On board a tugboat, a maritime pilot and her daughter navigate together. Today, we explore this chance opportunity for a mother-daughter duo to sail on the same vessel in the 98% male-dominated maritime industry.
A woman in the maritime industry is a pioneer. On most vessels during her career, a woman will be one of the only females on board. Of the 1.6 million seafarers worldwide, there are approximately 32,000 women sailing the high seas and inland waterways; women making up just 2% of the industry.
Women Offshore recently learned of a female maritime pilot who received an assignment to pilot an articulated tug and barge (ATB) out to sea. On board that ATB, the pilot’s daughter – also, the third mate – was standing the navigational watch. Together, this dynamic duo sailed the 700-foot ATB away from a pier and through the Houston Ship Channel.
Meet Maritime Pilot, Captain Sherri Hickman
Maritime Pilot, Captain Sherri Hickman grew up in Milford, Pennsylvania. At a young age, she was inspired to work on the water after observing ships in the New York Harbor. Upon graduating high school, Sherri attended Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nautical Science. Since graduating in 1985, Captain Sherri achieved her ultimate career goals: An Unlimited Master’s License and a slot as a Branch Pilot of the Houston Ship Channel. Captain Sherri has been a maritime pilot for 23 years.
To become a pilot, Captain Sherri trained for years to maneuver ships in congested waterways. At any time of day, she is prepared to navigate a ship on Houston’s 530-feet wide, 45-foot deep, 50-mile long waterway.
As a pilot, Captain Sherri Hickman is a navigational expert of the Houston Ship Channel. When on duty, she meets a ship, by way of a small boat, to then maneuver that ship to or from a berth at a pier. Docking a ship requires teamwork between Captain Sherri, the ship’s captain and crew, port tugs, and shore linesmen.
Her Daughter, Third Officer Coronado
Twenty-seven years after Captain Sherri graduated from MMA, her daughter, Coronado, enrolled in the Academy to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Two years post-graduation, Coronado is a third officer aboard a 700-foot articulated tug and barge (ATB) in the Gulf of Mexico. Her vessel, ATB Liberty, is a 16,320 HP tugboat that is connected by two pins to a 600-foot tank barge that can hold 327,000 barrels of petroleum products.
As a third officer, Coronado’s duties include transferring cargo to and from the barge from a port facility dock. This can be a challenging duty for any mate, requiring one to plan ahead to ensure the vessel and environment are safe. According to Coronado, there is a lot to monitor while cargo operations are happening. “Ballast has to be either taken on or discharged off, while loading/discharging cargo simultaneously, including making sure the bending moments (stresses) of the barge are staying in check along with your list and trim.”
A Chance to Work Together
Earlier this year, it was a day on duty like any other. Captain Sherri’s office called her with a ship assignment, “Captain Hickman, we have a sailing for you…1600 off of Bostco 1, ATB LIBERTY going to sea.”
As soon as she heard it, Captain Sherri knew exactly who was on that ATB. Her first thoughts: “That’s my daughter’s vessel. How flipping awesome!” This would be their first opportunity to navigate together. Captain Sherri grabbed her gear, including bagels for the crew, to then greet the crew of the ATB Liberty. Mother and daughter at home, and now, pilot and mate together on the water.
Just out of her bunk for the 16:00-20:00 watch, Coronado was caught by surprise to see her mother headed up the gangway. She had navigated the Houston Ship Channel twelve times over the previous two years; always with other pilots, never once seeing her mother at work. Third Officer Coronado transmitted over the UHF radio that the pilot was on board, joking, “I think I’ve seen her around a time or two.”
The ATB Liberty’s Master, Captain John Carraway, then met Captain Sherri on the bridge. He informed her that, rather than him, he’d like for Third Officer Coronado and Captain Sherri to “maneuver off dock together” and that he would capture the historical moment.
