I've still got about a year to go before I have to renew my Coast Guard license and Merchant Mariner's Credential. This will be issue number 4 for me, marking 20 years for many of the original certificates I hold. Many of which the Coast Guard no longer recognizes as being valid in my continuation as a professional mariner.
The Coast Guard is doing a tough job and if you judge them by anything but their Search And Rescue reputation, appears to be a big, sucking bag of suck.
I'm sympathetic- in doing their job, they often do their best. But what IS their job? SAR, OK, they're the best in the world, and there's no one whose booty deserves more polishing than Uncle Sugar's Post Toasties when it comes to search and rescue. I feel a hell of a lot better in my professional capacity, knowing the're out there with underpaid men ready to risk their own lives to save mine, using rubber rafts, ancient boats that want to break in half and other equipment that, ironically, they'd be the first to suggest not be used in heavy seas, if it were civilians using them.
So, where I'm critical of the coast guard, it's specific to where they're NOT making heroics and where they're also NOT free to do what they'd actually like to do.
Let's start off with a softball- Marine Inspection. Marine Inspection used to be where the coast guard saved lives BEFORE they were at risk. Dockside inspections, drydock inspections, paperwork compliance inspections... you name it, these guys gotta be able to do it. When they do their job right, boatowners and mariners, the guys they're looking out for, grumble and resent them for making their vessels safer. And the reward for a diligent marine inspector was that it used to be a career killer, apparently. Not much glory and recognition to be had where everyone hates you for saving their ungrateful ass from disaster. Supposedly it's no longer a career killing job, as the Coasties underwent a cultural change, and having been an inspector is now good for one's career advancement- but that's tough, too, as it takes years to be competent, and decades to master being a good marine inspector, and with but 40 years or so to climb the ladder, an ambitious inspector may not have time to be a masterful one.
Oh, and I speak under correction here- I'm going by scuttlebutt and shit I read online, and mariner websites are mostly modeled more after Mother Jones than Science when it comes to peer review.
So, I've got a soft spot for Marine Inspection and the SAR guys, yes. Even though I think it's a joke how very, very concerned they are with my air compressor. No shit, they absolutely lust after monitoring the condition of the machine I use to power pneumatic tools with all the attention and fervor I used to devote to Playboy as a teen. I don't know. It even has it's own special inspection date set aside. I once stuck a big cardboard box right in front of an escape hatch during an inspection (a massive no-no), and the inspector rested his gear on it while he looked over my air compressor nearby, completely singleminded, like a 12 year old seeking out the bra section of the Sears catalog back in the old days.
Now, the Coast Guard has it bad because we love New Laws here in the US, and if no one can figure out who among the hundreds of government agencies has oversight of every one of these laws, the Coast Guard has to do the job singlehandedly on the waterfront. The EPA even gets a piece of the clerical cake on my barge- noncompliance with their deeply stupid, repetitious and unnecessary compliance paperwork falls to... you guessed it. While I already do the stuff the EPA requires that I do when it comes to environmental compliance inspections, the Coast Guard is the one who has to stop their safety inspection and make sure that I'm filling out the EPA forms correctly, even though the EPA's requirements are already the same as the Coast Guard requirements. Well fuck it, I'm no stranger to repetitive logging. Just to start a cargo pump, I have to log the event in the Official log, the DOI (another form), the charterer's paperwork, the company's remote access scheduling program and an ullage report, so what's one more logbook on top of that?
Now, how the Coast Guard handles individual mariner credentialing and licensing is no longer how the Coast Guard WANTS to handle credentialing and licensing.
The US no longer gets to make our own rules when it comes to most aspects of training and credentialing for mariners. We signed onto the STCW convention like a bunch of assholes, and now it's done bit us on the balls repeatedly, like a pitbull wih a particularly juicy baby. The Standards of Training , Certification and Watchkeeping convention is an international agreement made to standardize the fielding of competent mariners.
... and, well, it does the exact fucking opposite, but that's a conversation for another day. Anyhow, the Coast Guard no longer has a say on how they want to see American mariners' trained up. We all know that the 3rd world is famous for being awesome and efficient when it comes to training skilled workers and managing vast bureaucracies efficiently, right? I mean, that's why Apple, IBM, Intel, GE and the Manhattan Project was all completely organized and staffed by the same 3rd world wunderkind who can't get running water or hand soap to their hospitals... and yet these are the people whose policies mostly guided the formation of the STCW regs. Well, to be fair, most mariners are from the 3rd world, outside of the US, anyhow, and the liberals and foreigners froth at the mouth because we require that Americans handle American ships built in America when doing business in America.
Well, judging by the 50/50 mix of masterful mariners and retarded short-bus seat-warmers that most foreign shipss employ as crew, the Standards are anything but. Well, 3rd world being what it is, any regulation means there's a money-making opportunity to be had for those with oversight of regulation to find a way to circumvent it for the right price... except for in the West, of course, because we actually ARE more law-abiding than the 3rd world.
Anyhow, long story short, the Coast Guard can't do the actually pretty fucking good job they used to do in seeing that mariners are qualified to do their jobs. Now there are classes and courses that have to be taken, along with refresher classes and courses. This creates a whole new oversight industry, and and takes away the ability of the trained overseers to do their jobs, in favor of money-making for-profit schools to replace trained assessors with lifetimes of experience, and instead give that job to young junior mates with no experience who prefer wearing ties to actually working on ships, or retirees, failed mariners, part-timers, and other folks who, for whatever reason, want to try teaching, even if they suck at it.
I'm doing a disservice to some of the great instructors I've had, but, to be fair, many of the instructors I've had in periodic refresher classes, upgrade classes and the like, were just awful. And, if it's bad here, it's probably 20 times worse in, say, India, where you have to mortgage your house to bribe a recruiter to get you papers and a job even after you went to maritime college. Shit, they have to pay a professional briber to manage their bribery to ensure that the right people are receiving the bribes, just to get the opportunity to bribe the right people. Poor bastards.
... and these are the folks we empowered to provide oversight of our regulations governing what used to be very successfully and competently done by one or two guys at every Coast Guard exam center. So, if I'm occasionally annoyed by the Coast Guard anyhow, chances are it ain't even their fault. 20 years I've been holding seaman's papers, taking classes and maintaining certifications, skills and such. Next year, some of those certifications are going to expire, because I'm not going to spend $5,000 to maintain certificates that do not apply to my job and the job above mine. I haven't forgotten how to do these things, and in fact I do them all the time. If anything I'm better at them than the instructor, because I do them, not just sit in a class and talk about having done something similar on my training ship 8 years ago, the last time I stepped foot on a boat, and now that your check has cleared, here's your certificate, next in line, please.
No, that ship has sailed. No pun intended.
Note: This was posted using facts, innuendo, tongue-in-cheek, and a little hyperbole. If you can't take a joke, why the hell are you a sailor? More saliently, why did you read this all the way to the bottom? I no longer cater to the perpetually offended. If I offended you, good. That was my intent. If you enjoyed it, or merely tolerated it, thanks for sticking around, and I promise to feel ashamed of myself eventually, most possibly when I get home, where I have a full length mirror just opposite of my shower.