Latest News

Women of Gold Coast Boating

Women of Gold Coast Boating

Women have become very active in recreational boating in many ways—whether as support crew or as skipper, or in a solo navigation of the world. On the Gold Coast, it is not a surprise to see more and more women at the helm or actively boating with family or friends, or even being in the business of boating. In this feature, we write about Gold Coast women whose passion for boating shows in their choice of career, business and lifestyle. All of them grew up in a boating environment, and have continued to live a life around boating. They love the outdoors, they love the water, they love boating, and they love the Gold Coast. These women exemplify how this passion goes beyond age and gender.

Meet Carlie Simon, Jessica Watson, Heidi Van Woerden, Nitsa Kerr, Keryn Spriggs and Corinne Johnston–the Gold Coast women of boating.


Women in GC Boating_Carlie Simon 

CARLIE SIMON, Apprentice, Riviera Australia Pty. Ltd.

A girl with big dreams in the boating industry, Carlie is currently an apprentice at Riviera Boats. She is very interested in the electrical field. “Electricity is one of the biggest things in the world—like magic,” she says. “So when the opportunity for an apprenticeship with Riviera Australia became available through school, it sounded like a great way for me to get into the industry.”

Carlie enjoys boating with her friends. She is a fan of the Gold Coast waterways and believes that the city is a boating mecca.

As a young child, Carlie has had the privilege to set foot at the Riviera factory. “As children we used to go to Riviera with Mum and Dad who would do deliveries on a regular basis,” she recalls. “We would get to admire the big, beautiful boats, and sometimes step aboard to inspect them on the marina. The people at Riviera have always been friendly and we loved coming here to the factory.”

Carlie has chosen the boating industry to pursue a career. For her, the industry offers great people, great opportunity for a trade, and a terrific chance to work on the Gold Coast. Riviera has given her the prospect of continuing a career that deals with electrical systems in boats. “I am able to install the cutting-edge systems that make boating so much easier and more accessible for Riviera and Belize owners, and aspiring owners. Systems like C-Zone digital switching—that enable easy control and monitoring of on-board systems all in one place—greatly enhance owners’ time on board.”

Being female in a generally male-dominated industry does not matter to Carlie. She does say that there are instances where being a female is an advantage. She explains, “It’s fair to say the males are more conscious of the way they spoke in normal conversations around me. And this has to be positive for the workplace. I believe females are more attentive to the smaller details and are a bit more clean and organised about the way they go about their work. Overall, though, both males and females suit this field.”

Carlie’s goal is to continue and complete her apprenticeship with Riviera Australia, and to ultimately be involved in design. “I hope to become an electrical technician and to travel to many countries to assist in the service or maintenance of boat systems. Also, another aspiration is to one day be involved with the design the electrical layouts for Riviera Australia.”

It may be a long journey, but Carlie is headstrong about what she wants. In the industry she works in, she understands the challenges. She advises other young people, “Do whatever you’re inspired to do, there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like what you’re doing. Two years on since beginning my apprenticeship, I’m doing just as well as all the male apprentices in my workplace and I am really enjoying the journey.”


Women in GC Boating_Jessica Watson

JESSICA WATSON OAM, Youngest person to sail non-stop unassisted around the world in 2010 at the age of 16

She is an inspiration to young aspiring sailors for achieving a sailing feat at the age of 16. She is a well-known personality around the sailing circles. And with so much ahead, her passion for sailing has not fizzled.

Jessica showed unbelievable courage when she sailed around the world by herself, but she admits that sailing scared her when she started. “Mum and Dad sent me and my siblings along to the Southport Yacht Club to learn to sail when I was eight years old,” she recalls. “It surprises a lot of people to hear that I was scared of sailing in the early days, but I soon came to enjoy the challenge. I also wanted to be like my older sister who was a natural sailor.”

Jessica’s love for boating and sailing continues to grow, as she pursues work that still involves these activities. “These days, I love sailing and boating more than ever! In addition to a great appreciation for wooden boats, I love to sail dinghies on the weekends, and I’m lucky to have mates with different kinds of boats all around the country. I have just started working with, a website that enables boat owners to review marine businesses and cruising locations.”

For her, the sailing and boating communities are generous, down-to-earth, and full of interesting stories. She also believes that the word-of-mouth culture among boaties is still alive and well as there will always be people who are willing to share information on local conditions. The support of the boating and sailing communities that has been given her is also something that motivates her to give back. “The boating industry and community has been very supportive of my adventures, and I want to support and assist boaties and marine business owners. I want to see more people enjoying sailing, and I want to support some of the amazing local clubs and associations that form the backbone of Australian sailing.”

Being a female sailor is not an issue with Jessica. When she was younger, she did feel that her gender affected how people treated her. She says, “When I was younger, I often felt overlooked as people didn’t expect a young girl to be experienced with boats. But overall I’ve had a really positive experience and gained a lot of support.”

The advantages of having females in sailing and boating cannot be overstated. According to Jessica, “Girls bring a totally different attitude and skillset to sailing and boating. Provided everyone learns to work well together—and this can be a challenge—I believe that a team made up of both girls and guys will outperform single-gender teams. In other industries, it is well documented that gender diversity increases performance, and I can’t see why boating should be any different.”

