Online Exhibitions & Stories

Rhoda Willson

Rewriting Women into Maritime History
Principal Specialist, Lloyd's Register

Rhoda Willson

Location: Southampton, UK

Anchored to Safety

In the maritime world, where the vastness of the sea meets the challenges of human endeavour, Rhoda Willson stands out for her determination and her dedication to seafarer safety. Rhoda has navigated a career path that defied traditional gender roles and placed safety at its core. Her story is a testament to the power of perseverance and the transformative potential of breaking barriers.

Visiting grandparents in South Shields, Rhoda's childhood was shaped by the allure of the sea. As she strolled past the Sea Cadet training centre on her way to church, she longed to embark on seafaring adventures. However, societal norms dictated that women were not permitted to go to sea—an obstacle that couldn't extinguish her deep passion.


Years later, the tides of change began to sweep through the maritime industry. Rhoda witnessed a significant cultural shift, as more women charted their course towards the open waters. Working as a surveyor for a ship classification society, she encountered female officers on board ships—a truly eye-opening experience that fuelled her resolve to contribute to this evolving landscape.

Rhoda's professional journey led her to become a Principal Specialist at Lloyd's Register (LR), where she actively contributes to ensuring the safety of those at sea. While she no longer embarks on surveys, she has taken on the responsibility of overseeing the output of panels in the International Association of Classification Societies' (IACS) General Policy Group. In this pivotal role, she ensures coherence, alignment with strategy, and the highest standards of safety—a testament to her unwavering commitment to caring for those who serve at sea.

Among her many accomplishments, her work on load lines shines as a testament to her expertise and pragmatism. As the lead specialist at LR, Rhoda tackled the intricate challenge of adapting load line regulations to the unique demands of yachts. Her efforts resulted in a groundbreaking paper that paved the way for enhanced safety standards and practicality in an industry that prizes aesthetics and luxury. Through her work, crew members aboard yachts today find themselves on equal footing with their counterparts on larger vessels: safe and secure on their journeys.

For Rhoda, safety transcends titles and gender.

"As she tirelessly works towards making the seas safer for all, she envisions a future where every crew member can embark on a voyage with confidence, just like passengers on airplanes."
Carly Fields


Inspired by the historical contributions of figures like Samuel Plimsoll, Rhoda knows that progress takes time. Nevertheless, her passion fuels her unwavering commitment to contribute to a safer maritime environment, one step at a time.

Her career has not been without its challenges. Chairing the IACS Safety Panel for a three-year tenure proved to be a mountain she underestimated. The task demanded relentless effort, prioritisation, and an unyielding commitment to excellence. Through sheer determination, she closed numerous outstanding tasks, leaving the panel in a stronger state than before. Her tenure also witnessed the rise of more female voices on the Panel, reflecting the ongoing transformation in the industry.

Rhoda’s remarkable journey serves as an inspiration to all who aspire to defy convention and make a difference in their chosen field. Anchored to safety and driven by an unwavering commitment to protect those at sea, Rhoda stands as a shining example of the transformative power of perseverance, breaking barriers, and forging a path towards a brighter, safer future for seafarers.


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Written by Carly Fields

© Emilie Sandy Photography, 2023