Training to Navigate as Vessel Captain
Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Capt. Johnny Smith: Photo credit San Jacinto College

Mariners may start off as deckhands, but the industry allows for quick growth if a person is willing to put forth the hard work and training. Earning the title of captain is a journey many have made over the years at the Galveston Island Ferry.

As master of the ship, the captain is a maritime position loaded with responsibilities of overseeing all other positions, as well as navigation and overall safety of the passengers and crewmembers. It's a title that Capt. Johnny Smith and Capt. Tammy Samuel have spent years training and working their way up to receive.

"Working in the maritime industry takes a positive person, who wants to work and move his or her way up the career ladder," said Smith, who got his start in the maritime industry as a deckhand in 1985 working on a private excursion vessel. "I started at the ferry in the summer of 1989 as a deckhand, and then earned additional certifications to promote to able-bodied seaman, and mate and then applied for captain, master of a motor vessel, 1,600 ton or greater."

Both Smith and Samuel are in charge of navigation, supervision of the crew, delegation of daily duties, safety rules and regulations, keeping a deck log and communication with passengers.

Like Smith, Samuel started as a deckhand with the ferry, progressively earning U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) certifications to become a captain. At one point, she spent time working offshore as an able-bodied seaman. Samuel said many people move from offshore to work on the ferry, which allows for them to come home in the evening, or they'll leave to work offshore for additional work and pay. A captain’s pay varies, starting at approximately $4,000 a month in Galveston and increasing with years on the job. Captains who work offshore will make more money due to higher demand for work hours, spending weeks or months away from home, and different responsibilities of the job according to the industry.

"On the boat, everyone plays an important role from the deckhand to the able-bodied seaman to the mates captain," said Samuel. "In this industry, there is a lot of opportunity to move up."

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