Captain Alice Duncan is 26 and responsible for navigating a ferry across one of the world’s busiest waterways.
What does the job involve?
My main responsibility is to get our passengers to and from the Isle of Wight safely and efficiently. This involves navigating the busy waterways between Southampton and Cowes, dealing with other commercial and leisure traffic, sometimes in adverse weather conditions. Other duties are crew management and training, making sure the vessel is well maintained and operating to industry and company standards, and dealing with any incidents onboard.
How did you get into this job? Qualifications?
I started my career aged 18, enrolling on a 3 year cadetship programme with a shipping company. This involved phases of academic study and practical work onboard a variety of ship types, mostly oil and product tankers. I graduated with an Officer of the Watch certificate and foundation degree in Marine operations and came to work at Red Funnel shortly afterwards, spending time on both the Ro-Ro ferries and Hi Speed craft. During the five and a half years that I have been with the company I have worked hard to gain the skills, experience, additional qualifications and “sea time” needed to sit my Masters oral exams last year. The last stage was a rigorous in-house training and assessment programme to prove I had the required skills and responsibility to take command of a passenger ferry operating on one of the UKs busiest waterways.
What do you love about the job?
My favourite part of the job is how busy and varied it is. Since we are in and out of port so often, there is a lot of practical ship handling involved which is a lot of fun, and something you don’t get the chance to do as often deep sea.
What makes the job interesting?
Some people may think that operating the same route every day might get boring, but that is absolutely not the case! Every day brings new challenges, whether that is handling the ship in strong winds or bad visibility, or negotiating other shipping traffic. I also enjoy meeting the passengers- we get people from all over the world travelling to the Island.
What would you say to a 16 year old who’s thinking about their future?
If you have a sense of adventure and aren’t afraid of a bit of hard work, it is definitely worth looking into a career at sea. Day to day life can consist of anything from dodging pirates off the coast of Africa, sailing through sea ice in the Baltic, or navigating using the stars, and you’ll make friends from all over the world. Starting salaries are excellent and there aren’t many careers where you can progress and have so much responsibility at a reasonably young age. If you decide you would rather stay closer to home there are plenty of opportunities ashore, or with companies like Red Funnel where you get the best of both worlds – working at sea during the day and going home to your friends and family at night!
What’s been the most exciting/surprising aspect of the job?
The most exciting/scary moment in my career so far was my first day working as master. Although I had been well prepared for that moment, it is definitely a different feeling knowing that you are responsible for so many people, and without someone else immediately on hand to ask for advice.
What does the future hold for you?
At the moment my priority is to continue to build experience and become the best Captain I can. After that, who knows what the future holds!
Red Funnel Ferries
Red Funnel is the ‘Original Isle of Wight ferry operator’ and currently carries 3.4m passengers and 0.86m vehicles per annum. The Company operates services 365 days a year with 30,000 combined sailings between Southampton (UK mainland) and East and West Cowes (Isle of Wight). The fleet consists of modern purpose built Ro-Pax vehicle ferries and Red Jet Hi-Speed passenger catamarans.
Click here to download further information about a career in the UK maritime sector.