33yo thinking of a career change

I posted in this forum a few years ago about this but recently the itch has returned. The sea is calling.

My main question is whether it’d be better for someone like me to go University route or Union. Was thinking about SUNY as I’d be able to pay in-region tuition (I live in NJ). Also am I too old to consider school route? Or at least old enough where Union makes more sense?

-I have an undergraduate degree in Business from a decent school (3.3 gpa) I don’t use and could potentially transfer some credits. Maybe for the grad program?

-Currently work in Trucking as a driver. It’s an easy/chill job and I make ok money (85k) and don’t have to sleep in the Truck or anything like that. It’s a clean, legit.job. Also I think it’s at least somewhat similar to maritime resume/experience wise.

-I have a decent amount saved up (enough for 10+ years) and no debt family kids etc.

I’d love to start as a 3rd mate but it seems even going through university route it will be pretty hard to land a 3m job unless there is a huge shortage. However it also seems making it to 3m as an ABS / hawsepipe is really difficult / close to impossible.

If I did choose the school route, would I need to start from scratch as an undergraduate?

I think if I went Union route I might just go for Engine department.

Anyway this was me just brainstorming. Thoughts would be appreciated.

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If you can hack it financially by giving up your income then I would 100 percent go to a school for your third mates license. I hawse-piped it (not within a union) to an unlimited license and did it all on my off time ,and it’s getting harder and harder to do it that way. The union programs would be your best bet if you decided to go the hawsepipe route.

Hands down you would get your third mates license much faster by going to the academy, especially if you got into the masters program because I believe that’s only 3 years but I could be wrong.

I think eventually you’ll find a job, it may not be as a mate right away but you will get there, but yes it’s a tough industry these days. Not many new ships being built under the American Flag and the ones that are, are mostly for oil transport and that’s a dying sector as many automakers are vowing to be carbon neutral in the next 20 years.

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Jody is correct, sad to say, hawespiper (As was I) is a much tougher route than it used to be. If you can afford an Academy, no matter which one is a more rewarding route. Will echo what quite a few experienced posters on here reiterate, you may not start as a green 3rd mate initially, but will get some good looks if you prove yourself on deck as an AB. Pay as AB is near to what you are making now.

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I was in the exact same place as you two years ago. SUNY has a grad program that would no doubt be the best fit for you if you want to get a 3M license quickly. Deadline for fall semester apps is June 1. I decided to get a job on a tugboat before I went ahead with school for a year to see if I liked the lifestyle, and I am sure glad I did. It isn’t for everyone, and I came from a commercial fishing background. I’d HIGHLY recommend doing that to see if you like the work and can stand being gone. It ain’t easy and it was hands down the best way to scratch that itch before sinking $$ into school. I’ve decided not to go to a school and will probably transition out of the industry for a variety of reasons, but no regrets.

The BLS job outlook for the maritime industry isn’t great…flat through 2029 and I suspect a negative decline. Global trade is down/depressed and a serious push to phase out oil. Electrification of the trucking industry will surely depress wages and shrink shipping rates across the US so think ICW, Mississippi, etc steep labor/pay decline. On top of that, remote/robotics for ship assist, etc will further push down the labor pool and wages in the industry. Offshore wind will provide some jobs, but every company on the East Coast is banking on that and there won’t be enough work for all of them. West coast even less likely…There will always be dredging, but you don’t need a 3M license for that, or maybe you do. Tons of Maritime school grads and nowhere to sail so they end up on tugs, ferries, etc. Picking a sector of the maritime industry to work in seems more crucial now than ever, and for a lot of them you really don’t need school/can hawespipe. But there are a lot of academy grads/qualified mariners also competing for those same jobs…

No doubt there will always be work to be done on the water and opportunity if you’re persistent, but it feels to me like the days of a decent middle class living being made by the majority of the industry is probably past. Hell it looks that way for a lot of industries, so who knows. If you’re serious though, go to school. Hawespiping isn’t worth it. Sucks too, because the industry and the work itself is fantastic. Check out MITAGS too for their workboat program. There are a lot of tug companies looking for deckhands at the moment, if you want to try it out. You can probably get a job inland too and not need to get an MMC.

