Ladies first

To mark International Women’s Day, we asked former cadet and volunteer Caz Palmer about being the first female Captain of cruise ship Hebridean Princess and the only female Master

a close-up photo of caz in uniform, with a port in the background

What’s the difference between a Captain and a Master? 

There isn’t much difference in the merchant navy. My rank is Captain, my position is Master. When I am introduced to passengers it is as Captain Caroline Palmer, Master of the Hebridean Princess. 

You are the first permanent female Master – what does that mean? Are there any other female Masters?

I did a few relief trips as Master before a permanent position came up. I am the only female in the company who holds a Master’s licence. There is another female deck officer working towards it.

The ship has another captain, Captain Richard Heaton (pictured below) – do you take turns at being captain? 

We work opposite each other. At the moment I am onboard and he is on leave. We do three weeks on, three off. It sounds like a lot of time off, but when onboard we average an 80-hour week! Sometimes we are both onboard for a day or two, so while we would both be Captain, only one has the legal responsibility as Master. I have known Richard for years as I was Chief Officer before becoming Master. He taught me a lot of what I know. 

Is it important for young girls to see women in roles like yours? 

I think everyone should have role models they can relate to, whether it be gender, ethnicity or experiences. By seeing me in a role with a high level of responsibility, I hope young girls feel empowered to reach for their own dreams and see that diversity is, fortunately, becoming the norm.

Caz with her fellow captain

Did being a sea cadet give you the confidence to achieve your goals? 

One hundred per cent. I never felt held back for being female. Volunteers were always supportive. One of my role models was a female officer, who inspired me to join the merchant navy. The training at Sea Cadets has stood me in good stead, such as leadership and drill – things I use every day.

Are there any advantages to being a woman in your role?  

There has been some publicity, which is good for the industry. I think I am more focused on the human element of decisions than some of my male counterparts, such as questioning how a decision might affect the guests and crew. In turn, I find that I get a lot of respect from the crew, who always tell me what’s going on.

Do you have any advice or inspiring words for cadets to help them achieve their own goals? 

You will fall down, but it is important to get back up and keep trying. If you are good enough, willing to learn and can ask for/offer help, you will make it regardless of gender.

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