3AE and working for NOAA. What's it like?

Was hoping someone could give a glimpse of how it is to work for NOAA? I currently work for MSC and highly considering moving on from this crapshoot. I realize the pay wouldn’t match, and that’s fine.

Do most ships operate with manned or unmanned engine spaces? What is time on/off like for going home? Overtime? Are the crews stable (mentally, MSC feels like an insane asylum)? Can you ‘homestead’ on a ship or are you tossed about? Living spaces (shared rooms, or just shared heads)?

I did try to search about for answers, but all information is years old or pertained to the deck side and unlicensed.

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That’s just what I left.

I was a third in the relief pool with a second’s license and was given temp promotions on occasion as needed. the pool operates differently from MSC, in that you are dispatched from home, unpaid LWOP unless using annual leave/shore leave/awards etc. If you are permanent you generally homestead.

There are about 15 ships. I have been on pretty much all they have now except Dyson. Unmanned and manned, depends on which you go to. Two are COI. Overtime varies and depends on whether the CME has the budget and isn’t someone who believes the money is coming out of his own wallet. I have had to fight for penalty pay and OT that was performed that they tried to claw back, so document everything you do.

Time off depends again on if you are permanent crew or relief. The field season is from Mar-Oct and they do pay for a “quality of life” flight home once a year I believe. Voyages are anywhere from one week to a month or so. These are small vessels, so the endurance is limited. For Covid, they have adopted a bubble system so they do one voyage and bridge it with one day in port for crew change/stores and then back out. If you are not changing out you do not leave the ship during that in port. There is a deadline to get vaccinated coming up so if you are not, you will need to be very soon. That will pretty much be the case with any company so people who want to work will have to be vaccinated. Just FYI if you aren’t.

Speaking of insane asylum. They have good people and doozies like anywhere else. They did a good job cutting some CMEs loose a few years back, people who really have no business in this business, but they did not get them all. One I can think of just retired last month, so there is another one. Not sure who else is around or who is new. There has been a lot of turnover the past year and the vaccine requirement will no doubt drive a few more people out.

Then there is the NOAA corps. This is a uniformed service. They have no licensing requirements to operate a vessel. If you have worked around the Navy, well, they get the pay and benefits of Naval officers without the combat risk (although some are also veterans). They serve as Master, Chief Mate and other deck and admin. functions. They rotate every couple of years…so they are never around long to really get the hang of what they do. Hey it’s my opinion and everyone’s got one.

They are building two T-AGOR vessels not unlike the ones acquired by WHOI and Scripps and one can hope they retire a couple of the three 50 year olds they have now.

The union is MEBA. Few if any ships have a rep that I am aware of so if you need assistance you will have to contact the rep in Norfolk who is still Tracy Burke.

Living spaces are modest. You should get your own room most of the time. Occasionally you may have to share a room, and you will get penalty pay for each day you are sharing that room. Usually with a scientist. There were few science parties aboard last year but it’s picking up now that they have the Covid protocols figured out.

You are used to doing things the MSC way and you will be in for a culture shock especially when it comes to routine things like fuel and water testing, jacket water, lubeoil etc. Some of them don’t do it all. Some just test jacket water. And potable. Some they look at you like you have two heads. They do not have a chemical contract so it’s buy whatever the hell is at Grainger’s. It will be an eye opener. Some CME are big on SAMM…some never touch it and how they get away with it is anyone’s guess. There is so much I’d love to tell you but this should answer most of your questions I hope at least.

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Catherder is giving you the straight stuff.

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Damn, thanks for the informative reply!

That doesn’t seem all too bad, of course when up against MSC, it isn’t hard to outdo them. The lack of routine fluid testing is… weird. And the maybe SAMMs maybe not? I bet engineers are kept busy then from random equipment taking a dive haha.

I worry about the money difference a bit. MSC isn’t known for their generous annual but all that OT really kicked it up. Does NOAA compare much? On my current ship, I’m topping about 8k biweekly, which is really the only thing that keeps me sane out here.

How does the fact a good chunk of their ships are limited HP when it comes to retaining your unlimited license? I never thought to question that seeing as I’ve only sailed on large vessels, and stumbling through Google for that answer wasn’t all that useful.

Like I said, the OT is not consistent at sea and you will rarely get it in port. The trips are shorter than what you are accustomed to. And not all CME’s (they call em Chief Marine Engineers for some reason) are equally generous with the money pot. I have made good money on a trip and almost no money on a trip and there is really no rhyme or reason to it because as they will tell you, the only OT required at sea is on the weekend because you have to keep the damn lights on so to speak. I made a lot of trips where it was 2 hours a day and that’s 10 each weekend day and it’s frustrating when you think you could be working ashore for that kind of money without getting ragdolled around in shitty weather.
So what I’m telling you is do not expect to make the same amount of money there at all. It’s a different world altogether.

Catherder, it doesn’t seem it has changed from 25+ years ago with one exception. The chiefs back then were good guys. I was one for a short period of time! [I took a job as an augmenter on a whim while between contracts shipping.] OT was not a problem nor was penalty pay. You worked it you got it. My biggest problem was NOAA Corps. In my experience there they were largely incompetent mariners and just wanted to do their sea time and then go back to their home office was and wait until retirement after 20 years. Many years ago there was a push to turn NOAA ships over to wage marine management aka MEBA. But NOAA Corps protested as that would obliterate their need to exist. I understand that since NOAA Corp got full military benefits without ever coming into harms way. It is one of the best gravy trains of all uniformed services.
Hope you got some retirement out of them, they used to be famous for releasing folks before they qualified for retirement.

What leads NOAA to calling a relief from the MEBA hall anyway, vs from their own pool?

Basically when no one is available from relief pool, then they call up MEBA for a relief. We’ve been shorthanded for years, and the last two (plus no new hires for 2020) have stretched permanent and relief pool pretty thin.

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I eventually retired noaa & us army.
I always wanted to sail MSc, the grass is always greener!