Virgin Voyages has made history before embarking on its first sailing.

The brainchild of Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson has appointed Wendy Williams as the first Canadian woman to master a full-size cruiseship, the Scarlet Lady.

The 2,700-berth ship is set for delivery from Fincantieri in the spring of 2020 to kick off Virgin Voyages' inaugural season with itineraries to Mexico's Riviera Maya.

Williams has more than 28 years of experience working on ships at sea, including more than a decade as a commercial fishing deckhand off Canada's western coast.

The resident of British Columbia's Vancouver Island has also spent more than 15 years as an officer on the bridges of mega cruiseships and was once a ferryboat captain.

"I have salt water in my veins and nothing brings me more joy than being at sea," Williams said.

"It's a dream come true to be working with Virgin Voyages, a company that is focused on creating an incredible experience not only for our sailors but our crew as well while also taking action to minimise our footprint on our oceans."

Williams' appointment is part of Virgin Voyages' Scarlet Squad program to bridge the gender gap in leadership roles in maritime, in which women make up 3% of the workforce.

A dozen female officers have been hired to work under Williams, including Jill Anderson as hotel director, Christian Wenge as safety officer and Lindsay Kirby as environmental officer.

Williams joins a handful of female cruiseship masters worldwide, including Kate McCue, who became the first female American cruiseship master when she took command of a Celebrity Cruises ship in 2015.

"Captain Wendy's extensive maritime background makes her an excellent choice to lead the Scarlet Lady, but it is her spirit and drive to approach life at sea differently that make her the perfect fit to join the Virgin Voyages family," chief executive Tom McAlpin said.

The adults-only cruise company was introduced in December 2014 as Virgin Cruises with backing from Bain Capital but then rebranded two years later as Virgin Voyages.

Virgin Voyages has ordered three more mid-sized cruisehips from the Italian shipbuilder.