Meet Alana Anderson from San Antonio, Texas. Alana is a graduate of Texas A&M Maritime Academy at Galveston and currently holds a USCG Unlimited Chief Mate License and a dynamic positioning certificate. At the time of this writing, Alana was on tour as Senior Dynamic Positioning Operator (SDPO) on a drill ship, owned by a major drilling contractor, in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.
As a SDPO on a drill ship, Alana is responsible for station keeping, meaning that she operates her vessel to stay within so many feet of a selected set point, such as above a well sitting on the sea floor. Her drill ship is impressive: At almost 800 feet long, it is capable of staying within 3-feet of a set point. During a 12-hour shift, Alana maneuvers and turns her ship for prevailing environmental and drilling conditions, while balancing the daily operational and power needs of her vessel. Her other duties include monitoring nearby vessel traffic, maintaining the ship’s stability, communicating over the Global Maritime Distress and Safety Systems (GMDSS), and initiating emergency management.
For nearly a decade, Alana has worked out on the water. Below, Alana opens up to Women Offshore about balancing a long-term career at sea, while raising a family. In her own words, here’s what Alana shared:
Alana, what inspired you to work on the water?
“I have always fancied myself a mermaid, as I just knew I would spend my life in, around, or on the water. I also thought I was destined to become a marine biologist, which led me to enroll at Texas A&M Galveston. I was excited to attend, but I was certain my mother ruined my last free summer when she signed me up for a ‘prep cruise’ aboard the Texas Clipper 2, in order to get a jump on my credits. Growing up in San Antonio, far away from shipping of any kind (and in thinking we had moved on to solely airplanes for the transportation of goods), imagine my surprise when I came aboard to discover the ship was crewed with students! Kids just like me learning to drive and maintain the ship as training for their career! As the summer wore on and I learned more about the program, the students, and of course going into port. I realized then, that I was ready for a major overhaul on my future career ideas.”
What challenges have you faced in your career?
“My challenges and my lessons learned have gone hand-in-hand throughout my career. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be balance. My longest running test of balance has been between my home and work lives. Early in my offshore career I struggled to balance work and falling in love with the man who would become my husband. I worked hard to prove myself as an able seaman, learn my role as a deck mate and find my place within my new crew. It was an eye-opening experience filled with people who were ready to help, those who were ready to dismiss me, and those who were ready to defend me. I loved the busy days, but as I became more comfortable with my duties during the day, I became less settled at night, when I had time to think about the time I was spending away from the man I married. I never found my balance as a young woman and cried as I made the decision to step away from the offshore life and become a stay-at-home mom.
My next challenge was finding my identity as I tried to balance the reality of being a mother and all of the training I was no longer using. I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be at home with my two boys, but when meeting new people I would always tell them I was a second mate when asked what I did for a living. I would immediately be ashamed and wonder why I didn’t say, “I am a stay-at-home mom?” I had always been an independent person and not bringing in a paycheck was uncomfortable for me. I realized that I missed working. More than that, I missed working on the water. I didn’t think there was room to return to the sea and give my children the mother they deserved. It took me three years to realize that I could be both a successful mariner and a loving mother.
Once the decision was made, I found it easy to return to work. I relished the mental challenges returning to the bridge brought me, the adult conversion, and the 12 hours away from the bridge that belonged only to me. The boys were young enough (2 & 4) that they didn’t find my coming and going unusual, and with the steady schedule my job provided, I had the free time to be closer to the mom I had intended to be.
I have to say that the work-home balance I enjoy now would not be possible without the support of my husband and our families. I have had to lean on every member of our family in order to maintain my career offshore. At times it feels incredibly selfish, but then I realize this is a part of who I am, and I would not be the person they love without it.”
What do you think can be done in your industry to encourage more women to pursue similar careers?
“I think the number one thing we can do to encourage more women to pursue a similar career path is to normalize it. I frequently hear, “I could never do that,” from other women and I always answer, “Of course you can! All you have to do is want to.” I would let them know that we are not special or some sort of outliers. We are simply hard-working women with the mental and emotional aptitude to work in a technical field, away from our families. I firmly believe that anyone who sets their mind to it can join me out here.”
Thank you, Alana, for sharing your career with us! We admire your work ethic and dedication to your job. We look forward to following your career, as you become a leader in the offshore energy industry.
The Women Offshore Foundation is an online organization and resource center for a diverse workforce on the water. Its mission is to propel women into meaningful careers through access to a worldwide community and professional development resources, while raising awareness amongst industry leaders and decision makers about issues affecting women on the water. Contact Women Offshore today: firstname.lastname@example.org.