Third officer Ellie Johnson offers insights for ‘summoning strength from within’ to break down barriers at sea

Oil sector third officer Ellie Johnson is a Careers at Sea Ambassador, a passionate promoter of the benefits of a maritime career, and adept at overcoming gender negativity.

What is a typical day in your job?

I am currently serving as a third officer on an oil shipping fleet. I have just returned from a 4.5 month trip, which included port operations in Indonesia, Italy, Fujairah, India, Pakistan before sign off in New York.
My typical day starts at 06:30hrs when I go down to the galley for breakfast. During this time, we’re expected to have a chat with the galley team, make sure they’ve planned their jobs for the day and are aware of the risk assessments and risks involved. After this, I relieve the Chief Officer at 07:30hrs on the bridge.
My bridge watch is until 12:00hrs. During this time, I’m in charge of GMDSS and so do the daily tests, monitor equipment including monitoring of the passage, monitoring of weather warnings and Navtex and plotting anything relevant on the chart. Log keeping is also a massive part of all onboard operations.
After my watch I go out on deck for a few hours every afternoon to complete my maintenance tasks.
As third officer, I’m in charge of all lifesaving and firefighting equipment. There are monthly maintenance routines, mainly inspections and greasing for equipment such as extinguishers, fire hoses, and recharging of emergency escape devices. I do weekly checks of the lifeboat and rescue boat to ensure all equipment is in good order.
In the afternoons I usually take some time to catch up on administration. The admin duties as third officer include updating muster lists, emergency contact lists for port, keeping a check on the material safety data sheets for our current cargoes and drill record keeping, as well as updating crew training records.
During my free time until evening watch at 20:00hrs I do yoga and am currently teaching myself Spanish and enjoy reading crime novels. These activities allow me to completely shut off my mind from work for a little while.

Why did you choose a career at sea?

I chose this job primarily because it was something completely different to your ordinary day job. You never ever know what’s going to crop up during the day, from a report of faulty equipment which you must investigate, to a change of voyage orders. Despite being stressful at times, it keeps you on your toes and is certainly exciting. I’m proud of what I do, and it’s made even more special as it’s a concept that people cannot always come to terms with. To most people, they think you do a normal day job, but it’s a bit more complex than that. I love seeing the looks on people’s faces when they learn more about what our job entails!
I do have connections to sea, my dad is a royal naval engineer, however this had no influence on my joining as, having had many chats with him about it, it seems the way the commercial shipping industry operates compared with the forces, is a world apart.
From a young age, I’ve learned the importance of getting a good job and establishing a good career for yourself. Where I come from in South Devon, there are few career opportunities and people often get stuck in dead end jobs. I needed to get out there and throw myself into something completely out of the ordinary and give myself the best start in life, in a secure career. There are so many more opportunities open to me now, both within my company, and as a result of my unlimited Certificate Of Competency (CoC).
I came into the industry straight from school as a cadet aged 18. I studied at Fleetwood Nautical College and completed my cadetship in November 2018 after three years of hardest work I have ever done.

Tell us some of your career highlights so far – and challenges

Completing my cadetship. When you know you’ve applied yourself 100% for three years and then it all pays off, it’s the most amazing feeling. The responsibility of being a first trip third officer was another out of this world experience.
Another career highlight has been obtaining my first promotion recommendation. Being recognised is extremely encouraging.
I think all females would agree that the main issue is still some negative attitudes towards women at sea. In order to deal with anything which you may perceive as derogatory, you must summon incredible strength from within. This will develop the more time you’re at sea. It’s amazing how strong you can become. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you cannot do something. You are not a superwoman, just as no man is superman.

How can women be made to feel welcome and retained in a career at sea? 

I have noticed that since starting my cadetship that attitudes are changing. Some men are able to open up more emotionally to women.

To retain females in the industry, we still need to increase our numbers further. This adds a layer of support on board and a more pleasant environment.


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