It only takes one!
One woman at the helm,
can steer the course
for many others to follow.
Being the sole female on a 250-foot vessel might seem intimidating but Sabeena Poonwassie has no desire to abandon ship. The 25-year-old sailor joins the ranks of less than 2% of women holding roles in this industry. Sabeena noted that this can seem overwhelming in the initial phases, she says “It takes a bit of strength to hold your own space on a team of men, but it’s not impossible.” Sabeena spends her days keeping a navigational watch at sea while managing the deck operations and overseeing cargo operations. She is also responsible for the lifesaving and firefighting elements of the vessel.
The poetry of a ship harmoniously dancing with the waves might have given inspiration to the sailor who once aspired to be a writer. However, she was determined to find both success and happiness in her career and found it difficult with traditional career choices. The idea of working on the water seemed like an adventure for Sabeena and it was also a huge plus to be able to work and travel simultaneously. So, she chartered her journey to live the life of a Seafarer.
LAND TO SEA
With dreams of sunkissed skin and starry nights under the moonlight calling, Sabeena enrolled in an eight-week program in 2014. The program was an initiative by the Maritime Industry Development Corporation aimed at both the shore based and sea going aspects of the marine industry. At the end of the program, Sabeena was completely enamoured with the seagoing aspects of the maritime industry and decided to pursue a career on the water. She began sailing as a cadet in 2019 to obtain the hands-on training required for her license.
Shortly after she returned from sea her father passed away quite suddenly. This was an incredibly low and challenging time for Sabeena. The idea of going back to sea was depressing and she felt guilty for the time she missed before the passing of her father. She soon learned that her job took her away for long periods of time and limits connections with loved ones. While she struggled with this reality at the time, she was encouraged by her family to keep pursuing her career.
PERSEVERANCE AND PROGRESS
It took Sabeena eight years to get a license and many times, she thought to give up and try something else. But she truly wanted to sail and decided she would continue working towards her goal despite obstacles. She advises “In a career like this you have to be able to accept failure, overcome obstacles and persevere regardless.”
Just one month after being licensed, Sabeena got an excellent job opportunity. She is currently sailing on a Dynamic Position Class 2, Offshore Supply Vessel. The sailor plans to upgrade her license to Chief Mate Unlimited and work up to the rank of Captain. When off-vessel, Sabeena enjoys cooking and baking. She is also obsessed with animals, having spent the majority of her time before sailing working at a Veterinary clinic. She likes reading nonfiction and self-help books and is considering taking up golf.
Her advice for women interested in the marine industry, when plotting your course be sure to “do your research and make a plan for what you want to achieve. Make a plan for when the first plan falls through.” Surrounding yourself with people that support you and seek mentorship from those you hope to emulate in your own careers is another tip offered by the sailor. She notes that in this industry perseverance and grit are two of the most valuable qualities to possess.
She adds “Speak up for yourself and push for the opportunities you deserve but always do so with integrity. Life is not a race or a competition, and comparing yourself to others with hurt you in the end.” Mental wellness is also very high on Sabeena’s agenda for those women already in the industry. “Take care of yourself both mentally and physically, burn out is very real and hard to overcome.”
A few highlights on Sabeena
• ↓Member of Women in Maritime Caribbean (WIMAC) Association and the recipient of the WIMAC Woman on the Rise award
• ↓United Kingdom Maritime Coastguard Agency Licensed Officer of the Watch (OOW)
• ↓Graduate of The University of Trinidad & Tobago Centre for Maritime and Ocean Studies
• ↓Dynamic Position Operator (DPO)
• ↓Youth Council Member of the UK based NGO – The Nautical Institute