Women In Boating: Superyacht Captain Kelly J. Gordon

Captain Kelly Gordon on the bridge of the San Lorenzo yacht Freddy
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More and more women are standing out in the boating industry and becoming a vital part of it. Today to celebrate International Women’s Day we interview Captain Kelly J. Gordon, or just “Kelly” as most know her, an accomplished motor yacht captain currently based in Florida with a fascinating life story that inspires women to unlock their full potential and increase their representation of women in a male-dominated industry as the maritime industry.

Having grown up on a farm in Indiana Kelly started to have more contact with the ocean when she started grad school near Beaufort in North Carolina. Later she graduated in Chemistry and started working as a chemistry professor at a junior college. Then when one day during her first year of teaching she was invited to attend a party on a yacht she was fascinated by the similarities between the mechanics of farm tractors she had operated back home and boats and felt so at ease on a boat that it didn’t take her long to realize that she had bumped right into what could be the greatest passion of her life, becoming a yachting captain. So she decided to quit her job and started working in the maritime industry.

Now, 13 years later and with a successful career as superyacht captain, Kelly is an example of inspiring women paving the way for equality and inclusion in a world where only 2% of yacht captains are female. Let’s dive deeper into her reflection on her journey into the maritime world and peculiarities of life working as a female yacht captain these days. 

What Made You Choose This Career?

-This is actually a second career for me as I was formerly a chemistry professor.  I have a tremendous love for young adults and enjoyed teaching college chemistry for years, but after some time there was no longer an intrinsic reward and challenge for me doing that kind of work. With yachting it’s different. It checks all of my boxes as it provides a constant challenge for me and I am always learning, things that are utterly important to me.  It also allows for me to teach as many of my crew members are young and aspire to reach for higher-level positions onboard like mine too. So, this is the perfect career for me: I get to learn, teach, travel, meet new and amazing people while being challenged constantly.

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Superyacht Captain Kelly J. Gordon inspires women in pursing their dreams in the yachting industry. (CAPTAIN KELLY GORDON) 

If You Could Go Back In Time, Would You Change Anything? 

-No, I wouldn’t change a thing! I am so happy with who I am today that if I changed anything about my past I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. I recently turned 40 and can say that I am the happiest I have ever been in my life! But, it has taken a lot of work to get here, personally and professionally. However, there is one bit that does linger in the back of my mind: Should I have quit veterinary school? Well, this just might be something that I continue to question for the rest of my life. (laughs) 

How Do You Balance Your Personal Life and Work?

-Honestly, I am not very good at it and it is something that I want to and am trying to be better at. There are many facets to me balancing my work and personal life though. I love my job and I love to work, so I allow it to consume me a bit more than what others may in industries outside of yachting. Also, I see my job as a way of life or a lifestyle.  Nonetheless, while I really love my job, it can be rather stressful and demanding sometimes. So, I’m not the best at it, but I sure am trying, and when I do work towards that balance, the first place I go is home to see my family!

What are Your Favorite Boating Places? 

-The Bahamas. Not only are The Bahamas beautiful, but the people there are even more beautiful. However, the Carolinas will always be a special place to me as that was where I got my start in yachting and spent many years boating there. But, there are so many places that I want to see and go. If I haven’t been, I want to go!

What Accomplishments Are You Most Proud Of?  

-My Master of Science in Chemistry and my 500 GT Master’s License (USCG) are some of my greatest accomplishments for sure. Then also how much I have grown personally: not only am I fully committed to personal growth, I also have worked hard at it. Last but not least, the relationships that I have with my family and my crew members.  

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The chemistry professor-turned superyacht captain ended by chance pursuing her passion for the water. (CAPTAIN KELLY GORDON) 

When it comes to my crew, it means so much to me that my crew is so supportive of me. There are days that I wonder if I am doing it right, whatever ‘it’ is and when I step back and look at my crew and the relationships that we have, I know that I must be doing something right. That’s an incredible feeling! And, my family, they’re the best.  I’m gone a lot and sometimes miss out talking to them [I should do better], but they are extremely supportive.  

Has This Industry Changed Your Life? What Are The Greatest Life Lessons It Has Taught You?

-OMG! Yes! This industry has taught me so much. Quite possibly the most valuable lesson that this industry has taught me is that money doesn’t bring you happiness and in a lot of respects, it sometimes creates more discontentment. A very wise friend of mine and great sailor once said, ‘for everything that you own, it owns a piece of you.’  Besides that, I have also been able to see some of the most beautiful places on earth and cultivate some of the most amazing friendships along the way. Some of my best friends are Bahamians. 

How Does It Feel To Be a Woman In This Industry?

-Awesome! And, I am damn proud of it!  I have had to work hard to prove my ability, but I have earned so much respect and have the greatest support network with the guys [and the girls]. I also feel that we must pay it forward as humans in this world and most certainly within this industry. I have been adamant and very active in supporting women on deck within the industry, too. While the number of women in the deck department is growing, I feel that there should be a greater representation of women and more opportunities for women, so I have made it my mission to help those that I can!

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Captain Kelly J. Gordon is powering the rise of female captains in the maritime industry. (CAPTAIN KELLY GORDON) 

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