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I went to SUNY had a bachelors already and live in NJ. I was 27(?) when I started. I did the 2 year grad program.

However, I was not making 85k a year and my AB job on an ATB is less than what you are currently making.

Feel free to message me your number. I would be happy to chat with you if you have any questions.


If you are making $85000a year on land I would never recommend to come work on the water. It’s very questionable whether you’d even match what you’re making now for work that is more taxing and farther from home.


To get substantially over 85k as a 3rd you’d have to go MM&P and get lucky. Get on with polar, chevron or OSG or go MSC. Not worth it.

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Sorry for the late reply guys, was tied up.

re: Slick_cam1 + oakley23

yeah I mean you guys are definitely right.

The one thing I will say that is my motivation for dreaming about this is because I want to experience living in another country and really want to explore/live in Latin America. The extended time away from home would allow me to do this.

The financial logic behind it would be that if I even was able to make ~60k, it would have alot more purchasing power than the 85k I could make in the States living in a high cost of living area (NY/NJ area).

Just curious additional question to all :

Assuming I went Union to start, what is going to stop me from applying to SUNY maritime after a few years of experience? What would deter someone from doing this?

Yeah in general I am very cautious about paying tuition to attend a school as well.

To be fair the future of truck driving is unclear as well. It’s mostly a money grab for me into my early forties, beyond that it’s a wait and see type of thing as far as life plans go. I’d probably approach maritime in a similar way.

Tug is on a river right? I am mostly interested in container because the whole point of this is to be able to get ~4-6 months off at a time.

meh, doesn’t sound too promising if I am going to have to cough up tuition + 3 years income :frowning:

Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.

Probably need to think it through a bit more. But I’ll hit you up if I need help with something / get further along in the process. :pray:

That’s not accurate. AMO has plenty of contracts paying more than that for 3rds

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Agree with Beer Captain regarding AMO wages/contracts. And also very well managed.

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Never realized there was a separate Union for maritime officers.

Do you have to be hawsepipe in order to get into that Union? Or could I just get in through SIU first to see if I like it and take some time off a few years down the line to get a degree from SUNY?

Nope. American Maritime Officers is an officers union that anyone can join.

At 33 years old, making 85k, are you willing to give up 3x85=255k or 4x85=340k to go to a job that may or may not pay the same for a few years? Making those bucks driving semi’s tells me you are on the road alot. I think you are looking for more time off if I understand your post., and that is understandable…

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In terms of time off, its not too bad for me right now. The guys in North Jersey at my company run 6 days a week every week, whereas I run 6 days a week one week and 4 days a week the next. I think comes out to 2200 miles per week which isn’t that crazy. Some guys can run 2800-3000 miles if they use most of the hours allowed by the DOT.

Tugs can be on a river, but there is more money in ocean tugs and ATBs (Articulated Tug/Barge). You would be hard pressed to get 4-6 months off at a time, though. 4 to 6 weeks, maybe.

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I am more looking for a lifestyle change.

I want to live somewhere in Latin America / travel. I like learning Spanish. Also a 2br apartment that might cost $1900 in NJ might cost $650 overseas. So making $50-$80k in Maritime would actually give me a greater quality of life. Lastly it’s somewhat hard to get taken seriously as a young person as a Truck Driver in the States. Idk socially it’s just hard to meet other young people that don’t think I am some sort of uneducated/unmotivated person, haha. People expect you to be working in some fancy job here with NYC just 20 minutes away or with a bunch of big pharma companies in NJ. Sad to say it but it’s true. $85k is decent money but mostly is just a middle class life here especially in NY/NJ. Often times I feel like I am doing the right things in life, making money, have alot of savings, etc but that it’s mostly a dead end and it’s causing me to be unhappy in alot of ways.

The thought process is a deep-sea job with 4-6 months off would allow me to try and live a life where I am happy instead of being unhappy in the States.