This was a learning experience Third Officer Coronado will never forget. “For one, it was the first time I had ever been in charge of the sticks while being alongside the dock. And two, it was all by my mom’s side. While we were waiting for all the lines to come in, my mom started explaining to me each step and why she was pushing or having the tugs pull in a certain way. That information was invaluable to me as a third mate.” Valuable knowledge passed from pilot to mate, mother to daughter.
After the endeavor, Captain Sherri continued to beam with pride. “I cannot tell you how much pride I felt on that bridge wing with my daughter standing by my side taking the controls and following my commands. So professional, even though I’m her mom. You just can’t make this stuff up. I knew her late father, who was a marine chief engineer, was looking down on us with his heart swelling with pride and love as well.”
Both Captain Sherri and Third Mate Coronado are thankful for the experience. Coronado is honored by the trust Captain Carraway placed upon her. Captain Sherri added, “I also can’t thank Captain Carraway enough for allowing us this opportunity and for capturing the moment. A parent can only hope that their child grows up healthy, happy and successful. After this experience, I know that’s where my child stands.” The first mother and daughter to graduate from the cadet program at Maine Maritime Academy was already a remarkable achievement, that they had worked together on the water was a historical moment for the books.
A Family’s Calling: A Career at Sea
As for her future, Coronado plans on sailing for a while, enjoying the benefits of working half the year, “There are not many jobs out there that you can say you work half the year and can do pretty much whatever you want in your time off.” Perhaps one day, Coronado will sit for an exam to become a maritime pilot, just like her mother. For now, she’s enjoying the challenges and dynamic environment on board an ATB – something her mother can now say she did alongside her daughter.
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.
Wow, this makes my heart swell. After 8 years at sea, I, like so many of us who’ve been there, know exactly why life aboard leaves – or pushes – so many women ashore. We are pioneers but it is time to say the period of pioneering is behind us – we know the difficulty, let’s make it easier and change that percentage.
Thank you, Joan! We couldn’t agree more! It’s time for the tide to change!
I love stories of strong, competent female rolemodels!
Thank you! So do we!
So inspiring! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for stopping by Gina! We are glad you enjoyed it!
She is very professional and skillful Pilot! I had personally worked with Captain Hickman and Captain Taylor, both female on 19th April 2018 when our vessel had a blackout in Houston Ship Channel. We are lucky to have both female Pilot onboard and Captain Hickman as advisor during emergency, our vessel was safe. Thanks a lot!
Excellent! Glad to hear your ship was safe! Fair winds and following seas!
It’s likely Sherri doesn’t remember me, But we met years ago at the manned model shiphandling school in France. I believe it was about 1996. She and I were both apprentice pilots about the same level in training. Sherri was there with one other apprentice and two senior pilots from Houston. Needless to say with these four individuals being all good friends from Texas, it was a week of fun, filled with lots of friendly professional provoking & “banter” out on the lake each day. I was hugely impressed with Sherri ‘holding her own’ in the company of these other good ‘ol boys. But clearly to me, even back then, she had gained an impressive amount of well deserved respect from her senior pilot friends from Houston. Important to point out that at that time, women employed as State Pilots were still a new thing and likely could be counted on one hand.
Glad to see she is doing well. Both her daughter and mine are the same age . This article truly reminded me of the passage of time, how it zooms by with hardly a notice.
Hi Ed! Good old France. Thank you for the kind words. I’m actually sitting on a ship that is not ready to sail!
So proud of you and Coronado!!! What a gift you have given her and how proud she has earned it!!
Loved it, I got emotional …!
Thanks for sharing such a rich moment with us, Ally!
All the best to the Hickman family s2 !!!
Came across this accidentally.Good to see you again and know you and your daughter are well. Stay safe out there and hope to see you again someday.
My vessel had the pleasure of the captain taking us out to sea, where she shared the story of her daughters name with us. If i Remember correctly, it was the vessel on which she had met her late husband.
Great story! Even greater to see a WOMAN as a pilot