For young people who are interested, she has this to say: “I’ve always found that a shared interest in sailing is a great way to bring people of any gender together. If you love sailing and boating, it’s very easy to fit in.”

Although she strongly believes that gender is not a factor in building a career or business in sailing or boating, she says that she actually worries for the guys. “This new generation of girls learning to sail and working in the marine industry is going to be a force to reckon with in the future.”

*Jessica has also released a new novel, Indigo Blue


Women in GC Boating_Heidi Van Woerden

HEIDI VAN WOERDEN, Owner and director, Gold Coast Marine Training (Runaway Bay), Freelance skipper

As a small child, Heidi had her first sailing experience strapped in a baby pouch on her father’s chest. “My Dad was the skipper of the Maxi Yacht Apollo in the 1980’s and he took me on a sailing regatta in Sydney Harbour.” From then on, it was a life in boating that she would live.

“Due to my parent’s involvement with competitive yacht racing, I had the privilege of being involved in boating throughout my upbringing,” Heidi explains. As soon as she graduated from high school, she decided to move north to work on commercial vessels to gain sea time. “By the time I was 22, I had my Master Class 5 and MED 3 licenses. So now, I also do some freelance skippering work on various vessels.”

For Heidi, the Gold Coast has so much to offer for boaties. “There are so many places to visit by boat. Even when it is blowing up to 30 knots, there are still beautiful protected beaches and resorts to visit. I usually spend the day up at the beaches and dunes at Jumpinpin on the northern side of South Stradbroke Island, followed by some ice cold beverages at Tipplers or Couran Cove in the afternoon on the way home. You just can’t beat the Gold Coast weather!”

Being a woman in her choice of career, she does feel that gender discrimination still happens. “Unfortunately, this kind of thing still happens in this day and age every now and then. I always tried to use the discrimination and negativity of others to give me more motivation and determination to achieve my goals and prove the sceptics wrong.” And despite the occasional discrimination, she does see advantages of being a female skipper or crew. “I think females can make great skippers and crew on boats. Females can sometimes tend to be a little more cautious in their decision-making, which can help avoid getting into tricky situations at sea.”

The boating industry can be very challenging and exciting, so Heidi very rarely gets bored at work. “The destinations you get to see are some of the most isolated and beautiful places on the Earth. There are always new things to learn working in the boating industry and you can never know it all, no matter how much experience you have. Constantly learning keeps your mind healthy and is important in the work place.”

She is using her life experiences and her skills to be able to encourage other people to get into boating.
Her advice for those interested to work in the industry: “To be confident, work hard, ask many questions and accumulate as much sea time as you can. You never do really well at anything in life unless you practice all the time. So keep at it. Don’t listen to anyone who thinks you can’t do it. Use their comments as extra motivation to prove them wrong and achieve your goals.”

Heidi never wanted a life stuck indoors. She loves the outdoors and the ocean. So a life that involved the sea was the only thing she could see herself doing. And that is exactly what she is doing now—and sharing her passion through her business. “I really enjoy passing on my knowledge to others in the boat and Jet Ski licence courses, so they too can experience the benefits of spending time out on the water.”


Women in GC Boating_Nitsa Kerr

NITSA KERR, Owner, Duffy Down Under, The Electric Boat Hire, Cruises and Sales

From day one, her mantra has always been, “I am proud to be a woman on the water!” And every day, Nitsa is on the water, experiencing the “the sun, the sea, fresh air, sunrises, sunsets, seeing the dolphins play, turtles, sea eagles” and it warms her heart to be with so much wildlife in and around the Gold Coast waterways.

Nitsa grew up in a boating world. “At a very young age in California, we always had boats, both motor and sailing, I grew up in Corona del Mar, and we are surrounded by water like here [on the Gold Coast] actually. I grew up with Duffy Boats in Newport Beach, California, and when we moved to the Gold Coast, I saw the synergy between our two lifestyles. I saw the opportunity to have a work-life choice, and on the water to boot!”
As an operator of a tourism business on the Gold Coast, she seeks to promote the waterways in a different way. Her electric boats are eco-friendly and user-friendly. “Just unplug them and go. No need for fuel or oil, and no ‘winterizing’—affordable at its finest. They aren’t just boats; they are a lifestyle that we simply can’t pass up. Our eco-friendly Duffy Boats are not intrusive to the environment or to those that live in our waterways.”

While some women enjoy the adrenalin-rush of power boating and sailing, others prefer to have a relaxing time with friends and family along the calm waterways of the city. With Duffy Boats, Nitsa says, “They can sit back and relax with their girlfriends, with no noise, no fumes, without the worry if they can drive themselves.” And for her, as a woman, she understands there are advantages of knowing what women want. “My attitude is women know what women want—neat, tidy, comfortable way of boating, and I understand that.”

