Very few women have ventured into a male-dominated profession, let alone reach the summit and command a gigantic ship sailing over the five oceans. Captain Kate McCue is one of such women and she is known for becoming America’s first female cruise ship captain. She has not only won our hearts but also inspired a lot of people, especially young women who aspire to join the seafaring profession.
Her Instagram Bio reads, “Proud Celebrity Cruises Captain aboard Celebrity Summit. Born to explore the world by sea and inspired by the guests and crew I meet on my journeys!”
The Humans At Sea team prepared a set of 10 questions for her. Here is what she had had to say:
- Since every profession has its own challenges, how different are challenges at sea for women?
I think women at sea have the same challenges as women in any male-dominated profession on land. Currently women are a minority in shipping. Even fewer of those women are in top leadership positions. Without the representation, stereotypes continue to thrive and therefore discourage women from entering the field in the first place. To change this, we need more qualified women in power – and power in numbers, giving a voice to what matters to women in the field.
- We know that you wished to work on a ship from the age of 12. Were there any reactions from your friends and family when they came to know you wanted to go out to sea?
My friends and family have always found my career choice interesting, and supported it wholeheartedly. It’s not a widely understood profession and the mystery of the unknown is always intriguing. Coming home after a contract usually means being pressed for sea stories and/or requests to recount the most interesting thing I saw, person I met, or situation I found myself in.
- You have worked on both cruise ships and cargo ships, how was life different for you on these ships?
I worked on banana boats as a cadet. It was a great experience and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to see a different sector of the industry. I strongly recommend that anyone going to sea should try different paths until you find your right fit. But I really enjoy people and working on cruise ships means I get to meet interesting people from around the globe, starting with an international crew. Summit has 962 crew members onboard coming from 65+ different nationalities; this creates an incredible atmosphere, especially on holidays. Mix this with an equally diverse group of guests and you have a true sampling of the world around you.
- How do different passengers react when they find out that the Captain of the cruise ship is a lady?
People’s reactions are very humbling. From women who were trailblazers in their own right acknowledging the strides to see a woman captain, to grandfathers who want to take pictures with me to show their granddaughters what they can do. It is all very gratifying.
- Apart from commanding a gigantic ship and being responsible for the crew and passengers on board, we know that you spend time at the gym and don’t use the elevator. What else do you do in your free time?
Besides “Who is driving the ship?” being the most often asked question, the second most common is “What do you recommend to do in the next port of call?”. We have unbelievable tours set up onboard and I thoroughly enjoy going on them when possible. They could be anything from diving/snorkeling, zip-lining, culinary behind the scenes excursions, historical sightseeing treks, to driving ATV’s cross-island; I’ll try it all!
- There are many women who write to us enquiring about life at sea and speak of their desire to sail on ships. Many of them are hesitant as they don’t see women in their societies going out to sea. What message do you have for them?
My message is: If you don’t see other women…why not be the first? GO FOR IT!!!! The great thing about going to sea is that it is a society of its own. Sometimes it feels like a secret community of exceptional people, both men and women, who are in a business that makes the world go round with around 90% of world trade transported by sea. And while they may feel that their societies aren’t necessarily represented, there is boundless opportunity awaiting those who dare to challenge the norm with over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations, and manned by over a million seafarers of virtually every nationality. And it is growing. By 2020 there will be a need for 70,000 additional seafarers. 35,000 of those will need to be licensed officers. The chances and prospects are there.
- Many people think that seafarers do not have proper family lives. Do you think it is true or is it completely up to an individual what kind of family life they choose to spend?
It’s up to the individual. Yes, you are gone for periods of time, but on the flip side you are also home, depending on your position, for the same length of time, giving you the 24/7 time with your loved ones. Technology has also improved by leaps and bounds since I started sailing, when communicating home was via a 7-word telex that cost me almost a day’s pay to send. The internet has made keeping in touch almost easier than picking up a phone. Long gone are the days of rushing ashore only to stand in line at the pay phone when you hit the first port. My husband is on a ship in Asia when I am sailing in the Caribbean. 12 time zones separate us but I see him every morning when I wake up and every night before calling it a day thanks to Skype or Facebook Messenger. Technology is a game-changer and it’s only getting better every day.
- What would you say about our responsibility as sailors and passengers for preserving and protecting our oceans and marine organisms so that we pass it on to our future generations to appreciate?
Protecting our oceans for future generations is not an option, it’s a requirement. I am proud to work for a company that holds safety and the environment as its top priorities. We have environmental officers onboard our ships to educate not only our crew but also our guests in the role they play in environmental protection, preservation, and energy efficiency.
- Do you have any suggestions for positive changes in our industry?
Continued focus on management / leadership training of next generation seafarers is paramount. The idea of a tyrannical Captain has no place in today’s seagoing culture. Bridge Resource Management has laid the foundation for a new generation. Now even the most junior officer or crew member has a voice in the communication and is encouraged to be a more integral and active team player. General management styles are evolving for the better, creating a more relatable and more accessible leader.
- You have been an inspiration to people from all walks of life. What is your motto for life?
Attitude is everything.
Humans At Sea thanks the Captain for her insightful, encouraging and wonderful answers. The family of the seas wishes her the very best for all her voyages ahead at sea and in life.
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