River travel through the UK’s capital is an increasingly popular form of transport. Thousands of people use the River Thames each day to get make their way across London but few – you’d imagine – give much thought to those providing the vital service to the city.
Operating one the river boat services on the Thames is MBNA Thames Clippers. The company – which has a collective bargaining agreement in place with Nautilus for members serving onboard – provides commuter transport links for around 8,500 passengers a day and run craft every 20 minutes between key London piers including North Greenwich for The O2, Greenwich, Canary Wharf, Tower, London Bridge, Embankment and London Eye for Waterloo.
Passengers board one of the river craft at one of the city’s piers and – under the expert stewardship of the crews onboard – navigate the river safely to their desired location. It’s a highly skilled job, but thanks to an in-house training programme, younger mariners have the opportunity to make the step up to senior positions quicker than they may elsewhere.
One of those to have already earned her master’s licence is Joy McGlinchey. At just 24 years of age she is the company’s youngest – and only female – master, and she told the Telegraph how hard work and dedication got her to the position she’s in today.
‘I had a normal education,’ said Joy. ‘I finished my GCSEs and had a basic Saturday job in a florist. Back in 2007/08 my dad started tours from Embankment Pier. I started working with him doing a bit of everything really; from PR and marketing to working on the boats.’
After those early introductions to the river service, Joy made the seamless switch to Thames Clippers. Starting out as a deckhand, she worked her way up the ranks and earned a place on the company’s training programme.
‘It was when I started working for my dad that I really thought this career was something that I’d like to do on a bigger scale,’ explained Joy. ‘My dad’s boats only hold 12 passengers, but our largest craft hold 220. My dad pushed me ever since and said if I wanted to do it that I should go for it.
‘I got the position of deckhand in 2010 which was just assisting the mates in their duty – so things like mooring procedures and getting the vessel’s ready. I progressed to mate around a year and a half after,’ she recalled. ‘Then I became a permanent mate and I did that for around three years. Whilst becoming a mate I applied – and was successful – for an in-house training programme that Thames Clippers has.’
That training programme was the start of Joy’s journey. The MBNA Thames Clippers Internal BML (Boat Master Licence) course covers a wide variety of subjects, including navigations, locks and bridges, rope work and bridge watch keeping. After passing the relevant exams, participants sit a local knowledge endorsement test set by the Port of London Authority as well as receiving passenger endorsements.
After 18-months of gruelling revision sessions and passing the challenging exams, Joy got her master’s licence – enabling her to command vessels for the company and carry up to 250 passengers on any one trip.
Yet despite the extensive training, taking her first steps onboard as master felt slightly odd -- making Joy feel somewhat like a rebellious teenager. ‘It took about a year and a half whilst I was a mate to study to get all my licences,’ she said. ‘Back in January 2015 I got everything and was let loose.’
‘For the course we had to do chart work. Then we had oral exams and a practical exam onboard. The course did everything from checking the vessels to the master’s responsibility. It was really varied and it gave me an insight into all the potential for larger vessels and seagoing vessels as well.
‘The first time I was let loose on a boat it felt really wrong. When you’re a mate you always have a captain with you. I felt like I was doing something really naughty, like taking your parent’s car without their permission,’ she said. ‘I certainly had a few butterflies doing it. But within three days I got into the swing of things. Sometimes you don’t realise it’s all passengers downstairs and you just get into the routine.’
Those early nerves are now a thing of the past and Joy is enjoying what the role has to offer. With the crews working a three-on/two-off shift system, which could be either mornings or evenings, it makes the work interesting and reactive to the city’s needs.
‘If you work morning I get up drive to work and then get onboard the vessel and complete the daily checks. During that we make sure the vessel is suitable for service and then we’ll commence our service form our departure points. We have loads of different routes and timetables. Our larger boats have four crew members: the captain, the mate, the deck hand and the barista.
‘The night shifts are slightly different and depends what’s going on at the O2 arena. We can wait for Bon Jovi to finish one night or the end of the ATP tennis and wait for the tennis players to go home. It’s quite varied.’
Unsurprisingly Thames Clippers is extremely proud of Joy’s meteoric rise up the ranks and rightfully hold her in high regard.
Sean Collins, the company’s CEO and co-founder, said: ‘We are incredibly proud to have Joy as a member of the team. She has shown unprecedented drive to progress in her role and we are excited to see her continue to succeed. Staff investment and training and development are very important to us and to me personally, so to see those who start with us as a deck hand and work their way up to master really does fill me with immense pride.’
The feeling is mutual as well – as Joy is keen to point out – and she lays a lot of her own personal success firmly at the door of the company which has helped her along the way. Now she says that she hopes that other young women can look at what she’s been able to achieve and follow suit in an industry still hugely dominated by men.
‘I’m really proud to achieve my masters,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have been able to have achieved it if it wasn’t for MBNA Thames Clippers in-house training programme. It would have taken a lot longer to have done it myself. To try and work and study at the same time would have been really difficult if it wasn’t for the support they gave me. It’s something I don’t think I’d have been able to achieve myself.’
‘I really hope my story can be seen as something for other young women to look up to. When I first started with the company there were only two female crew members who worked here: a mate and a master. The other master has gone now so I’m currently now the only female master at MBNA Thames Clippers.
‘The lack of information for young women and not being able to contact people in the role or higher positions who can say this is what you need to do does cause a problem,’ Joy added. ‘I hope by having more females in the industry it can inspire other people to follow in our footsteps.
‘In the future I see myself as still being part of the marine industry; with MBNA,’ she said. ‘There’s been lots of opportunities here from senior masters to office and shore-based positions. The possibilities are there for all different routes. At the moment I just want to concentrate on being on the boats. It’s what I’m enjoying -- and long may it continue.’
Published in the Nautilus Telegraph October 2016 member magazine
Images credit: Thames Clippers