The CEO of Harwich Haven Authority – who was the first woman to command a UK naval warship – wants to encourage more women to consider a career in maritime - even though she admits 'I get seasick too!'

Sarah West joined the Royal Navy after studying mathematics at university, rising through the ranks to take command of HMS Portland, a Type 23 frigate.

After more than 20 years in the navy, she has since taken on senior leadership roles across the ports sector, notably as Chief Operations Officer at the Port of Dover and later at the Port of Aberdeen.

She was appointed CEO of Harwich Haven Authority on January 1, 2023. 

Sarah says that she didn’t know what she wanted to do after university and joined the navy on a whim.


“I’m not from a military or maritime background, I get seasick too,” she said.

“I ended up in Dartmouth thinking I’ll stay for six years but I just loved it – I’d found my niche.

“I revelled in the challenge of it, both physical and mental, and enjoyed the camaraderie, the feeling of being part of a ship’s company and the fact I was doing something for the good of Queen and country.

“When I joined the ports sector I had that same feeling – you are part of a big family.

“It’s that atmosphere I thrive in. In the ports and maritime sector people are used to teamwork, relying on each other, expecting the best of people.

“You are in a challenging environment, especially if you are at sea, and you learn very early on you can depend on people.

“When you are relying on people it creates a great team spirit and it’s that spirit I’ve wanted to be part of ever since.”

East Anglian Daily Times: An HHA Marine Pilot climbs aboard a container vesselAn HHA Marine Pilot climbs aboard a container vessel (Image: HHA)

As a Trust Port, Harwich Haven Authority is responsible for the safety of navigation in 150 square miles of water extending 12 miles out to sea, encompassing Harwich Harbour and the estuaries of the Rivers Stour and Orwell.

With five port operators within its jurisdiction, including the UK’s largest container terminal, Port of Felixstowe, more than 40% of the UK’s containerised goods arrive in the Haven each year making HHA a vital cog in keeping UK trade moving.

In 2023, HHA invested £130 million into a major channel deepening project to futureproof the navigation channel into the Haven, ensuring the largest vessels in operation can continue to visit Haven Ports.

HHA also provide Pilotage provisions. Every vessel that enters the waters of the Haven does so with a Marine Pilot aboard, who use their expert knowledge of the area to safely bring vessels to their berths.

Sarah, an inaugural member of Maritime UK’s Women in Maritime Network, said she was delighted that 50% of HHA’s Marine Apprentices were women and would like to see more consider a career in the sector.

“It’s International Day for Women in Maritime on May 18, so it is wonderful to see more women getting into the sector,” she said.

“While it is true it is a male dominated sector, everyone is very supportive of each other - that’s what it’s like at sea and in the maritime domain.

“I would hate people to miss out on the opportunities I’ve had because of the myth that the industry isn’t open to women.

“It’s such a welcoming sector and all roles are open to women. You can be what you want it to be.

“We have many women working at HHA in roles at every level of the organisation, including at Board and Non-Executive Director level. So, we really are supported by strong women at the top.”

Sarah said HHA has big plans for the future, and was committed to driving forward innovation, particularly in relation to the environment, sustainability and navigational safety.

“We are challenging ourselves to be net zero by 2035, aiming even higher than the International Maritime Organisation, which is targeting net zero by 2050,” she said.

“There’s lots of opportunity for innovators to come into the sector and help us reach those targets.

“What an exciting time it is to consider joining the sector.”

For more on HHA, see

Meet some of the crew

East Anglian Daily Times: Hollie McGarry is a marine apprenticeHollie McGarry is a marine apprentice (Image: HHA)

Marine apprentice Hollie McGarry

Hollie McGarry is one of HHA’s Marine Apprentices.

She first dipped her toes in the maritime sector as part of her work experience at HHA as a 17-year-old.

“I’ve always lived in Harwich, close to the beach, but none of my family came from that background,” she said.

“My work experience was the first contact I had with the maritime sector.

“It’s really exciting.  I spend half my time with pilot launches and half in the yard, doing maintenance and surveying.

“There’s a lot of variety, it’s really interesting.

“I would say to other women considering a career in maritime to just go for it.

“Everyone has something to bring. It makes the team better with a more dynamic variety of people.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Marine pilot, Jane StoneMarine pilot, Jane Stone (Image: HHA)

Marine pilot, Jane Stone

Jane Stone is an experienced Marine Pilot at HHA. Starting her maritime career aged 16, Jane worked as an officer on oil tankers before becoming a Chief Officer on a ferry line.

“When people ask what I do and I say pilot, most people ask what airline I work for,” she said.

“The basics of the job is we get ships safely into and out of harbour. We go out and meet the ship around 20 miles out at sea, get on board and bring it safely into berth.

“90% of the job is planning – if you have the right plan and the right resources, the rest of it will fall into place.

“The stakes are high, but you are very well trained for it. I don’t think there’s any job that compares to it. It’s certainly not your average nine to five job.

“My advice to young women considering becoming a pilot is: don’t be afraid to take on a challenge or try something new.

“People tell me they couldn’t do my job, but I’m nothing special - I’m just me, I’m trained to do the job I do and I love doing it.”