This International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting a woman who inspires us. Ffion Rees is the owner and skipper at Falcon Boats, as well as being the owner of Paris House. Ffion has been a skipper for 28 years, and just received her long service award medal for 20 years service as a volunteer on the St Davids Lifeboat. Her passion for Pembrokeshire’s waters and wildlife is infectious, and we’re sure her story will inspire you as much as it does us! From whale sightings to advice for aspiring female skippers, we hope you enjoy the read.


The Journey to becoming a Skipper

What inspired Ffion to pursue a career on the sea?

I grew up on the water, my father was a fisherman so I spent much of my childhood helping out on the fishing boat and one of my best friends lived on Ramsey so I grew up with the island and its waters as my playground.

For as long as I can remember I have spent time on or in the water; in boats, kayaks, or maybe just swimming and snorkelling. As a child, given half a chance, I would happily spend all day, every day during the summer out on the boat with my father, fishing. He would take me to sea with him every day during the summer holidays. At the age of eight or nine I would get to work the controls of his small dory while he hauled the pots, bringing up lobster and crab.

When I came back to Ramsey’s waters it was as a student at university in Scotland many years later. My father, who was then working for one of the local boat companies as a skipper running wildlife trips around the island, asked if I fancied crewing for him again during the summer holidays, an opportunity I couldn’t resist – like me he found it hard to stay away from the sea for any length of time. So once again I took to the seas with my father, this time to do a very different job, one in which I was to learn a huge amount about the island’s history and wildlife and the many moods of its waters.

Spending all day, everyday (weather permitting) on the boat, this time a rigid hull inflatable (rhib) rather than my father’s small fishing dory which was a very different creature, has given me an intimate knowledge of and huge respect for the sea. Yet twenty years later it still has the ability to surprise.


The waters around the Pembrokeshire islands, with their strong tides and exposed location on the westernmost tip of Wales, made a fantastic training ground, being some of the most challenging waters in the UK. With nothing standing between us and America to the south-west, the waves that pound our shoreline may have travelled thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

I was lucky to learn my trade from some of the most experienced skippers in the area. They had worked in watersall over the world and on many different boats and were very much ‘old school’, but most importantly, they knew these waters like the back of their hands. Not only my father, but Malcolm Gray (OBE), the then coxswain of the St
Davids Lifeboat, and Graham Dove, the only person I have ever met who had actually been shipwrecked on a desert island.

Ramsey and its waters started off as my playground, ended up being my office, and have lost none of their magic to this day.

8 years ago I finally decided to set up my own boat trip business which was a steep learning curve but I’ve definitely not regretted it and I love that I can steer it the way I want to include some citizen science and encourage ethical wildlife watching. For me it’s less about the money earning (although that is obviously necessary) and more about inspiring people with the amazing wildlife we have on our doorstep and hopefully encouraging the future guardians of our marine environments.


A Memorable Experience

We asked Ffion what a standout experience has been during her career

I think this would have to be a job I did out in Sumatra when I was contracted to do some training for the Red Cross on a 10m Rhib they had bought for the clean up operation after the Bandah Aceh tsunami. First I had to complete my powerboat instructor’s ticket and then I found myself on my own in a developing country where almost all the infrastructure had been destroyed and had to train 12 potential skippers with no English through an interpreter. In addition, because the local port was too dangerous to stay in I got sent off in the boat with my students, to a little island 25 miles off the coast to do the training. This was before the era of smart phones and I didn’t even have access to weather forecasts. It was definitely a challenge!


I often spend my winters working on expedition ships as a zodiac driver and lecturer and this has enabled me to realise a lifelong dream of going to Antarctica. It also provided me with opportunities to work in far flung areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans which has been amazing but I am also always glad to return to Pembrokeshire which holds my heart.



Advice for aspiring female skippers

What would Ffion say to a young woman wanting to embark upon a career on the water?

I would highly encourage young women to take a career on the sea, in my experience they can make very intuitive skippers. It was definitely not an easy route when I did it as there were very few women working in the marine industry then, that has changed a bit but we are still in the minority. Although it is still very male dominated there are far more women in the industry including in positions as captains. I would say follow your dreams, be prepared to work hard, believe in yourself and don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it. There are definitely more opportunities for women in the industry and more acceptance, but it can still be a bit of an uphill battle.


Ramsey Island Moments

What’s a standout wildlife encounter from the years Ffion has been on these waters?

This is always a difficult question to answer because there are so many. Seeing a humpback whale 3 years ago on the way to Grassholm was pretty memorable but so too is returning to shore at sunset on a glassy calm sea accompanied by dolphins and shearwaters.


Looking ahead

What is Ffion most looking forward to about the 2024 season?

I always look forward to getting back out on to the water, it’s a bit like slipping into an old comfortable of pair slippers. You never know what wildlife wonders you are going to encounter from day to day and that’s definitely one of the things that makes the job so special. I’m also hoping for better weather than last year and getting out on more of our
all day pelagic expeditions to the Celtic Deep.



All photos credited to Falcon Boats


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *