I don’t often talk about it here, but I spend time each month helping people to get jobs on boats and ships.
Many are guys in their 30's and up, who are looking for a fresh start in a new career. Some lucky few are young kids in the late teens and early 20's, looking for direction and a more exciting and lucrative trade than working in an office.
The one thing both groups have in common is a desire to do something meaningful, exciting and exceptional that actually pays well.
The maritime industry is in dire need of level-headed individuals looking for a trade or career. As most of you pros already know, it's not so easy to get your first job. Once you've got some experience and have advanced yourself out of entry-level, you'll never be out of work for long.
Unless you’re a Legacy employee, and have a father who’s in the trade, navigating the overly-complex application and credentialing process to become a professional mariner is a convoluted procedure, with interlocking trip hazards that can make simply getting a job on a boat a real pain in the ass. Even with assistance, it takes time to find your first job, but after that, you’ll rarely be out of work again, especially if you advance yourself beyond the basic skills acquired at the entry level.
Who We Are
Merchant mariners are the civilians who work on boats and ships. We’re the deckhands, engineers, cooks and officers who work on vessels such as tugboats, oilfield supply boats, ferries, construction vessels, oil tankers, container ships and car carriers. We even work as contractors aboard ships carrying goods for the military.
|This is a ship simulator. If you advance, you will be spending time in one of these.|
Some mariners sleep in their own beds every night, some stay on their vessels for a few days, or a few weeks. Some ships travel the world endlessly, and you might work for 3, 4 or 6 months on board… and the one constant with most of these jobs is that you will only work half the time. If you work for 2 weeks on a tug, you can expect to have 2 weeks’ vacation before you go back. There’s no need to work more than 26 weeks a year… unless you want to, and make overtime.
The pay is good. You should earn somewhere around $45-50,000 in your first year, with full benefits in most jobs. Smaller ferries and daywork boats pay less, and where you choose to work matters. Ocean jobs pay more. Working in the Great Lakes or on the western rivers pays less. There are tradeoffs. You will have purchase power, have opportunities to travel, and will work a lot less than your peers. There is also unlimited opportunity for advancement. Your first job may require you to paint the bilge of a tugboat, but there’s nothing stopping you from training and upgrading your licensure in between cruises to eventually become captain of some of the largest ships in the world.
A great number of Americans come into the maritime trades as a second career. I know exactly how this works, because I was one of them. With over $100,000 in student loan debt and zero interest in staying on the original career path I chose, I got my first job on a rusty old oil tanker in 2001, scraping rust and painting the engine room for 4 months. I quickly advanced, but I made several lifelong friends on that first trip and got to explore cities and towns along both coasts of the US. If you hate your current job or just feel like you’re going through the motions, I know what that’s like. I’ve been there.
To qualify to work as a professional mariner, you need to run a gauntlet of paperwork that includes dealing with the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security to receive credentials, and you will have a medical exam and drug screening, and will probably need to take a 5-day firefighting and water survival class that will be more fun than the job itself. This process is NOT free. Many people acquire training and credentials while working their regular job. You will make your money back in your first week.
Now that's a timely post. I was just thinking about alternative careers this morning. (Although I do that most mornings, so maybe it's not such a coincidence after all.) I drive through Hamilton, Ontario regularly so I get to see the freighters there often. I've wondered what the job opportunities were like out there on the lake. I've been involved in radio for most of my life, so the thought of being a ship's radio operator had crossed my mind.
I've got a 6-pack license and a bathtub. I'm ready to roll.
As someone who decided to make the switch last year, I completely agree with your assessment. Run through the basic application, safety training, etc. Then pound the street for that first job. Work hard and be a good shipmate and take initiative to upgrade and you'll not be out of work for long....ever.
There is a large number of aging mariners who are close to or starting to consider retirement. Couple that with an increase in difficulty to wind your way through the licensing landscape for an STCW and those who work their way through the maze will be well rewarded (with only 6 months of work per year).
One way to join the industry is to work for oilfield supply ships out of the Gulf of Mexico ports.
Plenty of companies, from huge corporations to mom & pop outfits with 1 vessel.
I came here via Cappy's link. As on old salt myself (20 years USN), I'm going to forward this on to my 25 year old son. He's kinda stuck and looking for a trade. Thanks for the post!
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