Captain Sahar Al Rasti nursed a desire to turn her love for the sea into a career, and she had the determination to enter an exclusively male dominated world. The combination has seen her win multiple accolades in the shipping industry and earn her place in maritime history.

Learning the ropes

Her career reads like a long list of firsts. In 2015, when Sahar joined Safeen at Abu Dhabi Ports as an administration assistant, she was the first woman to do so. Enrolled in a development programme for UAE nationals, she had a job rotation around the port, and one day, looking into the navigation services department, she noticed the distinct absence of women. Curious, she investigated, and was told that it was too demanding for women. Sahar persuaded her bosses, and after six months, was allowed to join the department as its first female member, in a 178-strong team.

In 2016, when she went to study at the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) in France, she became the first woman from the UAE and the wider Middle East region, to receive Level 2 certification. Sahar still wanted more though, and when Abu Dhabi Ports launched an academy for captains, she joined the first batch, despite warnings about hard work, long hours, and tough conditions.


In 2018, the 33-year-old mother of three graduated as the first female ship captain in the UAE. The only female presence on a ship used to be its wooden figurehead, but she changed this to working captain.

In a mere six months after passing the qualification programme to captain ships under 24 metres, she notched up a sailing record of more than 1,300 hours and became the first Emirati woman to complete Levels I and II of an international law course on maritime aid and manoeuvres.

Mashreq Risers

Sink or swim

Looking back at her pioneering maritime career, Sahar lists only some of the struggles and difficulties she faced. “It was hardly smooth sailing. When I decided I wanted to be at sea, people warned me of many troubles and long hours, and they were right. Being at sea is not an easy feat for women – or for men. We have to deal with early mornings, hot sun, high humidity, extremely hard physical work, and be able to stay calm and composed through it all.”

Resolution and determination. It takes a lot of hard work, but hard work will take you anywhere you want to go, at sea or on land.

- Captain Sahar Al Rasti

She also had to navigate her path through an industry that was not used to women and had never addressed problems like pregnancy, nursing or childcare, she explains. “I was away from my three children for long stints of time and it brought new meaning to the expression of work-life balance.”

Placing family as her priority, Sahar devised many solutions including self-care, regular video calls, collecting souvenirs from each place she sailed to, and involving her children in decision-making so that they better understood her tough work.

Firm anchor

“Resolution and determination,” she summarises her style of taking on unusual tasks and excelling at them. “It takes a lot of hard work, but hard work will take you anywhere you want to go, at sea or on land,” she says, advising today’s young people to claim their fame realistically instead of just coveting it.

“I tell my children real life is not Barbie World, and everything is not going to be rosy. If you want to become famous, do something solid about it. You have to put in the long hours and the hard work to earn recognition.”

With fewer hours spent at sea, she is pursing two yachting licences at The Captain’s Club in Abu Dhabi, and oversees the Abu Dhabi and Dubai branches of her maritime services business, SJR Group, applying her first-hand experience and expertise.

She also advocates for the UAE’s rising role in global seaborne trade, and the fortification of maritime skills and resources. “Women will become an integral part of the maritime industry, and it is important we do our part to strengthen its infrastructure.”

Captain Sahar Al Rasti’s story is so inspirational that three dozen UAE national girls are now enrolled in the Sharjah campus of Arab Academy for Science, Technology and Maritime Transport.