Aubrey Johnsson

If you're hoping to see Aubrey Johnsson working as a deckhand on a Bay Area ferry, just know that she may be pretty hard to find.

When she is not travelling the world doing repairs and maintenance on research vessels, you may find Aubrey Johnsson working as a deckhand on a local ferryboat.


Published: April, 2018


If you’re hoping to see Aubrey Johnsson working as a deckhand on a Bay Area ferry, just know that she may be pretty hard to find.


Although she works for Blue & Gold, Golden Gate Ferry and Red & White, she spends most of her time working overseas as an oiler on scientific research vessels—where she can be gone for up to three months at a time. “I’m like an assistant mechanic on the ship,” she said. While on long-haul research vessels, she works on repairs and maintenance, as well as on specific tasks like replacing hydraulic hoses on the crane.


Traveling the world on research ships is definitely not your average job description for a 22-year-old. She’s usually the youngest person working on these overseas missions, and with new coworkers all the time, she enjoys making first impressions. “They’re not always so sure about me,” she said. “Until they get to know me, and they understand that I can do my job.”


Working overseas for months at a time on a ship full of scientists is a remarkable job, and Johnsson is totally loving it. “I get to travel to new places like Easter Island, I get to work with amazing things like submarines, and I’ve worked with some really impressive people,” she said. “I know more people with doctorates than probably any other person who doesn’t have a doctorate.” One of her biggest claims to fame thus far is working with Alvin, the submersible that found the Titanic. She also got the chance to operate the remote-control vehicle Jason, taking it way down deep to tickle a sea urchin.


Traveling is a big part of her life, whether it’s working overseas on the research vessel or interacting with travelers on the ferry boats. In her five years working on research vessels, she has traveled to Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, among others. One of the most memorable places was Easter Island, also called Rapa Nui, famous for its more than 900 monumental moai statues.                     

“Not a lot of people get to go there, and I got the opportunity to spend three days exploring the island,” Johnsson said. “I got to take a four-wheeler all the way around the island. I went to the top of the volcano, I got to see all of the moai, it was just amazing.”


This all started five years ago when she walked into the Inland Boatmen’s Union (IBU) to apply to work on the ferries. “Marina Secchitano, the regional director at the time who is now the president of the union, told me that I should go to a school up in Oregon.” So she did. Half funded by the IBU and half funded by the government, Johnsson attended Tongue Point Jobs Core Center where—with no previous work experience in the maritime industry—she earned her Able Bodied Seaman certification and became a Qualified Member of the Engine Department.


“Eventually I want to become a chief engineer on one of the tow boats inside of the Bay,” said Johnsson. “As an engineer, I’ll never know everything. It’s always going to be difficult, and I’m never going to get bored with it.” Until then, she’ll keep earning sea time on the research vessels in order to upgrade her licenses, and she’ll keep working on the ferry boats in between her missions.


Johnsson’s father was a sailor for 50 years with the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific. “I just followed into it, he didn’t push me,” she said, knowing that it was a promising career. Born in Santa Rosa, Johnsson has lived in Redding as well as in the Pacific Northwest. She spends half her time here in the Bay Area for work, and half her time in Redding. Her favorite free-time activity is snowboarding; she’s learning how to surf as well, and she’s an avid hiker and longboarder.


Despite all of her amazing life experiences thus far, Johnsson loves coming back to the Bay as a deckhand on the ferries. “All the captains are great, all the deckhands are really nice. It’s just a nice environment to work in.”