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Meet Andrea MacDonald

“Tugs are cool. They’re powerful. They’re maneuverable. They do cool things. They’re crazy boats. I’m a crazy girl—it fit,” says Andrea MacDonald about her choice to become a tug master. “I went for a ride and was enamoured. I thought it would be the coolest job in the world if I could drive one.”

Already working full-time and not able to quit and go back to school, Andrea enrolled in a three-year marine program at the NSCC Strait Area Campus in Port Hawkesbury, taking classes as she could, working towards becoming a watchkeeping mate. After completing the program and writing an extensive series of exams for Transport Canada, Andrea started as a casual deckhand working for Svitzer Canada in the Strait of Canso, climbing the ladder to tug master. Andrea is currently the only woman working on any of Svitzer’s 66 vessels throughout North and South America.

There are no typical days in her career. Andrea lives onboard her tug for two weeks at a time, and is on duty 24/7 during that period. “Ships don’t keep a 9 to 5 schedule,” she says. “If a ship leaves at 3:00 am, we get up to assist. It’s one of the things I like about the job; there is no set schedule.”

Andrea’s next career step is to become a harbour pilot: a person with expert knowledge of the harbour who boards incoming vessels to guide them through the port. Because Andrea cannot see beyond the ship she’s assisting, the harbour pilot acts as her eyes, letting her know when to push and pull in order to safely dock the vessel.

A Techsploration role model for three years, Andrea is a team role model and also assisted with this year’s “abandon ship” demonstration at the NSCC Port Hawkesbury Techsplorer Event; teaching young women what to do when a life raft becomes their only option. In this demonstration, Techsplorers jump off a 15-foot deck into a wave pool that simulates ocean swell. Participants, donned in life jackets and floater suits, have to swim to an inflatable life raft, assist each other onboard, then paddle the raft to a harness hanging above the water and secure a dummy which is lifted to safety.

“My advice to young women is to follow your dreams,” says Andrea. “I never thought I could have the job I have; never thought I would be here, didn’t think I could do it. But everything is possible.”

If you are interested in learning more about a career as a tug master, be sure to check out her video, which will soon be added to the Techsploration Women in Action web video series.