Is it sexist to call a boat ‘she’? Don’t be so ridiculous!

PUBLISHED: 10:38 03 May 2019 | UPDATED: 13:29 03 May 2019

She's a star - Paul Thomas (left) says boats are just 'she's and that's that!

She's a star - Paul Thomas (left) says boats are just 'she's and that's that!


There is uproar nationally over the gender of ships and boats. And East Anglia, as Britain’s second largest marine area, is giving its opinion too.

Viva Evita! Boats on an east coast cruise are all Shes say their crews... when they're at sea, or in portViva Evita! Boats on an east coast cruise are all Shes say their crews... when they're at sea, or in port

The Norfolk and Suffolk Broads, up and down our east coast – we are known for boats, lots of them over centuries.

And to thousands of boat-lovers including me, they are all shes. Marine craft, be they battleships, picturesque little craft, millionaires' super yachts, holiday hire boats – they have all been and still are known as “shes and hers”.

Now the boating industry, the Royal Navy, past Admirals and today's boaters, have been shocked by efforts to ditch that centuries-old tradition and call craft a gender-neutral “it”.

A former Navy boss has slammed a British maritime museum's decision to stop referring to boats as 'she', branding the move an 'insult to generations of sailors'.

James Fraser, head of Norfolk Yacht Agency and son George, seven who, like his dad, believes ships are shesJames Fraser, head of Norfolk Yacht Agency and son George, seven who, like his dad, believes ships are shes

Admiral Lord Alan West, former First Sea Lord, said the Scottish Maritime Museum's plans to introduce 'gender-neutral' terms for its vessels are 'stark staring bonkers'. Other national museums are also considering the step, it's believed.

Now Lord West is being joined by many who resent this decision – which appears to be based on vandalism by a few people who resented ships referred to as 'she' and 'her' and given feminine names… and have started painting through crafts' names rudely.

The museum said it will now refer to them as 'it' after signs on exhibits bearing the words 'she' and 'her' were vandalised. Critics have accused them of caving in to a few questionably “political correctness” protesters.

Admiral West said: 'It's a sort of insult to generations of sailors, the ships are seen almost as a mother to preserve us from the dangers of the sea and also from the violence of the enemy.

To change it in this trite fashion is just absolutely stupid. We've done it for centuries… we have to be very careful with little tiny pressure groups that make people change things. It's a very dangerous road we are going down.”

The ship as feminine dates from centuries ago when it was normal only for men to be onboard ships. It is said men saw ships as “mother” since the ship would “take care” of them in bad conditions, it was claimed. Research turns up: “Love her, take good care of her, and she shall take good care of you”

Another more controversial reference claims to justify a sexist approach: “It takes an experienced man to handle her correctly and without a man at the helm, she is absolutely uncontrollable”.

Lloyds List, the 285-year-old daily maritime bible, abandoned “she” for “it” almost 20 years ago. Richard Meade, its editor, said the decision was made to bring the paper “in line with most other reputable international business titles and referring to ships as she seemed anachronistic”.

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Meade suggests: “Technically, the idea is that we use 'he' or 'she' when the subject of the sentence relates to people and 'it' when the subject relates to animals or things. Sailors, who have been traditionally men in this male-dominated industry over the years, may have established referring to their vessels as 'she'.

He also quotes: “...traditional ties to religion and the idea of goddesses and mothers. One of the most famous ships in history which Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic, was called La Santa Maria, named after the Virgin Mary.”

He also points out this lingual peculiarity can be possibly traced to the fact that the gender of the Latin word for “ship” — Navis — is feminine.

So just what do we boaters think? Some laugh, shrug off the claims but many are very loval to their “boats are she – very definitely!”

James Fraser, head of Norfolk Yacht Agency which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, has bought and sold and led the ownership of literally hundreds of motor boats by people on both the Norfolk Broads but also going to sea, east coast and internationally.

He says: “The majority of boat owners we know refer to their boats as she – without even thinking of the implications! To call their boats It just doesn't seem right. Of course when you realize and study the whole topic, yes ships and boats are built as inanimate objects by both men and women. But most people realize those boats take them places, inland but also to sea – and take care of them through rough and calm waters.”

James' NYA runs many cruises in company, up and down the east coast and also to Holland and France. Rebecca, his wife and a former top fashion model, including on boats, supports craft as She too. Rebecca says: “Knowing boats and ships as she is an honour not an insult!”

James says: “Our cruises have dozens of boats, accompanied by engineering and safety crew – be they male or female. But the boats themselves, the fleet and most of their owners would agree this – yes, we'd see them as Shes and Hers for sure.”

More than 200,000 people come to the Broads a year to enjoy live-aboard hire boats – and once introduced to the holiday, many return again and again. What do they think of their boats?

Daniel Thwaites, a director of Barnes-Brinkcraft of Wroxham which operates 100 hire boats on the Broads, believes many of the 15,000 people who hire their boats each year would think of the holiday as aboard a She rather than It – “it's probably an age thing with more older people definitely thinking of their boats as Shes than young. But probably most of us who operate the boats think of them as Shes.”

Indeed their website lists the occasional mention of “She”.

The view of other hire yards varies – with some favouring boats as It – “very definitely inanimate objects”; some having no view – and others, again possibly guided by age, supporting their hire boats as She.

My view is definitely to continue ships and boats as SHE. Having owned many motor boats in my time, one saw me and a party of my male friends tossed and soaked, seasick yet surviving, through a terrible rough sea where our understanding ship saw us from a wrong decision to cross the Channel in such bad conditions.

And finally, my earliest sailing days included owning a wonderful century-old Broads sailing cruiser, the Bessie Bell. “She” has ticked me off in the past for the odd failings.

And Bessie Bell right now is telling me to support Ships as She – whatever their – and our age!

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