Happy International Women’s Day to all of the strong, tenacious and pioneering women of the marine industry!

One of my favourite things about this industry is how everyone has a story- some have worked on the water their whole life, others have deep family connections to the marine industry, some have friends who guided them to pursue a life at sea and others began their journey due to a change in circumstances.

I came into this industry in a unique way, naively there was a time that I believed the only way to begin your journey to a life at sea was via the Navy. It can be a difficult process to learn how to begin in this industry or to navigate where to begin; and that is generally where advice from a school like Western Maritime Institute helps! I’m still “green” as they call it in the industry, a term that is meant as still learning and new but after a year at sea I wanted to share some insights into my journey so far.

What has been the highlight(s) of your career?

This is a tough question. My first year was a whirlwind, I got the opportunity to sail underneath a wonderful Captain and good friend of mine, Mathew Dunabeitia, also a student from WMI. I had the opportunity to go long line fishing on a trip that took us from Port Hardy to the north of Bella Bella, I have fished along the Vancouver Island Coast, I’ve done safety standby work in Kitimat, I’ve done shuttle work for the BC Pilots via Tymac Launch Services and I’m currently working as the first female barge operator on the West Coast of Canada!

I’ve been given opportunities I could never have dreamed of and some that I never even considered. While working with Captain Derek Enger, I photographed a humpback whale calf and mum in the Zeballos Inlet on Vancouver Island. These photos were eventually picked up by the Canadian Coast Guard and as a crew, we had the opportunity to name the humpback whale calf as we were the first to document it! A few months prior to this, I was featured on CBC radio in two separate podcasts! There’s been so many amazing moments in the short time that I have worked at sea but one of my most memorable has to have been working with Captain Darrell Enger. I have found, if you show initiative and the want to learn, there are many around you who will happily and readily teach you. I had just begun working with Captain Enger and I remember him turning to me and asking me what I wanted to know, he promised to teach me about AIS, radar, steering and anything else I was curious about or anything that would help me in my career- and he did exactly that. I spent many, many hours on the bridge learning as much as I could, doing CCG checkpoint calls, filling in log books, steering etc. If you want to progress in this industry, knowledge like that is worth more than gold and I so appreciated each lesson. I also spent time with our engineer and got to learn our engine room. If you can gain and practice knowledge such as what I was given the opportunity to learn, I believe you have the building blocks to succeed in this industry and I am so grateful for everyone who has been a part of my journey so far!

What courses did you take at WMI?

I feel I perhaps went overboard on the courses I took. When you begin your journey into the marine industry, you will most likely speak with an admissions representative about where you want to go and what you’re interested in. When you do this, they will help guide you to what courses you require to pursue the various areas of the industry. I would recommend doing your homework on where you want to go and what they require.

I wanted to be as immersed as I could in the marine industry and for me this began by getting all of my MED STCW’s which included, Basic Safety Training, Survival Craft and Advanced Firefighting. I also took my Bridge Watch Rating, Radio Operator Certificate- Marine Commercial, Marine Advanced First Aid, Occupational First Aid Level 3, Small Vessel Machinery Operator and my Supervision of an Oil Transfer Operation courses as well as WHMIS and other smaller courses. This allowed me to follow various job opportunities although most of the jobs I pursued did not require as many courses as I have. I took all of my education at Western Maritime Institute except for the first aid which I took at ABCB First Aid, a contracted school that WMI also uses for their first aid classes.

Do you have any advice for other women who wish to work in the industry?

Do it! If you wish to learn about the opportunities that are out there, enquire. If you are considering where you want to go in the industry, talk to as many people as you can and gather as much information as you can! This industry is heavily reliant on networking, it is a huge industry but it is a close knit group and most of my opportunities have come from knowing people or people knowing me. When you begin your journey at sea, work hard, learn as much as you can and embrace every opportunity! Don’t be afraid to ask questions and remember that you will have a lot of support from many other mariners out there. There are some great resources and some fantastic men and women who will help guide you.

Connie Leo standing on MPB Barge, the Petrobulker in Vancouver Harbour

Connie Leo standing on MPB Barge, the Petrobulker in Vancouver Harbour.