Working at sea as a Hydrographic Surveyor

Despite her family’s initial reservations about a life at sea, Karolina Kwiatkowska has no regrets about becoming a Hydrographic Surveyor.
Karolina had always wanted to become a marine officer but originally studied biology because her father didn’t think a maritime career was suitable for a girl. Now an experienced Hydrographic Surveyor, she has no regrets about her chosen career path and neither does her father!

Becoming a surveyor

Living in the UK for more than a decade, Karolina was born in Poland and studied a Masters in Biology following her father’s advice. She explains: “During my studies I still had the ambition to become an Officer of the Watch and I decided to enrol myself in the Maritime Academy in Poland. I ended up getting two degrees, first approved by my parents and a second one, which was finally my choice!”

The Maritime Academy had an exchange programme with the Liverpool John Moores University, so Karolina also decided to make the move to the UK.  “I was awarded my degree in ‘Navigation and Marine Technology’ in 2008 and never went back home.” While Karolina was at the John Moores University, her lecturer suggested that she could still work at sea but as a scientist instead of a marine officer. In light of this she focused on a hydrographic surveying module as well, and this sparked off her current career.

She laughs, saying that even though her dad had initial reservations about her choice, he couldn’t be prouder of her now. “My parents can’t believe what I am doing. Dad thought it would be too difficult for me, but I proved him wrong! When I send them photos of me on deck wearing my orange PPE, they are so proud.”

Fascinating Survey & ROV work

Karolina’s hydrography module proved invaluable and she managed to get a summer placement with surveying company Gardline. “My first job offshore was a wreck investigation project, which was really interesting and I eventually did my dissertation on the set of data we gathered during that time.” Karolina then went on to work for the company for three years. She then moved on to a deep seismic company for two years, which she mostly spent working in Africa on large-scale exploration projects. Later her career took a diversion when she joined UTEC, which was her first introduction to construction surveying. 

“The vessels were great and I did a lot of exciting work with ROVs. During my time there I was mainly working in the North Sea - in the UK, German, Danish and Norwegian sectors - performing cable laying, trenching and a variety of surveys as well as dive jobs and ROV inspection surveys. It was very different from any of my previous jobs, and I have no regrets that I made the move. The beauty of this job is that I am very unlikely to work in the same place twice and I get to meet fantastic people.”

UXO investigations

She is now experienced in a variety of survey types including geophysical and geotechnical, as well as construction support and pipelay/cable operations. “In recent years I have mainly been working on wind farm projects performing pre-lay, UXO and boulder clearance surveys. I really enjoy UXO investigations because you never know what you could find out there. When there is something suspicious we handover part of the job to the Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician onboard who is responsible for identifying the potential danger. It is always interesting to see what we are dealing with - whether the munitions are from the Second or First World War or even earlier. Some of them are real ancient artefacts that have been laying there for over 100 years.

“I also enjoy cable lay operations, as there is always lots going on and it is usually a multi-vessel operation that keeps everyone busy and on their toes.” Karolina’s latest project was a cable repair job for the Western Link project with Prysmian. Like many others in the industry, Karolina was hit by the crisis, so decided to go freelance. She joined Atlas Professionals in 2015 and has worked with the Newquay branch ever since. 

Bright future ahead

Although Karolina is one of very few female hydrographic surveyors, she is unfazed by this. “Most of the time I am the only female onboard with around 50-70 men. I think I have only met two female hydrographic surveyors over the years. I would be happy to see more women out there and statistics show that the number is increasing. In this male dominant industry, you can’t be too fragile and you have to have tough skin to deal with the banter and jokes and to be seen as part of the team,” she says.

Karolina is pretty confident that the worst days of 2015 are behind the industry and that the future looks bright. She is mulling over the idea of studying to get the CSWIP 3.4U - Underwater Inspection Controller certification. “Perhaps that is something for the future!”

Karolina is pictured at Ocean Business 2019, where she won Atlas' Kahoot Quiz and a LEGO Ocean Explorer Vessel, which she is absolutely delighted with. “Once the busy summer period is over I will get onto it and update Atlas with the picture of the assembled model,” she says.