Women in Maritime: Interesting facts to know

On the 14th of December 2021, The International Maritime Organization (IMO) announced that May 18 every year would become the International Day for Women in Maritime.

According to the IMO announcement here, the day will celebrate women in the industry and is intended to promote the recruitment, retention, and sustained employment of women in the maritime sector, raise the profile of women in maritime, strengthen IMO’s commitment to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5 (gender equality) and support work to address the current gender imbalance in maritime.

In support of this and as part of our celebration of the day Arete Africa has put together some interesting facts about women in maritime below.

  • The only way for most women to take part in running a merchant vessel before 1900, was through marriage or by being the captain’s daughter. Women were excluded from seagoing careers during this time.
  • According to reports at the time, Mary Patten, temporarily took command of a clippership in the 1850s. In July 1856, Neptune’s Car left New York City for San Francisco. Captain Joshua Patten was in command and accompanying him was his wife, Mary, nineteen years old and pregnant. She had married at sixteen and had already been to sea on several voyages during which her husband had taught her how to navigate. Mistrusting the first mate, the captain removed him from his position and took on his duties. As the ship was rounding Cape Horn, Captain Patten fell ill, his hearing and eyesight failing. Next in line for command was the second mate, but he could not navigate. Mary Patten assumed command, with the second mate’s help and the support of the crew. Navigating and caring for her husband filled every moment; for fifty days she was unable to change clothes. The ship arrived in San Francisco in November 1856. The insurers of the vessel rewarded her with one thousand dollars.
  • Polish-born Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz was the first female sailor to single-handedly sail the earth in 1978, with her trip lasting 401 days, having traveled 31,166 nautical miles. Beyond being an accomplished ship captain, she was also a shipbuilding engineer.
  • Kay Cottee would go on to be the first woman to complete a solo trip around the world non-stop just 10 years later, in her ship Blackmore’s First Lady, aged 34. Her trip was completed in just 189 days and was celebrated by 100,000 Australians waiting for her in Sydney harbour when she returned from sea.
  • In 2018, Belinda Bennett became the world’s first black woman cruise ship captain. You can read her story here.

You can read more about the history of women in maritime here and here.