The heart of our maritime industry It brings ships to

The heart of our maritime industry: It brings ships to their destination

The St. Lawrence River no longer holds many secrets for Captain Manon Turcotte, at least not on the stretch between Trois-Rivières and Montreal.

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For more than 20 years she has been steering the many boats that take the sea route at this altitude to bring them to their destination.

From Les Escoumins to the Great Lakes, pilots like her board ships to assist the captain and his officers. Navigating the river is not easy. There are the unpredictable currents, the presence of shallows, the calculation of the tides that must be taken into account, not to mention the sometimes heavy river traffic.

“Navigation in particular requires good specialist knowledge. My job is to make life easier for the captain so that he can reach his destination without any problems,” explains Manon Turcotte, who works for the Corporation des Pilotes du Saint-Laurent.

She boards all types of boats, cargo ships, tankers, cruise ships, etc. She therefore has to ensure that passengers and cargo travel safely.

“We’re always on different ships with crews we know little or nothing about. They also have to deal with frequently changing weather conditions, with ice in winter or very low water levels during a summer drought. Being on a container ship on a windy day requires extra vigilance. »

In short: even if the route is always the same, the pilot has no time to get bored during the journey, which lasts five to ten hours depending on the direction of the current.

farmer’s daughter

Nothing predestined Manon Turcotte for a career in the maritime industry. Rather, she is a daughter of the country, having grown up on a farm on the fourth line of Les Boules, a village in Bas-Saint-Laurent, now part of Métis-sur-Mer.

Although she spent her childhood on the banks of the river watching the boats go by, she had never dreamed of boarding there.

It took a friend to take her to the Institut Maritime de Rimouski, and already the idea of ​​a life at sea began to tempt her. She therefore enrolled in navigational engineering and completed the long training until she obtained the captain’s license, the first officer on board a boat.

Before becoming a pilot on the St. Lawrence River, she spent 15 years as a naval officer on board oil tankers sailing the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Great Lakes, along Canada’s East Coast and in the Arctic. She then left the country for two to three months at a time.

A car in each port

In search of a more stable life, she decided to train as a pilot. “Schedules are more regular, even if we work on call. Depending on the arrival of the boats, I will only be informed about my assignment a few hours in advance. I either get on from Trois-Rivières [où elle habite] or Montréal. I am therefore forced to have two cars that I park in one port or another to return home. It’s fun for the drivers to say that we’re taking care of the car management,” says Manon Turcotte with a laugh.

Due to the more stable schedules, piloting makes it easier to combine work and family life.

“Nevertheless, it remains a challenge,” admits the captain, who herself had no children. If I did, I wouldn’t be where I am. Nevertheless, there are women who manage to reconcile work and family life. It’s a matter of choice. »