In the business she is in, she admits that gender discrimination was expected when she was starting out. However, what matters is the goal of providing the best service and delivering it, and not the gender. “I know my product, I know what my customers want, and it pleases me to provide the best service for an affordable price. I put my head into my own business, not what others think.” And so, the gratification she experiences from the satisfaction and delight of her customers keeps her going headstrong and always delivering the best experience for them through her skills. “The joy my customers portray back to me keeps me going seven days a week, 365 days a year.”

It is without hesitation though that Nitsa puts her confidence in women’s capacities to succeed in this industry. “Women are multi-taskers, and I think with all the life skills we have under our belt, we can apply this to all areas of boating. When you believe in something, remember the ‘woman force’ will be with you—‘You Go Girl’! Take that helm! I encourage more ladies to get out on the water. If you love the outdoors, the water, meeting people from all over the world, then what are you waiting for?”


Women in GC Boating_Keryn Spriggs

KERYN SPRIGGS, Boat broker

There are people who are used to seeing more men involved in the business of boating than women. Keryn says that gender discrimination is not something that affects her industry. She does encounter, however, some surprised reactions when people realise that she is a boat broker. “Occasionally, people are a bit surprised I’m a broker or mistake me for working in administration or promotions. However, this is more related to people being used to the industry as it has been over time, having more men than women involved, and not really about gender. I will say the clients I’ve worked with are most interested in the boat and the process.”

Keryn started boating very early in her life. As a toddler, she went out boating and fishing with family. “When I was around seven, my dad got the old Carrara Ski School to make me a special small pair of skis which I loved. We enjoyed taking our boats up to the Whitsundays to go fishing and snorkeling in the summer holidays with our friends. Ever since, I have loved being on and around the water.”

The connection with the ocean and nature through boating is something that gives Keryn an experience of calmness, empowerment and enjoyment. Further, it was boating that brought her and her partner together. She still actively goes out boating at least once a week. “It varies a bit with weather and business commitments. I usually get out at least once a week. I go twilight sailing through Southport Yacht Club on Thursday nights, I ride the Jet Ski, I go away for a weekend on the boat, day boating or wake boarding with friends. My partner and I go boating whenever we have a chance and love it.”

Her professional life also requires her being on and around boats every day. Her work involves driving boats for Sea Trial and Survey. “I value the satisfaction of facilitating the sale process and seeing a happy seller and happy and excited buyer pursuing their own dreams for their lifestyle.” Being a woman in her line of work may have advantages too, and Keryn says, “I think a different perspective helps. Personally, I think my strengths are in negotiating well for other people to get everyone the best outcome, attention to detail, being organised and a genuine love of people.”

The connection among people who are passionate about boating is something that she builds on in her career. “I do feel a connection with the people who love boating and enjoy working with them and helping them to realize their boating lifestyle dreams. I want to help make the buying and selling process as seamless as possible so people can fully enjoy the boating lifestyle. Having grown up boating and being involved in boating actively, I feel there is an authentic reference point when I am talking to customers.”

In a traditionally male-dominated industry, Keryn does not see a lot of resistance from people to change it. Beyond gender differences, Keryn firmly believes that in her chosen field, “It really is about being good at working with people.”


Women in GC Boating_Corinne Johnston

CORINNE JOHNSTON, Aftermarket coordinator, Riviera Australia Pty. Ltd.

“It’s progressive, exciting and always changing.” This is how Corinne describes the marine industry. “The marine industry has always been on the top of my list of industries to work in.”

As young as five or six years old, Corinne grew up boating. Her parents owned various ski boats while growing up. She is still actively boating these days. “My husband and I have owned several boats. The biggest was a 35’ Caribbean that we actively game-fished out of. We have since downgraded to a six-metre Haines Hunter trailer boat that we use as a family boat—for fishing, skiing, tubing and socialising.”

Corinne enjoys boating every other weekend. “We are often up at Jumpinpin. Occasionally, we travel to Peel Island, depending on the weather and what we are going to do. We also head out to the 36’s fishing.” Her main objective while boating is to relax. “Being on the water is one of the most relaxing things I like to do. But I also enjoy fishing, crabbing, tubing and just hanging out with our family and friends.”
Her choice of career is a decision based on her love for boats, the challenge, working with products that are exclusive, brand recognition, and the people around her. “My colleagues and I—we are all working for the same end-goal. We have a great team and I love my job and the people I work with and for.”

Corinne acknowledges that the industry is male-dominated, but this has only added to the challenge. “You have to earn people’s respect and trust,” she states. “I was lucky that I had been around boats for a lot of years, so I guess I had an advantage over those who didn’t know the difference between the bow and stern.”

Despite the challenges of being a female, Corinne is taking it all positively. “The gap is definitely closing, but our male counterparts are still considered to know more, and in some cases they do. I believe the biggest advantage of being female in this industry is the ability I have to converse with our client’s wives or partners to explain things to them in a way they would understand, making them feel comfortable and at ease.”

To the others who aspire to be in the boating industry, Corinne has this advice: “Take the jump. This industry is exciting, prestigious is ever-changing, making it challenging and there is never a dull moment. Being around boats feels sometimes like you are on a holiday—but in fact working.”


By Roselle Tenefrancia

Related Lifestyle Articles

Similar Posts From Lifestyle Category