March is Women’s History Month in the United States, so it’s a good time to celebrate women who have made history by commanding cruise ships. It’s been 15 years since the first time a woman took command of a cruise ship; a welcome change from more superstitious times, when simply having women on board was thought to bring bad luck.
To give you an idea of what the job of being a cruise ship captain is like, the captain – sometimes referred to as the “ship master” or “master captain” – is responsible for the operation and safety of the entire ship and everyone on board. All of the ship’s department heads – the hotel manager, executive chef, cruise director, purser, guest relations manager, chief engineer, etc. – report to the captain, who is on-call 24 hours a day during each voyage.
A captain must have a wide range of skills and knowledge, with the ability to do everything from navigating the seas to socializing with passengers. They bring years of experience to the job; most have four-year degrees from a maritime academy, then spend a decade or two working in a variety of onboard jobs before becoming a captain.
These are some of the women who are making history as cruise ship captains:
- Karin Stahre-Janson of Sweden took command of Royal Caribbean’s Monarch of the Seas in 2007, making her the first woman captain of a large cruise ship.
- Inger Klein Thorhauge of the Faroe Islands became Cunard Line’s first woman captain in 2010.
- Margrith Ettlin of Switzerland became Silversea Cruises’ first woman captain in 2013.
- Kate McCue, the first U.S. woman to captain a cruise ship, took command of Celebrity Cruises’ Celebrity Summit in 2015.
- Belinda Bennett of Saint Helena became the first Black woman to command a cruise ship, Windstar Cruises’ MSY Wind Star, in 2016.
- Serena Melani of Italy took command of Regent Seven Seas’ Splendor in 2020, making her the first woman to command a brand-new cruise ship.
In addition to these pioneers, there are women who hold top administrative leadership positions in the cruise industry, including Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, and Jan Swartz, group president of Holland America Group. And, these leaders are working to attract more women to cruise careers. For example, in 2020, Lutoff-Perlo assigned Captain Kate McCue and an international, all-female bridge and officer team to sail the Celebrity Edge on International Women’s Day – a fitting salute to women in command.
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