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An Industry for All with Captain Alexandra Hagerty

We’re delighted to welcome Captain Alexandra Hagerty to the ‘An Industry for All’ series.

Who better than Capt. Hagerty, one of the industry’s star female officers and founder of Captains Without Borders, to discuss, showcase and celebrate diversity, inclusion and talent within shipping?

Keep your eyes peeled for upcoming interviews, and please do let us know if you think there’s someone who deserves a turn in our spotlight on equality and opportunity within maritime.

Now, it’s full steam ahead with Capt. Hagerty….

What is your current position?

I am Captain/Chief Officer on the USNS Invincible, a government vessel owned by the Maritime Administration that’s being converted to a cadet training vessel for maritime academies.

I am also an expert witness for several maritime law firms and founder of non-profit “Captains without Borders”, providing maritime scholarships to cadets in need around the globe.

How did you get involved in the maritime industry?

I started working on tall ships when I was 18 and was asked to work for Etoile Marine Cruises in Saint Malo, France for the summer as a “Stagiare” or Apprentice. I fell in love with being on the water. I was then asked to join Jens Krogh, a Danish vessel, and sailed all over northern Europe.

After studying in Denmark, I decided to go back to New York to pursue my dream of becoming a Captain by attending SUNY Maritime College in New York. I worked to obtain a Master’s degree, paired with an unlimited tonnage Third Officer’s License. I loved the idea of making great money, navigating the world and only working six months a year. I could not think of another job with that much freedom and opportunity!

Captain Hagerty onboard Africa Mercy with the ship’s youngest crew member.

Why do you believe young people should consider a future within the maritime industry? 

Young people must know that seafaring is not an easy career and it has its challenges. One lives and works with colleagues instead of commuting to work every day. Your shipmates or co-workers are with you and count on you every day to make smart decisions for the safety of the crew and the vessel. The job provides discipline, routine and a flexible work/life balance that is unlike any office job. Young people can have an exciting career and also know that they will be easily recruited to shoreside positions as they climb the ranks and bring their knowledge to shipping companies around the world.

The career requires grit and integrity to stay with it, but it can be more rewarding than most desk jobs because there is a camaraderie amongst shipmates that cannot be found in an office setting. When our lives and quick decisions impact one another, building trust through training, learning about vessels and your shipmates’ strengths and weaknesses create a completely different work experience. Technological developments are also changing this industry like never before and that provides massively exciting opportunities.

What key lessons have you learnt during your time in the industry, and what advice would you give to others?

There have been many people who want to challenge and doubt me, but when emergencies happen, or serious issues arise, I’ve always been able to take command, in the worst and best of times. So, never doubt your ability to think critically and take charge when it is necessary, especially in a time of need… that’s when great leaders emerge.

What do you think are the industry’s key strengths and weaknesses – how would you like to see it evolve?

Maritime has had more issues embracing technology and smarter electronics than other sectors. There has been a reluctance to change from paper to electronic charts, to semi-autonomous ships.

Slowly but steadily, change is taking place. I now see a plethora of young officers coming out of maritime academies thirsty to work on state-of-the-art ships with cutting edge technology. Engaging older mariners to embrace this will take time, but electronic logbooks, e-bills of lading and other measures for higher technology-driven security, fuel efficiency software and sustainability are being embraced as they ease different burdens for mariners.

What do you like best about a) your current role and b) the industry in general?

I love the fact that I can be whisked away to another part of the world with a simple phone call from my dispatcher, asking me to jump on a plane and embrace a new micro bubble vessel getting ready to start its journey. I truly enjoyed the years working on survey vessels that went to remote islands in the Marianas, Philippines, Japan, and South Korea with groups of scientists. The work was interesting and no two days were the same.

Maritime is funny little industry and, over time, we all get to know each other. As such, it is a uniquely close-knit community. I can talk to another Captain and there’s an instant sense of mutual respect.

I also love laughing with the Port Agents, hearing about their funny interactions with Captains and crew over the years – there’s a lot of quite eccentric personalities! In general, it is quite an entertaining and international industry that can take you to corners of the Earth you never thought you’d travel to. From conferences in Dubai, to Norway, through to Virginia, the people I meet are fantastic and brilliant, often with innovative ideas.

What are your personal ambitions within the industry?

I am currently running for Vice President of Government Relations in the largest American Merchant Marine Union in the United States; American Maritime Officers. I am also seeking other opportunities in maritime technology companies, while also building international clients as a Maritime Expert Witness.

I hope that the scholarship fund I started with several captains and engineers will gain notoriety so that we can start giving out more scholarships to cadets around the world in need of assistance. That way they too can embrace the exciting career that I’ve been able to enjoy over the last decade. Watching the cadets grow into officers, Captains and Chief Engineers will be incredibly rewarding.

Any final comments you’d like the reader to take away?

One thing I love about shipping is that it is an age-old industry with tons of traditions and unique words and expressions across multiple languages. Here are a few of my favourite quotes:

“There is no better tool or equipment you can have on board than a well-trained crew” – Larry Pardey

“I am the master of my fate. I am the Captain of my Soul” – William Henley

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end” – Ernest Hemingway

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