Technology, environment and people: Q&A with Captain Kate McCue

Technology, environment and people: Q&A with Captain Kate McCue

The first American female to captain a mega cruise ship, Kate McCue of Celebrity Cruises shares her perspectives on commanding a high-tech vessel, looking after her passengers, and protecting the oceans they sail on.

Do you remember the moment when you decided that you wanted to pursue a career in cruise?

When I was 12 years old, my parents took me on my first cruise. When we were packing the car to drive home, I told my dad that I wanted to work on a cruise ship when I got older as the person who plans all the fun events onboard. My dad told me that I could do that – OR drive the thing. That’s where the seed was planted.

Were you always interested in technology, or was it something you had to learn as part of your journey?

Captain Kate McCue on Celebrity Edge bridge
Captain Kate McCue on Celebrity Edge bridge

I appreciate that as a Xennial, I had a seamless introduction to technology. From grease pencils on radars to the introduction of paperless chart systems, it’s fascinating to witness the advancements and how the evolution makes ships smarter and safer.

Throughout your career, you worked steadily towards your goal of commanding a cruise ship. What were the most rewarding parts of this journey?

There are milestones in every career, but the most rewarding part of my journey is when I can help make someone better tomorrow than they are today. Training them and watching them succeed is my greatest achievement. I also enjoy when someone, even if we’ve never met, says that I’ve influenced their desire to go to sea because I’ve shared the experience of a life that very few know about from the inside.

Officers on Celebrity Edge bridge
Officers on Celebrity Edge bridge

Did you complete any special technology training prior to starting at Celebrity Edge – the largest, by tonnage, ship in Celebrity Cruise’s fleet?

The Edge is one of the most technologically advanced ships in our fleet. Prior to taking command of the Edge, I had three weeks handover with my reliever to familiarize with technology, processes and layout onboard.

Is Celebrity Edge your first experience of commanding a vessel equipped with ABB’s Azipod® propulsion?

I have been in command of the Celebrity Summit, Equinox and Edge, all of which are Azipod-equipped vessels. While I trained on both traditional and Azipod-powered ships, I prefer the latter because of their maneuverability, response time, and functionality.

You posted a video dedicated to ABB’s Azipod® propulsion where mentioned the crash stop and maneuverability – from the perspective of the Captain, would you explain why the two are important for a cruise vessel?

Maneuverability is understanding the cause and effect that your actions have on the vessel with availability, or the lack thereof, with regard to propulsion and power. Maneuverability will have a direct impact on a crash stop, which is a last resort when the vessel must suddenly stop in emergency situations. It was explained to me very early in my career that while accidents happen, if I remain vigilant and proactive while navigating, I would not find myself in a situation that warrants a crash stop.

You also mentioned in that video that you teach bridge officers how to maneuver the ship using the Azipod® system – what is the most common reaction you get from your team the first time they try the system?

When it comes to maneuverability, being able to sense what the ship is feeling when she moves is a phenomenal experience. This is why we have all of our bridge officers rotate docking and undocking maneuvers. A mentor once told me that as a Captain he spent five percent on professionalism and technical parts of the position, five percent on all kinds of other things, and 90 percent on people. Giving our people the opportunity to gain confidence in maneuvering through hands-on experience is immensely rewarding.

We always celebrate the ‘first’ maneuver. I like to give the officer a memento from the port, a photo of them with a screenshot of their maneuver and a review of what went well and what they would change the next time so they’ll always remember their ‘first’ time.

One of the key principles of Celebrity Cruises’ “Save the Waves” environmental protection program is “Go Above and Beyond Compliance”. How do you see the role of technology in achieving this?

Technology plays a huge role in advancements in environmental protection and this is evident on our ships. In fact, we have a long track record of improvements, thanks to our mantra of ‘continuous improvement’. With our Edge Series ships boasting the cutting-edge parabolic ultra-bow, they are designed to slice more efficiently through the water, increasing fuel efficiency and providing a smoother ride for guests along with reducing emissions. These Celebrity ships are special in many ways beyond their beautiful interiors.

But it’s not just the technology that helps us go above and beyond compliance, it’s the human element and our commitment to building a socially responsible culture within an organization. That’s the main driver for environmental protection.

With the strong commitment that Celebrity Cruises and RCL have towards protecting marine ecosystems, how do you see your role as a Captain in contributing to these goals?

The Captain is the overall responsible authority onboard our ships, so the Captain sets the standard for protecting marine ecosystems by walking the talk and ensuring procedures and protocol are followed above and beyond compliance.

Do you see sustainability being something that cruise guests are increasingly focused on?

Our guests and crews’ interest in sustainability is evident, and I’m proud to work for a company that actively seeks to work with socially responsible vendors, contractors and partners. People don’t want just a vacation, they want to feel good about where they’ve gone and what they’ve done and they’re more conscious of ensuring their footprint is minimized.

Sustainability is also about enabling social progress – do you think women in the global marine industry today have a fair, equitable and inclusive working environment where they can succeed and develop?

There are more opportunities for women in the global marine industry than ever before and if the company culture nurtures a fair, equitable and inclusive working environment then success in enabling social progress is certain.

In a recent conversation we had with a female merchant ship captain, she stated that, “women have no room for mistakes in this profession.” Is this something you can relate to?

Everyone wants to be professional and no one wants to make mistakes, but at the same time no one is perfect and we all make mistakes. For me, success is in admitting the mistake, being mindful to learn from it so I don’t repeat it, and to be vulnerable in acknowledging that I’m not perfect. When a leader can own the mistake they make, it’s not only a teaching moment but it also breaks down barriers and the unattainable idea that the Captain is perfect. But this very much has to do with the environment that you’re in. I am blessed to work for a company that believes in and encourages their employees to be knowledgeable, personal and genuine, all things that make us human.

What do you think needs to be in place in the marine industry to make being the “first female” anything not a thing anymore?

I look forward to the day that I’m not referred to as the “Female Captain” and just “The Captain”. There is power in numbers. It’s going to take more active representation of women in maritime, those who consciously put themselves out there. It’s why I use social media the way I do. The idea is, if you can “sea” it, you can be it, and if I’m not willing to do it, then who will?

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