Meet Jessica Ryals from Argyle, Texas. Jessica graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy with a B.S. in Maritime Operations and Technology and holds a Chief Mate Unlimited Tonnage License. She currently works as a Senior Dynamic Positioning Operator and is a contributor to WomenOffshore as our Fitness Guru. Jessica’s inspiring career spans 9 years and we interviewed her to find out more:
Jessica, what inspired you to work on the water?
“I originally came to Kings Point to pursue a career in aviation, like my Dad who was a commercial airline pilot. After cadet shipping, I knew that I wanted to sail on my license. When I graduated, most of the jobs were in the oilfield and I found myself in an unexpected environment on deepwater drillships.”
What has been the most memorable experience during your career so far?
“The most memorable experience would be the international transits I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of; bringing these drillships from overseas back to the Gulf of Mexico. My current ship, the West Auriga, I was part of the crew that brought her from the shipyard in South Korea to the Gulf. Transiting from Singapore to Walvis Bay, Namibia, being part of a Shellback ceremony and coming around the Cape of Good Hope was one of the most challenging and rewarding hitches I’ve ever done.”
If working on the water is a long-term career for you, what motivates you to continue with this career path?
“I intend to work in the industry long enough to obtain my Unlimited Masters license and to join the short line of women who have sailed as the Master/Offshore Installation Manager aboard a deepwater drilling rig. My current company has never had a female Master and I’d like to be the first.”
What challenges have you faced in your career?
“The oilfield is a challenging place to make your career as a woman in industry. While oceangoing ships have crews of 20-25 people, drilling rigs like mine have nearly 200, and sometimes there might only be 2 women on board. By nature, the oilfield tends to be a little more ‘old school’ in its outlook towards women in industry. I’ve rarely encountered outright hostility. In fact most of the guys tend to treat me like their sister or their daughter. What is more of challenge is to be taken seriously and to not be spoken over or interrupted. I’ve also found that as a woman, I’m held to a different standard of performance as there seems to be a need to prove myself in ways that the men working around do not have to.”
What do you think can be done by your industry to encourage more women to pursue similar careers?
“Engage with women early on. Go to high schools on career days and educate women on the opportunities in the oilfield and the maritime industries. I, personally, did not a single thing about the shipping industry while I was in high school. Even while at Kings Point, I did not know anything about the offshore drilling industry until I was close to graduating. Rather than waiting for women to stumble into these careers, reach out to them while they are still thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. Show them this world exists, that it can be lucrative and exciting, that they can choose a career path that’s outside of what’s ‘expected’ for women.”
What words of advice would you give someone starting out in your industry?
“The advice that was given to me on my first rotation offshore was, ‘Give it three hitches.’ Three hitches before you decide this isn’t the life for you, to settle in, to get to know the rig and the people. Also, never be afraid to choose the path less traveled.”
Is there anything else you would like to share with WomenOffshore?
“If you are a woman reading this page, you are probably either in the maritime industry or considering joining it. Maybe you’ve left the industry to start a family. I wanted to share my personal story of the path my husband and I have gone down. I met Kent at Kongsberg’s Advanced Dynamic Positioning class in Houston, when I was a new DPO at Transocean and he was a supply boat captain at Abdon Callais. We dated long distance, then moved in together, all while attempting to balance our schedules. We had the long talks about families, kids, and making a life together, all while he was working one schedule and I was on a totally different one. For months, we saw each other one out of every six weeks. Ultimately, we made a huge and hard decision…someone needed to be home. Because Kent had a daughter in high school, and because I had the more stable job on drillships rather than supply boats, I stayed in the industry. We’ve been doing it this way for nearly five years now, and Kent was an amazing stay-at-home Dad for his daughter during the last crucial years of high school, and is now pursuing his own passions in the fitness industry. I guess what I’m trying to tell you here is an echo of my advice earlier…don’t be afraid to take that road less traveled. Don’t be afraid to be the breadwinner. Don’t let anyone tell you that this isn’t what’s best for you. And that goes both ways: if you choose to leave the industry to start a family, don’t let anyone question that choice either. As women in a modern world, we have the choice to be who we want to be, not who society tells us to be.”
Thank you, Jessica! We greatly admire you and appreciate your talents! We wish you the best in your career!