Nearly 800 young men and women are graduating from the seven maritime academies in the United States this year, and many will be working on a vessel almost before the ink on their U.S. Coast Guard license is dry. U.S.-flag vessel operators are clamoring for qualified deck and engine officers, so the class of 2011 will soon be gainfully employed.
“We welcome our new shipmates,” said James Henry, President of the Transportation Institute, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the American Maritime Partnership. “It is no small accomplishment to pass the extensive U.S. Coast Guard exam required for a deck or engine license. Now it’s time to put that knowledge to work moving the cargos that keep America strong and safe.”
There are seven maritime academies in the United States, one each in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and Texas, and two in New York. SUNY Maritime College in Fort Schuyler in the Bronx is the oldest, opening in 1874. Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, Mich., is the newest, opening in 1969.
Most graduates will sail on vessels in the domestic fleet, which numbers more than 40,000 self-propelled ships and tug-barge combinations. In a strong economy, these vessels will move more than one billion tons of cargo between U.S. ports, or roughly a quarter of the nation’s freight.
New officers start out as either a Third Mate or a Third Assistant Engineer on self-propelled vessels or corresponding positions on tug-barge combinations. Mates direct navigation and the handling of cargo. Engineers are in charge of propulsion and the vessel’s machinery.
A deck career culminates as the Captain or Master of the vessel. In the Engine Department, the Chief Engineer is the top of the ladder.
While salaries vary from one segment of the industry to another, it is not unusual for freshmen officers to start at $60,000 or more per year.
Not all graduates will enter the commercial maritime industry. A number will choose to safeguard our nation on the oceans as members of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Coast Guard. Even those who pursue a career on commercial vessels will in times of crisis often serve on government-controlled vessels engaged in ferrying supplies to U.S. troops overseas.
Academy graduates face a daunting challenge when they take their Coast Guard exams. The testing covers days and requires encyclopedic knowledge of the career path chosen. For that reason maritime academy cadets must supplement their classroom instruction with significant amounts of time on either training ships operated by their schools or aboard actual freighters.
Many forecast increased demand for waterborne commerce in the United States, especially as there are environmental benefits to using vessels such as shifting cargo from congested highways and overburdened rail systems to waterways with unused capacity.