On the job: A life on the ocean waves

A working life sailing the ocean waves has proved a perfect preparation for PSA member Jenny Cuttriss’s current job of investigating accidents at sea as a marine accident investigator for the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC).

The back story of Jenny Cuttriss's 18 year career at sea was

Cuttrisscaptured in Emmanuel Makarios' book All at Sea: Stories of New Zealand Seafarers published last year.

Her love of the sea was first sparked by spending 10 days on board the sailing ship Spirit of Adventure when a seventh former at St Oran's College in Lower Hutt.

She later worked on ferries in the United Kingdom, before becoming the first female Interislander captain when she was on board the Aratere in 2014.

Cuttriss says a move ashore into her current role had been a change from a more pressurised position on the water.

“Moving to TAIC has been a nice sideways step to being at sea.

“Coming in to a shore job I needed to find something that kept my brain ticking over, and this role definitely keeps me intellectually motivated.

“I don’t have the immediate responsibility for a couple of hundred souls as I did on the Interslander, navigating them through quite dangerous waters and sometimes some very challenging conditions.

“In this job the pressure is different, you are looking forward all the time and thinking what can the organisation do to make things less dangerous in the future.”

“From the evidence of an accident we try to assess the circumstances and reasons why an accident happened.

“There are a set of criteria around which ones we investigate and which are done by Maritime New Zealand, but certainly we investigate the more serious accidents that are in the public interest.

"I find it fascinating to look into why these things have happened, and whether there is something we can do to prevent that sort of thing happening again.”

The former captain says she also enjoys the greater balance between the genders in her current role at the commission.

“You do have women coming up through the ranks at sea, but the gender balance is still very much skewed towards the male side. The office environment is so much more balanced as far as the genders go.”

Cuttriss also emphasises that as invaluable as her experience in the marine industry had been, keeping an open mind when carrying out her investigations was a key attribute of her role at TAIC.

“Especially with some of the overseas accidents, when you look at the evidence it’s not something you can do quickly. You have to be careful your experience doesn’t bias what you see in front of you.

The last thing you want to do is jump to conclusions.

“We have to be very measured and fair in what we determine from the evidence.”

Note: The Wellington-based Transport Accident Investigation Commission comprises five Commissioners, supported by a Chief Executive and 27 staff, with an annual budget of about $5m.

Contributed by Ben Aulakh