Length at sea (years)
The mother of older kids
The breadwinner with no choice
The seafaring mother as her choice
Those who quit and found a shore-based job
Types of Seafaring Mothers
Bearing in mind that there are not many women who actually remained working at sea after having children, this research highlights five examples of seafaring mothers and three types emerged. The first type was ‘The mother of older kids’; a woman seafarer who returned to sea when her children were grown up. The second type was called ‘The breadwinner with no choice’; these women were in the circumstance that they had to earn enough money to feed the whole family. The third type was ‘The seafaring mother as her choice’, who decided to stay at sea while leaving her children at home. These three categories are explained with the following examples.
The first type, ‘The mother of older kids’, represents a woman seafarer who returned to sea when her child became old enough. There was only one sample which was found of this type. A German deck officer, Pamera, quit seafaring after giving birth and stayed with her daughter until she became 15 years old. Pamera recalled her memory that it was a big break for her and thrilling to go back to sea afterwards. Indeed, returning to sea after many years is equally difficult for male seafarers. Because of the introduction of new regulations, systems and technology, today’s seafaring jobs could be quite different from the ones they experienced years ago. Seafarers are also expected to immediately perform well and show their competence on new ships. They tend to get extremely nervous before joining a new vessel. Furthermore, the renewal of licenses may cost time and money. Many seafarers who left sea are often reluctant to go back to seafaring, due to a number of constraints. Pamera, in the ‘mother of older kids’ type, explained, however, it was possible for her to have both lives, being a mother and a seafarer:
When I had the mate certificate, I travelled one and a half years. And I made a big break, because I got pregnant. I stayed ashore nearly for 15 years. Then I got back [to sea]. It was a little bit different, but it was possible. (…) Good things to get a kid. Because you have a present to get the world addition to the one that you have now. Because it is really a second life, you will get. I like this experience very much. But I like both. (laugh)—(Pamera, Age 44, Junior deck officer, German)
Pamera’s example, ‘The mother of older kids’ was, however, not commonly observed among both male and female seafarers due to the changes in regulations, systems and technology, as discussed earlier. The other types of seafaring mothers are ‘The breadwinner with no choice’ and ‘The seafaring mother as her choice’. These two types of seafaring mothers made it possible to continue working at sea while leaving their small children. The difference between the two types was whether it was their choice or not.
‘The breadwinner with no choice’ is in the situation that women seafarers are the only ones in the family who can earn money and feed the rest of the family. Two samples out of five seafaring mothers in this research fit this type. A German radio officer, Simone, had a student husband and they decided that she would work on ships while her husband studied and took care of their baby. Simone signed off the ship and stayed at home when her husband was in the semester break and worked for a short period of time. It was the only option for Simone to continue seafaring while leaving her baby ashore, as she described:
Our situation was that we had somebody who had to work for money. And my husband was studying. What shall I do? I have to go to sea. So I tried to minimise it. When the child was one year, I had been away for only four weeks a year. A year after, it was two months. So he grows. The longest voyage I did was five months. The very longest voyage I had. You see over the year it was not too much, I think. (…) It worked. It was to live.—(Simone, Age 53, Radio officer, German)
Another woman seafarer who had no choice but to continue working on board, was a Polish deck officer, Karolina. She did not return to her ship immediately after her child was born, however when the baby was 9 months, her husband lost his job because of an injury. Karolina, therefore, decided to work on the vessel with a shorter schedule, 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off. This working pattern allowed her to stay at home every 2 weeks until her child became 4 years old. Karolina explained that she got a lot of help from her parents while she was absent from home. She sometimes wondered why she was not at home with her child.
When I was on board, usually my parents helped to take care of my daughter. (…) sometimes I was thinking, what I was doing here? Why I am not at home?—(Karolina, Age 52, Senior deck officer, Polish)
Karolina showed me a picture of her family during the interview, and her relationship with her children seemed nothing different from any other ordinary family.