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Ringing in the changes

For Kiwi yachtie Jenny Matthews, setting out to break the mould and become a superyacht captain seemed the most natural thing in the world. Turns out, Matthews has since also become a leading advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion in yachting, founding two key organisations along the way.

Written by Charlotte Thomas

05 June 2024


Jenny Matthews has never been one to sit idle. Born and raised in New Zealand, where she says most of the population has a little salt in their veins, Matthews got to know the oceans when she took up rowing at age 12. “My parents would probably say I was a very independent and driven child,” she says.

“When I got involved in rowing, it pretty much encompassed my entire childhood, and I admit it didn’t leave much space for anything else! It also cemented my connection with the ocean because we were out there on the water every single morning.”

It wasn’t until she turned 18 and was considering studying commerce at university, however, that the idea of superyachting was seeded, thanks entirely to the people in the house next door to her parents.

“I noticed they had a really nice house,” she smiles, “so I knocked on the door and asked them what they did for a living.


“The man told me he was a superyacht captain and his wife was a chief stewardess. I had no idea what they were talking about, but I was so interested, we spent the whole afternoon talking. He shared the ups and downs with me, and by the end of the afternoon, my mind was made up. I wasn’t going to uni – I was going to become a superyacht captain.”

Her neighbour had made it very clear it would be a challenge for her – traditionally, women followed the interior career path rather than working on deck.

“I went in knowing it would probably be a lot more challenging for me to climb the ladder,” Matthews admits, “but he steered me in the right direction. I did my Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) certificate and became a divemaster to try and make myself more employable.

“Then I went to the south of France, but didn’t find any work. It’s still pretty challenging these days,” she adds, “but back then no-one wanted to hire women on deck.”

Instead, she found a job in the interior of a yacht and then asked the captain to show her the ropes on deck, so to speak. “He was incredible,” she beams. “He was pretty determined to help me get into the right department, and I got there.

“It’s quite funny,” she continues, “because I met up with him about 10 years later when I was a first officer, and he was so glad I had followed that path – he also said it was just as well as I was a terrible stewardess!”

Once on track to reach her goal, working on deck, Matthews says she rarely thought about being a female in that role – it wasn’t until she got her Officer of the Watch ticket that it hit her. “I had so many people congratulating me,” she says, “but I also kept hearing that there were fewer than 10 women in the industry with that qualification.

“I was 28 and had this realisation that I’d never worked with another female on deck or in the engineering department, and I’d only ever heard of one female captain. So, I reached out on social media via the Girls on Deck Facebook group, and that’s when the surprise happened – we had women from all over the world saying, ‘I’m a captain,’ and ‘I’m a first officer,’ or ‘I’m working my way up!’ It was really incredible and quite moving for a lot of us to know we weren’t alone.”

Matthews was inspired by the stories of these women and their passion for what they were doing. “I basically didn’t sleep for three weeks – I Googled how to build a website,” she remembers. “And I thought, this is huge; we’re going to change something in the future.”

And so, She of the Sea was born – a platform and community for female deck crew and engineers to share knowledge, inspire the next generation and remove barriers.

One of the first people to reach out was another female first officer, Natasha Ambrose, and the two immediately connected. Ambrose had not only overcome the challenges of a deck career, she had also overcome cancer, and this resilience and strength in her personal life are both reflected in her career. Ambrose has become central to the organic development of She of the Sea and also to its follow-on, Legasea.

“For Legasea, we realised that while the conversation of gender is extremely important, there are so many other areas that require our attention, not just because they’re important but because when we focus on them, the whole industry benefits,” Matthews says. “We evolved the gender conversation and focused on what it would look like to leave the industry better than we found it.

“All of Legasea’s programs are about the talent pipeline. It’s about how we attract talent, how we cultivate it, and how we match people with the support they need to release their full potential. How do we connect the shore and the seafaring sides of our industry to get that knowledge flowing? And how do we leave something behind us when it’s time to finally swallow the anchor?

“A really big part is the Legasea Mentoring Program,” she adds. “In our first intake in 2021, we had 80 participants, and in our most recent intake in the 2022 program, we had over 200. From that, we vetted them down and were able to bring in 160 mentors and mentees representing a huge cross-section of the entire industry.”

From her ongoing studies that are taking her ever closer to becoming a superyacht captain to her work promoting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the industry, Matthews embodies everything positive the superyacht industry offers, and she’s a beacon shining a light on the opportunities available to people across the spectrum if they’re prepared to work hard toward their goal.

While her work is ongoing, she has already been recognised as an industry spokesperson at forums and symposiums around the world, and was a recipient of a Bowsprit award at the 2023 edition of The Honours – an event organised by The Superyacht Life Foundation and the Monaco Yacht Show that seeks to recognise the exceptional and inspiring people in the superyacht industry who are creating change in the industry and beyond.

“What I love about She of the Sea and Legasea, and this broader conversation of diversity, equity and inclusion, is that it won’t be a scary thought for those coming into the industry now,” she enthuses.

“I feel so honoured and driven to be part of that conversation, whether it’s about orientation, gender, race, ethnicity or socio-economic background – we’re working toward an industry where these are no longer barriers that we have to waste energy on overcoming when we could be focusing on having incredible careers, creating amazing experiences for owners and evolving as an industry instead.”



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