Women on Water Conference

Elizabeth Megan, Marlee Kuchma, Lubov Anissimova

Georgian College – Marine Program Students.

The 10th annual Women on the Water Conference took place at Maine Maritime Academy (Castine, Maine, USA) this year and was an amazing experience, we are so thankful to our sponsors for helping to support our attendance. We all agree that this conference was informative and a great opportunity to learn and develop as cadets and future seafarers.

“The 2018 planning committee selected the theme “Choose Your Heading” to encourage maritime students to consider the many options available to them and this exciting industry.” MMA President, Dr. William J. Brennan.

The ‘Choose Your Own Heading’ theme was upheld throughout the whole conference, encouraging student to select which panels they wished to attend with several female professionals and captains lecturing at each session. The conference was scheduled from November 1st to November 3rd and included meals, lectures, information panels, mock interviews, networking sessions, and more (see schedule below).

Thursday, November 1st

12:30 – 5:30pm Conference check-in
3 – 4:30pm Afternoon Sail
5:30pm Opening reception
6:15pm Opening Dinner
Opening speaker (The Honorable Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby)
8pm Social Time
11pm Curfew

Friday, November 2nd

7:15am Morning Quarters
7 – 8:45am Breakfast
8:15am Featured Speaker (Captain Elisabeth Pepper)
9 – 9:45am Workshop One – Knowing Your Options (Union / NonUnion / Gov.)
10 – 10:45am Workshop Two – Achieving Work/Life Balance
11 – 11:45am Workshop Three – Limited License Captains’ Panel
12 – 1:15pm Lunch
Featured Speaker (Ally Cedeno)
1:30 – 2:15pm Workshop Four – Change vs. Transition, Ship to Shore to Ship
2:30 – 4:30pm Mock Interview Sessions
Exhibit Hall opens (USA Companies)
4:30 – 6pm Break
6–7pm Networking Reception
7pm Banquet
Video Greeting (U.S. Senator Susan M. Collins)
Keynote Speaker (Captain Deborah Dempsey)

Saturday, November 3rd

7:30 – 9pm Closing Breakfast
8:15am Featured Speaker (Rita Hausken)
9:30am Departure to Owen Sound

The Ship Experience

Upon our arrival to the Maine Maritime Academy we were greeted, registered, and then guided down to the waterfront to our home for the next several days, which turned out to be aboard the schools training ship. Our accommodations were located several stories below the weather deck and were in-fact berths meant to hold up to 27 people at a time, however they were each filled to half occupation for the comfort of the attendees. We were provided with everything that would be needed for our stay to be as comfortable as possible, included bedding, towels, and shower slippers (etc).

Once we were settled in we were informed that personal tours of the ship were available upon request, which we fully took advantage of as we had some free time to ourselves before the opening ceremony of the conference. It was a great chance to learn about and experience a ship environment before our first co-op in the summer of 2019. We were given tours of the weather deck, bridge, engine room, and control room with an informative explanation of each as we were shown around.

Nights on the ship provided us an excellent view of the changing tides at Castine, which were especially notable as the gangway was much steeper to climb in the evening then it was in the morning. We also were able to see and experience an American Gangway watch, as well as all the procedures that come with it including the ID check, signing in/out log, and declaration of purpose aboard the vessel.

Sharing a berth with so many female cadets and seeing so many individuals from such a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences was intriguing and inspiring to see. Beds were stacked three levels high and those of us on the top bunks were required to climb to enter bed, resulting in much comradery and humour.


One of the most valuable aspects of the conference was the chance and opportunity to meet other female captains and pilots, as well as networking with our fellow peers. We were also given the chance to meet with many prominent American and Canadian companies that were offering berths and opportunities for cadets. At times the conference felt overwhelming in its offering of learning opportunities, so much was offered in such little time that we were often left feeling dazed. In hindsight adding an extra day to space out the events of the conference would have done much to maximize the experience and knowledge retained, as well as allowing more time for cadets to recover from their journey.

Arguably one of the most important networking opportunities at the conference was to hear from and meet so many accomplished female seafarers and role models. During our workshops we heard from a number of female captains from the USA about their experiences in the marine industry, both domestic and international. At the end of each session cadets were encouraged to come up and meet the speakers; needless to say many business cards were given out during these sessions. Having the opportunity to meet and personally speak with so many accomplished women was one of the many highlights of our time at the conference. We believe that one of the most important things we took away from this experience was the overwhelming evidence that, by taking the time and putting in the hard work, it is possible to achieve your goals and become a success.

Another important networking opportunity was hear from and meeting the many keynote guest speakers at the conference, Captain Deborah Dempsey being one in particular who stood out. Captain Dempsey was the first US female captain of a vessel during wartime, first female graduate of a maritime academy in an unlimited license program, and first female Columbia River bar pilot. Hearing from someone who has been ‘the first’ of so many crucial and important careers was both awe inspiring and humbling. We tip our hats to her for changing this industry and paving the way for us and future generations of female mariners.


We want to thank everyone who was involved in making this opportunity possible. Being able to attend a conference like WOW at this stage of our education and career has been a learning experience that will help to shape our future. It is in our opinion that the knowledge and experience taken away from this conference values far greater than the monetary cost of sending cadets and we strongly recommend this opportunity be available for future female students. We would like to take this moment to personally thank Gabriella Dunn for taking the time and effort to guide and help us to take full advantage of this conference. She played a critical role in our journey to this conference and her support, faith, and enthusiasm for us to learn and develop made her a true joy to be around. We would also like to extend our gratitude to the staff of Georgian College (including Captain Colin McNeil and Mrs. Maria Minutti) and our sponsors, The Marine Club and Algoma Central Corporation.

Thank You!

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