Auckland woman Jo Stewart has reached the big time, being named the Royal New Zealand Navy's Sailor of the Year for 2016.

The award, in its 18th year, is made only to an outstanding and deserving candidate who demonstrates the Navy's core values of courage, comradeship and commitment.

Acting petty officer writer (A/POWTR) Stewart, of Papakura, said she was overwhelmed and absolutely thrilled to be awarded Sailor of the Year.

"I was shocked ... I shed a few tears, then called my parents."


The warrant officer of the Navy WO Steve Bourke, who presented the award to Stewart at the End of Year Naval Awards ceremony in Devonport, described her as totally focused in every role she had held, and an excellent operational administrator.

"She is at all times professional and proactive; a highly committed and motivated sailor, who has always exceeded expectations."

The award applies to substantive junior ratings.

The 31-year-old has received three Commanding Officer's Commendations and has been Sailor of the Quarter twice.

The citation for her award said: "[S]he is a true advocate of the core values of the Royal New Zealand Navy - the essence of the ideal modern sailor."

"Her personality and workplace performance has made a significant impression on the personnel that she works with and this has over time established her as a leader ... there is little doubt that her positive impact and potential is beginning to be fully realised," the citation said.

Stewart joined the Navy in 2004, having geared her schooling around a Navy future, but was devastated when she was medically discharged with a stress fracture after five weeks.

"I thought the world was over," Stewart said.

But she decided she was going to go for it, came back in 2007, and has never looked back.


As a sailor on HMNZS Canterbury, Stewart handles the administration on board, acts as the captain's secretary, is a rigid-hulled inflatable boat coxswain, a member of the emergency medical team, team leader for duty watches, and the mess treasurer.

"I just fill in for anyone, anywhere. I love it," Stewart said.

Stewart was part of the crew which were quickly recalled to sail to Kaikoura as part of the Defence Force's response to the magnitude 7.8 earthquake last year.

"We were told, pack up, we're sailing tonight. It was an extremely long day, but in Kaikoura there were so many thankful and humble people. I was the go-to person for them," she said.

Stewart said the future was about embracing anything that comes her way, and that she would like to mentor young sailors.

"I didn't expect to become a firefighter, or to be driving a ship. This is a career that opens your eyes to so many possibilities."