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America's first female captain of a mega cruise ship has been at sea for 310 days. She wouldn't want it any other way.

INSIDER logoINSIDER 10/12/2020 shoeller@businessinsider.com (Sophie-Claire Hoeller)
a drawing of a person: Insider Graphics © Insider Graphics Insider Graphics a person sitting at a table in front of a window: Kate McCue was the first female captain of a mega cruise ship. Celebrity Cruises © Celebrity Cruises Kate McCue was the first female captain of a mega cruise ship. Celebrity Cruises
  • Kate McCue, captain of the 2,918-passenger Celebrity Edge, is the first American female captain of a mega cruise ship.
  • She's among only 2% of the world's female mariners and hopes to inspire other women to follow in her footsteps.
  • She says Celebrity Cruises went from having a 3% female bridge team when she started in 2015 to over 27% today.
  • McCue is on Insider's list of Luminaries: 25 women pushing boundaries and accomplishing extraordinary feats. Check out the full list here.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

"Everything's better on the ship. You know, this real world sucks," Captain Kate McCue told Insider back in December 2019.

"I would prefer five months on to two weeks off. That would be fine," she said about her work schedule, which has her on call for three months straight before she gets three months of time off.

Amid a global pandemic that brought the cruise industry to a screeching halt, she just might have gotten her wish and then some. In a late September interview, McCue, the first American female captain of a mega cruise ship, revealed that she was currently on her 284th day at sea.

But she doesn't mind. McCue loves her job — so much so that she's made it her goal to get more women to follow in her footsteps.

A trip to the Bahamas when she was 12 inspired her to work in the cruise industry

a person standing in front of a large ship in a body of water: She's been at anchor at CocoCay in the Bahamas since March. Celebrity Cruises © Provided by INSIDER She's been at anchor at CocoCay in the Bahamas since March. Celebrity Cruises

McCue is the captain of the Celebrity Edge, a 2,918-passenger cruise ship. In 2015, when she was named the captain of a slightly smaller ship — the 2,158-passenger Celebrity Summit — she became the first American woman (and fifth woman overall) to command a mega cruise ship.

Originally from San Francisco, McCue, 42, moved around a lot as a child thanks to her dad's job as an engineer. She traces her interest in cruise ships back to a family vacation to the Bahamas when she was 12. Afterward, she told her dad she wanted to be a cruise director when she grew up, to which he replied, "You can do anything you want, including drive the thing."

She attended Cal Maritime, where her father once dreamt of going. Encouraged by him, she got a degree in business administration, as well as a license to sail "anything from a tugboat to a supertanker," she said.

She then worked her way up the ladder, putting in her days at sea. It took her 19 years from the time she started working on ships to becoming a captain in 2015.

She likens the job of captain to that of a CEO, as the Celebrity Edge is a $1.2 billion business

Chelsea Clinton et al. posing for the camera: McCue and Chelsea Clinton. Celebrity Cruises © Celebrity Cruises McCue and Chelsea Clinton. Celebrity Cruises

While some people assume that the job entails nothing but hours spent looking out to sea while pushing around a large wooden steering wheel, that's not what McCue's days consist of. 

She's in charge of all the ship's department heads, who report directly to her and include a chief engineer, a hotel director, a staff captain responsible for security and ship maintenance, and a human-resources manager. 

She spends her days in meetings with these department heads, leading various inspections of the ship, doing paperwork, and participating in events with guests and crew. 


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"The best part about my job is there is no such thing as an average day," she said. "Whether it's people that you have onboard, the places that you are in, or even the weather, everything changes, so you're not ever going to have the same day twice, which is really cool."

The only constant with her is that she's usually up at 6 a.m. for a morning workout, takes a nap every afternoon in case something comes up late at night, and is otherwise in bed by 10 p.m. She also goes cold turkey when it comes to drinking while she's on call, which is typically 24/7 for three months at a time.

Her long-term focus is to get more female representation on board, and she calls social media her "biggest tool" 

a group of people posing for the camera: McCue and her all-woman bridge and officer team. Celebrity Cruises © Celebrity Cruises McCue and her all-woman bridge and officer team. Celebrity Cruises

She recently started a TikTok and YouTube channel to give people a behind-the-scenes look at her life at sea, and often shares glimpses on her Instagram, where she had 180,000 followers at the time of writing.

"I think you have to see it to be it," she said. "I'm really focusing on putting the message out there of what the job is, what the opportunities are, and how you can get there," she said, adding that she gets tons of comments from people saying they didn't realize this was a career option.

She says Celebrity Cruises went from having a 3% female bridge team when she started in 2015 to over 27% today.

The last cruise she captained before the pandemic featured an all-woman bridge and officer team in honor of International Women's Day. While a few have since switched out, most of her bridge team is still female. "When I hear a male voice on the bridge, it throws me now," she said.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, McCue has been working since December, and won't go home to Nevada and her husband until October 16

a person standing in front of a wall: McCue has been working since December. Celebrity Cruises © Celebrity Cruises McCue has been working since December. Celebrity Cruises

She's been at anchor at CocoCay in the Bahamas alongside 20 other ships since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a no-sail order on March 14, which was recently extended through October 31.

Despite having only a skeleton crew — and no guests onboard — McCue and her team are busy. "We have to make sure that we keep [the ship] in ship shape, so when we do get that green light to go back in service we are ready to rock it," she said.

The Celebrity Edge is also the "dedicated mothership," meaning that she commandeers it into Miami, Florida, every two weeks to pick up provisions for it and the surrounding ships, and to repatriate or switch out crew members.

The ship strictly adheres to CDC guidelines despite most people on it having been together for over six months. "We call it 'protecting the bubble' because we've had no cases, knock on wood, and we will do everything to make sure we're safe," she said.

McCue believes that putting a personal spin on your job is the key to success

a group of people in a room: "Inject your personality into your job, it gives you an advantage." she advises. Celebrity Cruises © Celebrity Cruises "Inject your personality into your job, it gives you an advantage." she advises. Celebrity Cruises

She's among only 2% of the world's female mariners, but believes in the beauty of diversity on cruise ships — her crew alone comprises 75 nationalities.

"We're all a different race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, whatever it is," she said. "And because we're all so different, it makes us so similar."

Her advice to other women breaking into the cruise industry? "Don't follow in my footsteps, make your own path," she said, adding that she created her own rule book since there was none. 

"I hope that when people look at me, they see that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, you put in the time, the effort, and have a good attitude," she said. "Inject your personality into your job, it gives you an advantage — you're bringing something unique and special to the table that people probably aren't used to, and they're going to appreciate that."

 

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