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San Clemente Journal

Call Her Captain - Brittany Loust, Ocean Institute’s First Woman RVSE Captain

Jun 24, 2021 10:31AM ● By Donia Moore

Captain Brittany Loust.

by Donia Moore

It's not unusual for children to decide what they want to be when they grow up. Fifth grader Brittany Loust not only decided that she wanted a seafaring life, she actually made it happen.
Meet the newest Captain of the Dana Point Ocean Institute’s Research Vessel Sea Explorer. 
Recently claiming the helm of the twin diesel-engine, 65 ft. vessel fitted out like a floating research laboratory, Brittany Loust is no stranger to the Ocean Institute; but she is the first woman to hold this position at the Orange County educational facility.  


Since January of 2008, Brittany has been a fixture there as a science instructor. Her knowledge of the near coastal area is seconded only by her dedication to teaching and training others to have the same love of the sea that she has. It was only natural that, after being mentored by the captains of the RVSE, she was inspired to get her own U.S. Coast Guard Master 100 Gross Tons License.

Getting a Captain’s License is not a piece of cake. It takes dedication and stamina. Not the least of the requirements calls for a minimum of 720 days of sea-time within five years for her particular type of license. Licensing can start from a “six-pack” (a six-person charter) up to unlimited tonnage. Brittany took the intensive version of the course which allowed her to take a two-week accelerated course of eight-hour days for two weeks, several hours of homework per night, and pass tests in Charting, Navigation, Rules of the Road, General Seamanship, and more.
While there are a number of reputable seamanship schools, there are not that many candidates. The work is hard. The days are long. And there are not that many positions around for Sea Captains. 

Captains must also obtain their TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential) which gives important personnel the clearance to move around without wasting valuable time and without needing extra security in the event of an emergency. Captains and crews are not the only transportation workers who need this card. Many truckers, contractors, maintenance personnel and anyone else who need unescorted access to vessels and ports regulated by the MTSA (Maritime Transportation Security Act) are required to have this credential. They are renewable every five years. 

Loust’s husband recently completed his Master/Mate designation also, and both he and Brittany are employed on the water. They have plans to start their own fishing charter company. But first, they decided to start their family.

 In addition to three and a half year - old Maverick, they welcomed baby girl Rivi Loust to their family seven-months-ago. Maverick loves being on the RVS Explorer and has seen whales and dolphins both, but likes watching the dolphins the best. 

Speaking of marine wildlife, Brittany has seen her share of orcas, grey and blue whales, dolphins and other marine life during her career in marine science. Prior to teaching at the Ocean Institute (then called the Marine Institute) 

Brittany earned her degree in Marine Science at the University of Hawaii, Hilo. A second generation Californian (her dad was also a California native), her family moved to the Midwest shortly after she arrived so it was really a homecoming for Brittany when she returned to San Clemente. 

Brittany’s love of the sea is fueled by watching young children come aboard the vessel a little nervous, but disembark comparing the trip to Disneyland. “You get those comments and I think that’s such a rewarding experience,” she said.

The RV Sea Explorer is used by the ocean education organization for whale watching tours, kids programs, school programs and more. The vessel serves as an ocean-going observation platform for studying plankton samples and collecting and sorting through mud grabs for invertebrates and other critters.

Brittany said it’s humbling, exciting and a little terrifying to be the first female captain in RVSE’s roughly 25-year history. But it’s not the only action that the OI has taken to interest women and girls in a possible career on the ocean.

“We’ve done so much here at the Ocean Institute for women in science. That includes an annual conference for middle and high school girls called Girls in Ocean Science, which aims to connect influential, female scientists with the next generation of ocean ambassadors. It’ll be cool to have a female captain when we take all these young girls out on the boat for the next conference and I feel honored that person will be me.”

Brittany was in the fifth grade when she decided she wanted to study marine biology. She grew up in Dana Point and went on to get a degree in marine science from the University of Hawaii before returning to the area. She started at Ocean Institute as a science instructor and a few years later became a Floating Lab Scientist on the RVSE, serving as the lead deckhand to the captain and running the programs on board. She said when she first started working on the vessel, besides the captains, a majority of the crew were female. “It was all very inspiring.”
She soon progressed to a program coordinator role before deciding to get a U.S. Coast Guard Master 100 Gross Tons License around January of last year. Brittany said she was inspired by other captains of the vessel and encouraged that she could do it by her husband, who also got his captain’s license. She said one of her long-term goals is to run a boat with her husband offering ecologically-friendly fishing and scientific trips. “Knowing that I can do it and having people kind of push me helped me to reach for that goal,” Brittany confided.

She said she was particularly inspired by the head captain’s passion for the mission of the Ocean Institute, which is to use the ocean as a classroom and inspire children to learn. “For me, coming from a science background, I really appreciated putting a little more effort into it than just here’s a whale and this is cool, but really giving people a little more of that experience and that educational part of it.”

RVSE has been docked for the past several months due to state and county regulations for corona virus requirements. Once given the greenlight to resume operations, Brittany will take her first trip as captain, and finally realize her fifth grade dream...