Offshore Life - A Man's World?
Updated: Feb 16
In 2016 I made the decision to leave the NHS full time and embark on an ambition I'd long held to work offshore.
I can't really tell you why I found it appealing. I guess I just like to do cool stuff that not many people get to do. And as a side effect, stuff that not many women do.
When I was a teenager I remember a tv series called 'Roughnecks'.
It was a bit cringey but at the time I thought it looked definitely interesting. While I was still working in horse racing, I started studying Geosciences with the Open University and started exploring different work avenues. That all got put aside though when I got into the ambulance service, so now I'm still offshore but in a different role - Offshore Medic.
The number of women working offshore in the energy industry is still pitifully low - just 4%. It's quite normal for me to be the only woman on a vessel or platform and as a rule, out of 100 people on board, only 4 or 5 will be women and most of those will be in admin or domestic roles.
"The number of women working offshore in the
energy industry is still pitifully low - just 4%."
Normand Clipper: Image, Charlotte Cunningham
I have met a couple of women who had slightly fancier roles, such as ROV pilot Charlotte Cunningham to took some awesome images of the Normand Clipper with her drone. And I have encountered project engineers and roughnecks who are women. There are several female offshore medics but this seems to be the only role where numbers are on the increase.
I have never encountered any issues offshore being female and it is actually a very pleasant, uncomplicated environment.
Towards the end of 2017 I got the job I had wanted for a long while - dive medic on a DSV, Bibby Polaris.
This involved doing medicals for saturation divers who lived in dive chambers for up to a month at a time and spent most of that time at depths between 90 and 110 metres.
It takes them around 4 days to come back to ambient pressure again and as well as looking after the vessel crew and contractors, I'm also there to manage any problems the divers may have.
Early this year (2018) I was keen to get onto a production platform. My opportunity came in March when I was sent to Norwich (no change out of a 6 hour drive) to fly to the Indefatigable field and join the 23 Alpha gas production platform. It was my first flight in an offshore helicopter and I felt a real knot in my stomach and an overwhelming sense of excitement, relief, who knows...but it had been my ambition for so long and now here I was, all dressed up in my survival suit and life jacket with EBS (Emergency Breathing System) walking out in among a full compliment of guys (no girls on this flight) and stepping onto the chopper.
The sea was like glass and was sparkling. We flew in glorious sunshine over huge wind farms and the various vessels down below left white streaks of wake behind them.
I strained to see out of the window to see the platform come into view.
Nope, not ours....next one....
The helicopters often do several pick ups from neighbouring platforms so I had to wait for our turn. (Right: Perenco's Inde 23A)
The chopper slows down to a crawl on the approach and the helideck crew surround the helicopter ready to pounce if something goes wrong.
I located my bags and an old gentleman kindly took one of them down the stairs for me. I thought this was just a bit of old fashioned chivalry and didn't mind...until I realised I was the only one with two bags! I had to keep one hand free for the hand rail so it was good to know I was an equal!
I loved my time on Inde 23A and the guys had been on there a long time and were super friendly and helpful.
It was a bit of an HSE role as well as medical so I muddled through what I could. On my last day the OIM (platform boss) sprang an 'Emergency' drill on us and myself and the first aid and fire team were heading over to the middle platform to deal with an injury following a gas leak.
It was good fun and I was sad to leave.
I appeared to be up and running and as my ambulance shifts got fewer and fewer, my job opportunities offshore increased. I did a short stint on a 'Walk to Work' vessel Island Condor, which acted as accommodation for several platforms in the south North Sea.
I then headed off on a horse riding holiday in Morocco to take a well earned break, before boarding the Normand Clipper and then heading to the platform 'Brae Bravo' for Marathon Oil.
I'm thoroughly enjoying the offshore life and am always amazed at how different the environmental concerns are now to several decades ago. The oil and gas industry is now making hug efforts to be as clean as possible, many with 'zero discharge' policies and many of the vessels I have been on have been designated the some of the cleanest in the world.
I was fascinated when watching the ROV tvs at the amount of sea life homing in on the wells and the rig jackets. on one platform, the jacket (steel support legs) had 30 years worth of hard coral growth and was basically now a coral reef. The life down there was incredible.
Right: A ling makes itself at home in an abandoned well, at 110m depth.
As we speak, I am on board the well known Claymore platform in the North Sea, having just finished a week on a Semi-Submersible exploration vessel. The food is fantastic and I'm made to feel very welcome. I'm in the gym every day which is something I just couldn't do when I was working in excess of 12 hour shifts on the ambulances.
Not long now til I'm back on dry land and back in the water! If that makes sense....
It's been a busy summer and there is still plenty on my to do list. Stay tuned for more, including our most recent cave diving exploration.