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Adventure and Opportunity for Female Superyacht Engineers

With a name like “Mel Thunderbolt” you could really only expect great things.  As a superyacht engineer, travelling the globe on amazing vessels, we asked Mel what advice she would give budding female engineers? 

“It’s great, do it! I’m a freelance, relief engineer and adventurer and I love it!”

How long have you been in the industry?

18 years working superyachts, 11 as an engineer.

When did you realise engineering was the dream?

I did my first season as a Stewardess and found it wasn’t for me, I went on to be a Deck/Stew and worked with a great Captain who taught me how to drive. I was then a Captain of a 20m Sunseeker but wanted to learn more about engines so turned to engineering. That’s where I found my passion.

What did you do next?

I had done all my Officer of the Watch modules but to become an engineer I had to build up my sea hours and get my Marine Engine Operator Licence, which I did in Liverpool. I’m qualified to run 30-40m vessels and I’m often the only person in the engine room.

What’s the best bit about being a superyacht engineer?

The variety.  No two days are the same, I could be project managing in the shipyard, fixing an engine or unblocking the loo! 

I’m often the sole engineer on a 30-40m boat, but I love being in the Engine Room with the radio on, fixing stuff.  I’m also a sucker for adventure!  I’ve travelled all over, from the Seychelles to the Med and around the States.

How would you describe your role?

I’m ultimately responsible for the safety of the crew and guests on board as well as the upkeep of the boat.  When there are guests or owners on board they want to get from A to B, it’s my job to make sure that happens smoothly and safely.

Describe your average day?

There’s no such thing!  It depends on the size of the boat, whether there are guests onboard and if you’re going out to sea.

What skills does an engineer need?

Attention to detail and endurance. I generally work 15-16 hr days, working closely with the Captain around the clock, discussing problems and calling it when a decision’s needed.

What’s the best thing about your job?

The variation. My work is not confined to the engine room, I could be fixing an electric blind one minute, the air con the next.

Can it be lonely being confined to the engine room?

It can be but I love my own space, so it doesn’t bother me, I just put my music on, enjoy the peace and get on with the job.

Have you experienced prejudice as a female engineer?

I’m an organised freak, responsible and Captains like that. I think if you’ve got a dream go for it, there are some great people in this industry but if you do come across negative comments don’t let it stop you pursuing your dream.

What advice would you give anyone thinking of becoming an engineer?

If you are passionate about becoming an engineer, go for it.  It takes time and you will always be learning, but just get your head down and keep gaining experience.  Don’t moan or complain about hard work, get stuck in. Perhaps start off as a second engineer to learn from a great chief engineer.  Above all, take responsibility, you have people’s safety in your hands.

What’s next?

I’ve only just returned home to South Africa after a 2-month stint in Antarctica so I’m having a bit of a break before the next adventure.  I’ve got lots of ideas and some great contacts, so it won’t be long before I’m fully immersed in the next project. 

For more of Melissa’s adventures visit http://melthunderbolt.com

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