Q&A with Brittany Catanzaro


Youngest N.Y. ferry captain - she’s 20! -  talks about the rescue of US Airways Flight 1549

Brittany Catanzaro, 20, has accomplished a lot. Last August, the Cliffside Park, N.J.-native became the first female ferry captain for Manhattan-based NY Waterway, taking commuters from Weehawken and Hoboken, N.J., to Manhattan aboard her 78.5-footer.

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Catanzaro was also one of the ferry pilots who came to the rescue when US Airways Flight 1549 landed Jan. 15 in the Hudson River.

She answered a few questions for Soundings.

How long have you been a boater?

I have been on my family boat since I was 2 and I have been running it since I was 12. Our family boat is called the Lady Ashley. It is a 60-foot Hatteras Motor Yacht [with 550-hp Detroit Diesel twin engines].

What made you want to become a ferry captain?

My dad docked our family boat next to where the old NY Waterway terminal used to be. I grew up around the crew. I was offered an opportunity at NY Waterway when I was training with the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve [as a Machinery Technician 3rd Class]. I started as a deckhand and worked my way to captain.

What license do you have?

I have a 100-ton Masters License. I went to nautical school and took the necessary classes. I had to meet certain requirements and send in an application to the Coast Guard. The whole process took about two months. I started with NY Waterway in March [2008] and I was promoted to captain in August.

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Tell us about helping the passengers and crew of US Airways Flight 1549.

I didn’t have time to be scared. We constantly drill for situations like this. I had pulled into NY Waterway’s Midtown Pier 79 terminal to pick up and drop off passengers. (We load and unload passengers from the bow of the boat.) I then had to turn the boat around and exit the area around the pier. It was only when I looked right and left to monitor traffic that I saw the plane in the water. I called my crew and told them to get ready for a “man overboard” and I headed to the plane. I just reacted like I am trained to do. The plane was drifting downriver very rapidly and I had to maneuver the boat to stay with the plane while maintaining a safe distance so that my crew could pull people out. I didn’t see or hear the plane go down.

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Is it ever tough being in what has been traditionally considered a male-dominated field?

No, but I get plenty of people that look surprised when they look up and see me at the helm. I get a lot of people shouting, “Great job!” and, “You go, girl!”

You’ve been in The New York Times and on Larry King. What is your reaction to all the media attention you have been getting?

I don’t like the spotlight, so it definitely came as a surprise to me.

What are your future plans for your career?

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I am pretty happy right now. I love being on the water every day and each day is different. I may decide to go back for more schooling at the U.S. Coast Guard in the future.

What is the best part of your job?

I get to be on the water every day, and I get to hang out with my crew. I love [boating]. I’m on the water all the time, and you get to see a lot of different things. There are cruise liners and all kinds of crafts. And the weather changes keep me on my toes. Every day is different.

This article originally appeared in the April 2009 issue.