Steering her life in a man’s world | HEROES

Seismic Navigator Caroline Forster shares with Atlas, anecdotes from her 20-years of rich offshore experience and why she thinks it’s important to promote women in the industry.
Caroline Forster lives in a small fishing town in the northeast of England, the same place she was born in 43 years ago. While she grew up having some awareness of the oil industry, being a seismic navigator was never on her list when people asked her about career ambitions. Having worked offshore for over 20 years now, she proudly says that she made the right choice by listening to the high school teacher who noticed her love for the outdoors and steered Caroline towards being a land surveyor. 

Equipped with a degree in land surveying and knowledge about GPS Caroline soon realised that she would be working in the cold, wet UK and starting on a low salary - an unwelcoming proposition. So, when international offshore companies came up with a job offer, she jumped at the chance. She shares, “A lot of offshore companies came and said, we need people who know GPS to be surveyors. So, I kind of fell into the offshore industry, tempted by the prospect of worldwide travel. But it wasn’t in seismic, it was doing various roles in dredging and cable laying, construction type of things. I did that for a couple of years before moving into seismic industry in 2004.” As a seismic navigator, Caroline is responsible for the safe and efficient positioning of the vessel and the towed equipment. She ensures the streamers and sources are placed to collect seismic data as required and that accurate positional data is produced.

Navigating through choices 

After working with a Houston-based company as their permanent employee for 10 years, Caroline started contracting in 2014 – to be in better control of her schedule and life, she shares, “I usually only work 2 or 3 trips per year, which last about six weeks and like working via Atlas as they are accommodating and have appreciated my need to take extended breaks. They have always provided work when I have wanted and needed, it’s one of the reasons I have stayed with them.” 

Being one of the guys 

As an experienced seismic navigator, positioning herself in a field dominated by men is still a challenge. “I don't get the same hassle as I did when I was 21 and new to the industry., however there are still challenges and assumptions to overcome. For instance, when I’m joining a new crew – I still get questions like, “Are you a stewardess?”, or “Don't you want to stay at home and raise a family?”. Having the right attitude, helps in any job setting, she feels, “The atmosphere offshore is informal and no matter who you are, a good sense of humour and a thick skin can take you a long way. I always feel welcomed as part of the crew and I especially enjoy meeting people from all over the world who have varied lifestyles, interests, and opinions. I have made some lifelong friends through work as you really get the chance to bond with people in that environment.”

Opening new doors

Vessels are getting newer, nicer and a lot more accommodating for women. “For example, there are often single berth cabins and sometimes separate changing rooms provided, which is very much welcomed,” she affirms. The next step is to make the inroads to the industry more visible. “I met a stewardess on a vessel recently and she was surprised to meet me and my colleague in the seismic department. She never knew there were opportunities to work offshore without being part of the galley or housekeeping team” Caroline shares. 

There is a wide range of possibilities to work offshores without even being technical. It’s just about laying the choices in front of the future workforce. Just like Atlas, who connects with and inspires the future generation of professionals through its Renewables Roadshow, guest lectures and interactive presentations at schools, colleges  and universities, Caroline feels responsible for spreading awareness about the offshore industry. “Each year, I go to my local primary school and talk to children about my life offshore because when I was growing up, I only knew of jobs like a banker, a teacher, a doctor – the people you see as a kid, I never knew this profession existed. I tell the girls they can do the same jobs as the guys; I think the only thing that puts them off is when I tell them that you get chocolate only once a week.” Well, the secret is to carry your own stash, just like Caroline does. 

Plotting the next course 

After some challenging projects all over the globe and just getting back from an Atlas assignment in Canada, we ask her what’s next on her radar and she says, “There are still so many things I would like to do and places I would like to visit, my job has taken me all over the world from the Barents Sea to The Tasman Seam, The Gulf of Mexico to Malaysia but I have still not been through one of the big canals, Panama or Suez, and I think it would be cool to experience that,” she signs off.