Recently, the Coast Guard quietly passed a notable milestone: For the first time ever, more women were serving on small cutters than on large ones.
Although tallies often fluctuate, in May, 399 women were assigned to non-major cutters, while there were 389 women on major cutters, according to records kept by Enlisted Personnel Assignment Division Senior Chief Petty Officer Ramona Mason, the Coast Guard’s enlisted women afloat coordinator. Major cutters are classified as being 210 feet in length or more.
It was a noteworthy shift in a contest that large cutters had previously owned by default – they were the only platforms big enough to have separate sleeping quarters for male and female crews. Assignment numbers and billet distribution shift with each assignment year, and at the time of publication, the large cutter fleet is now back in the lead with 515 women underway, compared to 490 women on small cutters. But the fact that the numbers remain neck-and-neck is significant, Mason says, who expects to see the small fleet surge ahead again in the future.
“We’re trending in the right direction for [women],” she said. “A couple of years ago you wouldn’t have seen this, because women mainly had the choice of 210s or above. Now that we have more options underway, it’s nearly 50-50.”
Thanks to recent policy changes, new vessels, and modifications of existing cutters, women seeking to go afloat in the 2023 assignment year have never had more choices—not only in terms of ship and crew size, but in mission, whether they’ll be patrolling inland waters, or at sea. And that’s at both the junior and senior levels.
This expansion in opportunities has been driven in a large part by fleet recapitalization. All new cutters are being designed with mixed gender berthing. Already, Mason noted, there are more women (198) on the new 154-foot fast response cutters than on the 210-foot cutters that used to be their primary option (186). “That’s a huge win,” Mason said.
In recent years, Mason and others in the service have worked to find additional opportunities on legacy cutters, while the recapitalization efforts catch up with the demand for this area of sea duty, and the need for afloat time that aligns with member needs.
Many of these new options have come from conversions of existing platforms to accommodate men and women. Most recently, the Personnel Service Center (PSC) advocated for more opportunity to get women on New York’s 65-foot river tenders. This was achieved by converting the bulkhead, which formerly housed the executive petty officer (XPO), to quarter two women. The Coast Guard has also begun converting its 140-foot icebreaking tugboats so that women can serve on these cutters, as well. Coast Guard Cutter Mobile Bay is currently being converted, with completion expected summer 2022.
In addition, the service recently changed rating requirements to allow both machinery technicians (MK) and electrician mates (EM) to fill the engineering petty officer EPO role on all cutters, which also expanded the positions available to women.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Ayisha Loya is already reaping the benefits of expanded options for women afloat. As a machinery technician, Loya has logged two years afloat and knows she needs one more to advance to first class. After a successful tour aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Goldman as it transited to Bahrain, she decided to explore opportunities in the inland river fleet.
In February Loya began serving on the Coast Guard Cutter Wire, a 65-foot icebreaking tug stationed on the Hudson River. Rather than navigating across the ocean and looking for drug and weapons smugglers, she now focuses on keeping the waterway clear for commerce and taking care of aids to navigation (ATONs). She especially enjoys the chance to experience Coast Guard service close to home and try her hand at a new mission set.
“I feel lucky because the 65’s are super desirable boats,” she said. “You’re only underway for two to three days at a time, and there’s no cook, so you’re in charge of your own food. It’s not like you’re going offshore where you’ll lose contact with the outside world.”
While her family, at the moment, consists of two Labradors, Loya says she likes getting to see them more often and appreciates the flexibility of her new post. “This would be a perfect way for women with children to get the sea time they need and have a home life," she said. “I don’t think anyone is asking for a better opportunity. We just want equal ones.”
For more information about opportunities for women afloat contact Enlisted Personnel Assignment Division Senior Chief Petty Officer, Ramona Mason at (202)795-6573
Sea Duty Readiness Council (SDRC) initiatives to open opportunities for women on legacy black-hulls:
- Female berthing assemblies installed on 65-foot Construction Tenders (completed on Coast Guard Cutters Wire, Line, and Hawser as of February 2022)
- Female berthing conversion on 140-foot Bay Class Icebreaking Tugboat (Coast Guard Cutter Morro Bay currently undergoing work, expected completion Summer 2022)
- Policy change signed allowing women to serve on the six 65-foot Inland River Tenders (installation of a berthing area door, policy change allowing members of different genders to pass through each-other’s berthing to reach the head. Transiting through different-gender berthing is common aboard other cutter classes to conduct safety rounds, ect).