Let me begin by stating this is in no way a
political commentary, but an observation on how
current events are supporting a definite trend
in our industry, and that’s a trend that’s been
growing for quite some time.
What I am talking about is the shift in the
boating tradition to automatically assign the
role of captain to the man, while the first mate
is typically a woman. Those auto-assignments by
gender have gone the way of typewriters, pay
phones and floor mounted headlight switches.
And, it’s all good.
The reasons for this are multi-fold. Granted,
distaff crew members questioned that tradition
and said, “No more!” But there we other factors,
too. Such as safety, confidence and initiatives
designed specifically to address those factors
A number of years ago marine marketing experts
determined that many boat sales did not take
place because many women – both married and
single – appeared to lack confidence in their
own boating abilities with a significant level
of apprehension over boating safety. I’m also
pretty certain that introspection found that
many times, it’s the woman in the family who
makes decisions on family activities, vacations
and how “fun money” is spent.
I recall reading about a first person account by
a woman whose husband had a serious health
episode while tending to aft fishing lines as
she stood by the wheel. “Three horrible thoughts
struck simultaneously,” she said. “I don’t know
where I am…I don’t know how to call for
help…Please don’t die.” Fortunately, it was a
brief choking spell that ended after he coughed
up the cause of his condition and was fine. But
that did not minimize the woman’s feeling of
helplessness while her husband gasped for air.
In retrospect, she wished she had learned how to
operate their boat and use the marine radio
before her scary incident, and before they began
regular trips out to sea.
Our industry has recognized this shortcoming and
the response has been great. Sure, the marketers
still tout the fun of boating, but they now
include safety and operational considerations
for both men and women. Many even offer courses
tailored to women. This also holds true for the
fresh and saltwater fishing which has done an
admirable job on safe operation and bringing
women into the sport of fishing.
All of that is fine
and I sincerely appreciate those efforts, but in
my estimation textbook learning is only part of
the way there. Real learning and confidence can
only come from hands-on instruction while on
board at sea whether it’s sailing, cruising or
fishing. That is how we do it with our
liveaboard classes, and I’m glad to see other
members of the industry following suit.
Each of our students spends the time that he or
she needs to become proficient with all on board
responsibilities –operating the vessel,
navigating, docking, anchoring, communicating on
the marine radio, even lighting the stove. It’s
working because many of those female students
have become boat owners or regular charter
To me, the safest vessel is the vessel on which
everybody on board knows how to do everything.
Sometimes mom will be at the controls while dad
applies sunscreen to the kids’ faces. Sometimes
the reverse will be true.
We may or may not see our first female president
elected this year, but I do know for sure we
have a growing number of female captains who are
just as good at the helm as their male
counterparts. The next time you’re boating,
check out the helm of the boats you pass, you’ll
see what I mean.