When I sailed, I first used my folks house for a base, but largely to have a place to collect my mail. Later, I moved thousands of miles away. Had an apartment and didn’t pay state income tax as my paycheck was from another state. Was home for a few days every three weeks or so, and was able to keep up with the bills at first. I changed companies and had longer times at sea. I was lucky in that I had a very good FWB that I trusted (and still do to this day) implicitly. I set up a joint account and she kept the bills paid and stopped by the apartment enough to keep it clean. Not a recommended relationship generally, but it worked for us because we were not really emotionally involved with each other. After getting caught for not paying any state income tax, I moved further east to an income tax free state. Most of our voyages were coastwise domestic, so I was able to keep track of my bills, plus our routing, for the most part, put us in port where I lived about once a month or so. It also made a difference that the company I worked for (now long gone) paid to fly us to and from our home to wherever crew change took place. I didn’t buy a house until I came ashore (after being married for a year, but that is another story - and not to the aforementioned FWB).
Keep your options open. Of course shipping is different now from what it was when I sailed. One thing for sure, since you are just getting into an Academy, the industry will most likely be different from what it is now. I was a MEBA member, SIU member and also worked non-union. Not really the best plan, but hell, I had a lot of fun and sailed on a very wide variety of vessels.
I am NOT a CMA alumni, although I am a native Californian. I can say that any of the academies will offer a good education in marine engineering if you pay attention. I also knew absolutely nothing about marine engineering when I got out of high school, but certainly felt pretty capable by the time I got on my first ship a year later as a cadet. Eyes and ears open and mouth shut is probably the best advise I ever got and could ever give. Not that I always took it, mind you. As far as different licenses, etc., you will certainly be told your options at school. What is available now will probably change, too. As far as Vallejo being a ghetto. . .well, there are these things called cars that can get you out of there. Again, while we all want to party our asses off at school, keeping ones nose in a book every once and awhile isn’t bad. Not like I took that advice when I was at school with the distractions of Long Island and NYC nearby. . .
Different companies, different vessels, routes, duties, etc. My first berth out of school, via the MEBA was on an SL-7, at the time one of the highest paying vessel for engineers (based on horsepower and displacement, if I recall). Even as a 3AE, I made a ton of money. Things changed in 81 and companies were going bankrupt left and right, and jobs were disappearing. I made the mistake of being young, foolish and pissed away the money I made (still do, a bit). I wasn’t disciplined enough to wait out the lull in shipping, so moved to ocean tugs, which did not pay as well, but were steady work. Even then, it got to the point because of OT and pay structures, I was often the highest paid person on the vessel, and at the tender age of 24. . . . $60K+ a year wasn’t bad for a single man in the early 80s. I have made some career missteps in the 35+ years that I have been out of school, but overall, I don’t know that I would have had a more satisfying career if I had gone with Plan B out of high school and become a civil engineer. I can pretty much guarantee that you will have the adventure of a lifetime in the maritime business. I know I have. Sometimes THAT is more important than money, although the jingle doesn’t hurt. . . .