Royal Caribbean Chief Officer of Safety Heather Beasley had what some may consider a “late start” to her career in the maritime industry. Even though she began her journey from cadet to her current role in her early 30s, that didn’t keep her from climbing to the top in a field notoriously made up of men.
The reality show “Below Deck” may not be on her must-watch list (she’s more of a “Queen’s Gambit” fan), but Heather’s very familiar with what it really takes to pursue a life and career at sea as a woman having sailed on a tanker, as well as Brilliance, Majesty, Oasis, Splendour and Voyager of the Seas. As Chief Officer of Safety—a senior leadership role on board Royal Caribbean ships—Heather is in charge of all aspects of safety on board, including that of crew, guests and safety equipment.
We chatted with her for a firsthand perspective and covered some of the twists and turns of her 16-year journey so far and the takeaways she can share with others as one of the few–but growing number–of female officers in the industry.
Q: What drew you to the maritime industry?
Heather: I wasn’t aware of the maritime industry until I was looking for a career change from what I had been pursuing then–early childhood education. As I was researching different career opportunities, I looked up “marine biology,” and immediately below that in the alphabetized list of academic programs was “marine navigation technology.”
My interest in cruise ships began when I was a cadet on a tanker out of Halifax, Nova Scotia. A large [Royal Caribbean] cruise ship sailed past us as it was going into port. I was fascinated, so for my next cadet placement, I applied to Royal. Ironically enough, my first cadet placement happened to be on board Voyager of the Seas, the same ship that sailed by on that day.
Q: How did you become Chief Officer of Safety?
Heather: Beginning my marine training in my early 30s had its advantages, despite having been 10 years behind most officers. I was more mature and experienced in life, which gave me a better perspective and focus.
I completed the nautical science program at the Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Marine Institute. This is a four-year, full-time program that includes spending 365 days at sea as a cadet. I graduated with a Watchkeeping Mate license and began working as a 2nd Officer back on Voyager. I felt very fortunate to have a job with Royal Caribbean waiting for me when I graduated.
Then for several years, I spent most of my vacation time studying for exams before going back to sea. It was a great accomplishment when I finally received my Master Mariner license, but it was a long academic journey to reach that level.
Pro tip: After receiving a Watchkeeping Mate license, you can work as the second or third in command (2nd or 3rd Officer) behind the “chief mate” (first officer). With a Master Mariner license, you can hold the top position on any vessel—it’s the highest qualification you can receive.
Q: How did you navigate an industry that consists primarily of men?
Heather: Throughout my career, there have been few occasions where I felt “out of place” as a woman in the industry. I am aware that I am the minority in a mostly male world, but in my experience, most men have seemed to welcome the idea of having a female colleague. I’ve found that it’s important to pull my weight as a member of the team and never be afraid of getting my hands dirty.
It was not always easy though. One time, when I had a shorter hairstyle and was working in coveralls, I felt a tap on my shoulder. A woman said, “Excuse me, young man, can you help me?” She was really apologetic when I stood up and turned around. Keeping a sense of humor helps a lot.
Q: How important is it to have a combination of different backgrounds, perspectives and people–from gender to cultures–overall in your work?
Heather: One of the things I love about my job is the opportunity to meet and work with so many different people. Royal Caribbean is really encouraging and proactive in hiring diverse people on its ships, all working toward the same goals.
Q: What are your future career goals?
Heather: The role of Staff Captain is next in my career path, and I look forward to the opportunity to step up. My ultimate goal is, of course, to be Captain.
Q: What advice would you give to other young women who are considering pursuing a career in the maritime industry?
Heather: Working in the maritime industry, and most especially being away at sea, is something you really have to want to do—it is not always easy to be away from home. It is also important to pursue a career path based on what you could actually enjoy doing, even if that path means hard work and facing challenges to get there.
In this industry, women can excel. The opportunities are there, especially when working for such a diverse and forward-thinking company [like Royal Caribbean].
Q: What parts of your job are you most passionate about sharing when speaking with guests, colleagues in other areas and friends?
Heather: I especially like answering questions from young guests and their parents on how I, a woman, ended up with this career. Kids and parents I talk to are [typically] surprised and then impressed there is a woman on the bridge. I know all the jokes about female drivers.
Often, I’m asked how I made the leap in careers. “Wasn’t it scary?” Yes, it was, but not as scary as the thought of having stayed on the same career path and finding myself still wishing I had done something different with my life 10 years later.
When you’re ready to see Chief Officer of Safety Heather Beasley and others like her in action, head here to let Royal Caribbean take you there.