What It Takes To Be a Woman at Sea? Serena Melani Answers


In March this year, just close to International Women’s Day the  Regent Seven Seas Cruises declared that their newest cruise ship Seven Seas Splendor would be captained by a woman when it sets sail in February 2020. Now, much has been said by the first woman cruise captain but what makes her a role model and the idea of women at sea still alludes many.

So, here’s an excerpt from Irene S Levine’s Forbes article titled “The Woman At The Helm Of Seven Seas Splendor”  which highlight what it takes to be a woman at sea. 

The First Woman Cruise Captain

When Seven Seas Splendor—the fifth and newest ship in the Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ fleet—sets sail in February 2020, it will mark the first time a woman has been tapped to captain a brand new cruise ship.

  • Serena Melani, 45, stands out in a male-dominated cruise industry but this isn’t the first time she has made nautical history.
  • She was the first Italian female cruise ship captain and the first female master captain on Regent Seven Seas (leading both Seven Seas Explorer and Seven Seas Mariner).
  • Having worked on ships since the age of 16, Melani seems to have been born with sea legs but her meteoric rise in the cruise industry has also been fueled by pure grit and determination.
  • Serena Melani, Captain of Seven Seas Splendor

    Serena Melani, Captain of Seven Seas Splendor


Inspiring Women at Sea

Forbes.com spoke to Captain Melani about her career path, life on board for women officers, and her responsibilities as a mentor and role model to other women:

  • Did being born in a port city influence her career plans?

Growing up in Livorno, Italy, she saw many types of ships sailing in and out of the port, which definitely helped influence my choice of profession. Traveling has always piqued her interest and when it came time to choose a career path, she wanted to combine her love of travel and ships.

  • What type of education/training did her work entail?
  1.   She began her nautical career working as a cadet on cargo ships sailing between Europe and South Africa.
  2. After graduating from Nautical College in 1993, she landed a job as a cadet on a tanker vessel.
  3. In 2002, she joined Carnival Cruise Lines as a Third Officer.
  4. In 2010, she joined Regent Seven Seas Cruises working in a variety of roles—including a bridge officer, navigation officer, safety officer, and staff captain on Seven Seas Voyager—and was named the company’s first female captain on Seven Seas Mariner in 2016.
  • Was it difficult to break into a male-dominated field?

Yes, it was challenging, as there were some people, both men and women, who did not approve of a woman taking a leadership position. However, she was never affected by these attitudes and continued to push forward to pursue my goals.

Women constitute 18-20 percent of the cruise industry workforce and it’s estimated that 5-20 percent of cruise ship officers are women. Comparing this to the global airline pilot industry, of which only five percent are female pilots, it’s clear that the cruise industry is making great strides.

“I’m not a stranger to being the only woman on board. Growing up in this industry has taught me not to spend too much time thinking about gender. At the end of the day, I’ve always done what I loved and that’s all that matters. When it comes to my crew, I view each individual as a person, not as a man or women, but rather, someone I can relate to. Since my promotion to master captain, I’ve always felt respected by both”, Melani said.

  • What are her hours on board and how did spend her downtime?

There’s no fixed working schedule as she is on call 24 hours a day. However, she typically starts her day very early in the morning at around 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. and finishes around 9 p.m. with a few breaks in between. During her downtime, she enjoys reading books and, when possible, she likes to explore the destinations they happen to visit.

  • Where is home now? How much time does she spend away from home each year?

Melani says, each year, I spend five to six months on board. When I’m not sailing the world, I live with my husband on the quaint Croatian island of Korcula. As I have been working in the cruise industry for nearly 30 years, spending time away from loved ones has become quite normal for me. I typically find time in the late morning or afternoon (depending on the time zone difference) to connect with my friends and family”.

  • What are a couple of her favorite ports and why? 

“I would have to say that Cape Town, South Africa is one of my favorites. I have a deep appreciation for African culture and personally, I think it is one of the most interesting harbors to sail into. As I look for nature on my vacations, my other favorites are on the Amazon River and Alaska sailings. These two areas of the world have opened my eyes to some diverse cultures and experiences”, said Melani

  • Aside from her uniform, what does pack for her voyages?

Melani said she carried just one change of clothes for cold and warm climates in case she has the chance to explore ashore and several books as reading is one of her great passions.

  • What are the special challenges of being captain of a brand-new vessel?

“I follow the building of the ship in the shipyard to make sure that everything will be ready when the ship starts to sail. It will be a new adventure learning how to handle her, as each ship is different—just as human beings are different, too!”, says Melani

  • Rendering of Observation Lounge on Seven Seas Splendor

    Rendering of Observation Lounge on the new Seven Seas Splendor


  • Now that she has reached the nautical “top” of Regent Seven Seas at a relatively young age, where does she go from here?

Melani says that she is lucky to say still love her job as much as the day she first started. “It’s not only a job but also a lifestyle. To be a master captain on a cruise ship gives me the possibility of meeting interesting people each day. Overall, the job offers so many different challenges that I never get bored. For the rest of my career, I plan to explore the world and encourage those around me to never give up on their dreams”, she added.

  • What are her responsibilities as a mentor to the female crew working on the ship?

As a female leader in the industry, she tries to instill confidence in younger female crewmembers. She believes if she can encourage other women to take the same leap of faith and have the same persistence as she has, then she has done her job right.

  • What tips she would offer to women trying to break into this or other predominantly male industries?

“Strive for the best at all times at each stage of your career. Keep improving through professional education (especially in the cruising industry). Never give up on a challenging situation. Last but not least, maintain your sense of humor and remember to laugh at those who think women can’t do it all”, Melani says it with a smile.

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Source: Forbes


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