A Q&A with a Tanker’s Second Mate

Do you ever wish you had the means to explore more of the world? We recently had the chance to talk with Megan Fetter. As Second Mate aboard a tanker at the Algoma Central Corporation, she has seen the Great Lakes in a way that most of us can only wish. She is also using her month-on/month-off schedule to further her career training and satisfy her wanderlust.

Originally from LeRoy, a small agricultural community in Saskatchewan, Megan Fetter doubts she’ll ever be land-bound again. She has found a career that challenges her to achieve her full potential and suits her lifestyle.
Q: How does someone from the Prairies end up working on the water?
I started out with a bachelor’s degree in Animal Science working for an agricultural research company affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan for seven years, but I didn’t see the opportunities in that field to move into a management role. When I found out about the Nautical Science diploma program at the British Columbia Institute of Technology in Vancouver, I applied. I originally thought I would end up working on a cruise ship, but I ended up being recruited as a cadet by a Canadian ship owner that moves cargo and have really enjoyed the work.
Q: What do you enjoy about working on the Great Lakes?
Being able to move resources on the Great Lakes also connects with me in terms of my agricultural past. I’ve also been involved in transporting grain for my company in the past.

And, while it’s a cliché that you always hear from sailors, the sunrises and sunsets are beautiful. The sky’s colours vary depending on where you are. In some places they’re a deeper blue or red or orange. I love being on the bridge when the sun is setting, and the water is so calm and flat that you can’t tell the difference between the lake and the horizon. It’s also very peaceful on clear nights when away from any shore lights you can see all the stars.

“The sunrises and sunsets are beautiful.”

Q: Why is it that you particularly like working on tankers?
I like the work itself. There’s always a lot to check and to plan ahead on a tanker as second mate, so it keeps me nice and busy and makes even the longer shifts go by quickly. Plus, every day is different in managing the specific paperwork and procedures for each port and/or dock, as well as in terms of operating the pumps for the loading or discharging operations. There’s a hands-on element that I really enjoy.

Since I started my maritime career five years ago, I have also worked on self-unloading ships and cargo carriers, but I’ve done a lot of my training on tankers and really enjoy it because there’s always something new to learn and I have peers who are willing to help me do so.
Q: Is this a line of work that is satisfying your desire to move up in your career?
Definitely! As I mentioned, I have peers who are supportive in my learning new things. Plus, I am continuing my studies at BCIT in Vancouver during my time off and hope to have my chief officer’s licence by the spring.
Q: How is it working for a month and then having another month off?

Sometimes it’s two or three weeks on and off, but I really like the schedules because they give me time to do my own thing. Right now, I’m still in British Columbia and am really enjoying my exploration of that province during my time off. I also have time to visit my family.

COVID-19 put a dent in my travel plans for a while, but I am starting to look at visiting other places again, which I can do more easily with my time off. I don’t yet know where I might settle down in a few years, but I am confident that there will be work for me in this field.

Q: Are there other women in roles similar to yours?
It’s still a male-dominated industry, and even a bit more so on the tanker side. At my company, there are five women out of the 200 people working on tankers, but there are more women coming on board. Sometimes this can be a challenge when people aren’t sure how to treat you. In some cases, they want to be helpful but aren’t sure if they should offer to help. I always try to make it clear that I’m just a person there to work like everyone else which gains people’s respect.

My company has been very supportive of hiring women and providing them with necessary resources. For instance, two years after I was hired in 2017, I was sent along with other women who were new cadets to the Women on the Water conference in Texas. I learnt so much about what the industry is like for women on the U.S. side and made some good connections there. I do feel there have been more women entering the industry since I joined it five years ago.
Q: Has your company been supportive in other ways?
Absolutely! Right from when I was a cadet and the company reached out to me to do my training on its vessels and then hired me when I completed my certification. We also receive other training when we might need it. For instance, I recently was given information on how to position our vessel to go properly through the underwater sound recording station near Rimouski.

Once we go through the station, we inform the people in charge of the project so that they can use that information from the hydrophones to establish that vessel’s acoustic signature. I haven’t yet gone on that route, but I am ready with all my notes if we do. After living in Vancouver, I’m familiar with the issue of underwater noise affecting whales and the major efforts to make ships a lot quieter.

“After living in Vancouver, I’m familiar with the issue of underwater noise affecting whales and the major efforts to make ships a lot quieter.”

Q: What’s it like being on board with a dozen crew for as long as a month at a time?
You develop some really strong friendships because you are living with these people for half the year and really get to know them. I have met so many different people and a lot of them I now call my friends and stay in contact with them. And even though it’s a large industry, you find that most everyone knows everybody else, or you have people in common.

“Even though it’s a large industry, you find that most everyone knows everybody else, or you have people in common.

Q: How did your family react to this job choice?
They have a hard time understanding why it is I enjoy what I do so much. My mom, having always lived in a small Prairie town, isn’t that familiar because everything ultimately gets delivered to where she lives by truck. Yet 80 per cent of our trade relies on shipping. It’s a huge industry that Canadians rely on but doesn’t get a of attention.

Yet there’s such a range of potential jobs and opportunities in the maritime field. If you like people, you can work with passenger transport. If you prefer moving cargo, there’s that. Yes, you do have to study hard to get your qualifications, and then be willing to work long days, but there’s just so much opportunity to do the work you want and to fulfil your potential and maybe even heights you once never dreamed possible. I’ve been in the industry for almost five years know, and for me, it’s not just a job, but a career and lifestyle. I love it!
Speaking with Megan about her decision to pursue a career in marine was very inspiring. Her story really speaks as to why you should “Imagine Marine” too!

Interested in how to become a Second Mate in the marine industry? Find out more here.
Author: Julie Gedeon
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