were very open-minded and welcoming, and it turned out to be a really nice trip.

When I join a ship, I go with a positive mindset and attitude. I keep an open mind and I try to not keep in mind so much that I’m a female. This has helped me to adapt, which has helped me to get along better with my colleagues. I see them as colleagues irrespective of our different genders or colour. A Captain I sailed with recently said to us in a safety meeting that we are people here, there are no females or males, and that changed a lot of attitudes of the crew. It was a peaceful trip, but sometimes you can’t change people’s views or ideas about certain things. You can win them with over your own attitude but one way or another I always find a way to cope for that trip.

If you are considering a move or just want to have a confidential discussion about current job markets, you can contact WRS. We are a workforce solutions company who work closely with our clients and candidates to help match great people to great roles, with great companies in the mining, maritime, energy, and commodities trading industries. You can take a look at our latest job vacancies roles by visiting www.worldwide-rs.com/jobs or call us on +44 (0) 161 925 2626.

About WRS

WRS is a global workforce solutions and mobilisation company, specialising in the mining, maritime, construction, commodities, IT and energy industries. If you are considering your next move, register your details, send us your CV or you can simply take a look at our latest vacancies.

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