Recruitment and Education

Life as a Chief Engineer

Life as a Chief Engineer
Bridget Gavin is a Marine Engineer with an international maritime career path that spans from sailing on VLCC's on oil trade routes to being appointed the first female Chief Engineer serving on an Irish passenger ferry.
How many years have you worked in the industry and what is your current role?

I have been working as a Chief Engineer for over 18 years now. I am currently doing relief work  as a Chief Engineer with Irish Ferries which is part of the Irish Continental Group and work as a Chief Engineer between the Jonathan Swift and the Ulysses. Due to family commitments I have taken a bit of a back seat but hope to get back to work full time soon.

What was your initial exposure to the industry?

Well, I wasn’t from a seafaring family;  I came from a farming background on the west coast of Ireland. For me going to sea was secondary to my interest in engineering. At the time as a Cadet you were very privileged to experience a degree of international travel that was not as easily accessible to our other friends studying at third level. Travel was part of the education and the job and it was useful that you got a better idea of the type of trade routes or vessels you would enjoy working on through your travel experiences. Unlike other graduates we didn’t have to look to hard for employment and were somewhat sought after. I was lucky enough to get a cadetship with BP Shipping and some of the first types of vessels I started out on were oil tankers. I served on VLCC’s (Very Large Crude Carriers) which meant that I was at sea for four months at a time on trade routes between Japan and Australia and the Arabian Gulf and the United States of America.  

BP was a great company to work for as they were both supportive of my college responsibilities and provided a lot of on-ship training. BP were so supportive that I achieved the rank of 2nd Engineer in a relatively short amount of time and in 2007 the rank of Chief Engineer.  I was really happy with BP and really relished my time working with them, however, after starting a family I did want to explore the possibility of working on shorter routes. I took advantage of an opportunity with Irish Ferries and entered Irish Ferries as a 2nd Engineer on the Normandy and the Oscar Wilde sailing on the Rosslare-France route.

After joining Irish Ferries I was promoted up the ranks and quickly took over as Chief Engineer on the Ulysses. I moved over to the Jonathan Swift which was a high speed catamaran passenger ferry. This change brought a number of challenges in itself, I skilled up as a Chief Engineer due to the fact that the engine and propulsion system are highly specialized. I received a lot of in-house training with Irish Ferries. Naturally there was a big focus on safety and speed and obviously there is a big difference between crude oil cargoes and ferry passengers. I served as Chief Engineer on the Jonathan Swift for three years and following a progression in family circumstances, I switched back to working between the Jonathan Swift and the Ulysses, which is what I do now. 

Where did you study to start your career in Maritime?

What I was drawn to was the engineering but I also liked the idea of mixing engineering and ships. It seemed to make sense for me, the subject was right up my street and I did harbour a desire and interest to travel, plus we are an island nation and there is so much potential from the waters we are surrounded by.  I started off as a Cadet studying Engineering at Cork Regional Technical College (now The National Maritime College of Ireland in Cork) and then managed to get sea time as part of my course with BP Shipping.  NMCI cadets are held in high demand within the industry and many of us were specifically targeted by multinational shipping companies like Royal Dutch Shell and BP for positions on their vessels.

What do you think are the main characteristics or skills are needed for a person to succeed in the maritime industry?

The type of person I think has a natural ability to succeed in the maritime industry is someone who possesses a curious mind and an easy going nature. You need to be happy in your own skin and it helps if you are an independent person who is willing to travel. The important thing to remember is that English speaking Marine Engineers are in high demand as they are highly skilled and have specialist knowledge. Once qualified the financial rewards are substantial. Also, the advantage of a career as a Chief Engineer is that the industry does not dictate where you live, you can live in a rural area but as long as there is an airport close enough to you and you can join a ship in a timely fashion you can maintain an international career.  Chief Engineers can have a very successful on-shore career with their skills and experience. If you want to stay in the maritime sector, you can transfer into naval architecture, marine surveying, maritime planning and operations or as an expert witness or investigator for marine insurance companies. If you want to move outside the maritime sector, the Pharmaceutical and Wind farm industries will consider your skills.

I believe as we are an island nation we need to focus more on how we can develop ourselves to use what is around us to create a living. The Merchant Navy is a good career choice, which provides a good living, a mass of experience and travel and the diversity to move on to other industries with the skills learned both for men and women.

Please note image used is not representative of interviewee