NYC Ferry buoys female captains
Worldwide, women aren't well represented in the maritime workforce, but at NYC Ferry, women get unique opportunities to be trained as ship captains.
Constansa Torrejon-Reyes is pretty sure she has the best office view in New York City.
Her desk is the helm of a NYC Ferry. On the first truly warm day this spring, she looked out over the controls at the sun glinting off the East River; behind her, a deck full of passengers enjoyed the 70-degree weather, ready to get off at stops along the waterfront from Pier 11 to East 34th Street.
“Seeing the skyline never gets old,” she said, adding that her workday view is even better at sunset.
As a 25-year-old female captain, Torrejon-Reyes is a bit of an outlier. Women make up an estimated 2 percent of the world’s maritime workforce, according to the International Transport Workers’ Federation, and in the United States, less than 8 percent of all ship and boat captain and operators.
But within NYC Ferry, the network of ferry routes operated by Hornblower Cruises, women are nearly 40 percent of the maritime workforce.
“I never really saw a female captain until I got here,” Torrejon-Reyes said. Originally from Chile, she came to the U.S. for her education — she attended SUNY Maritime College in the Bronx — and for an opportunity on the water.
She grew up in Coquimbo, a port city in Chile, and so constantly saw boats and big ships. Her siblings are involved with the water, as well — as a diver, a mate and the operator of a fishing boat — but she never saw female captains in Chile.
“My mom never thought I’d be [piloting] boats, she never thought I’d be a captain,” she said. “In my case, it’s a cultural thing. People don't expect women to be captains. My family expected me to be a nurse or a teacher.”
It wasn’t exactly something Torrejon-Reyes planned for either, but when NYC Ferry offered to train and promote up from a deckhand, she took the opportunity.
That willingness to teach her was crucial — not just to Torrejon-Reyes’s own career, but to NYC Ferry’s success overall. Multiple new routes in the works means more captains needed, and they’re willing to provide that opportunity for upward mobility. NYC Ferry officials expect even more female captains as the service grows.
Torrejon-Reyes is also a sign of the opportunity overall in New York City, said Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen.
“As women continue breaking barriers and shaping New York City's economy, I take my hat off to Captain Torrejon-Reyes as she sets a leadership example for all New Yorkers,” she said in an email. “This young woman embodies what hard work and opportunity means in our city.”
Torrejon-Reyes hopes more women will be able to see themselves at the helm of a ship, particularly at places like NYC Ferry. There are now options, she said, for women who don’t want to spend days or months at sea — a lifestyle that makes it hard to have a family, or enjoy being a young woman in the city, and a reasons men have dominated the field.
“I get to go home every day and have a normal life, but I also pilot a boat at the same time,” she said. “It’s the best of both worlds.”