3rd Mate Exam Pass Rates Plummet

I recently read this article by @john on gCaptain. While I was not surprised that pass rates dropped, especially because of how much COVID has messed with the education system, I was surprised at some of the reasoning and statements mentioned in the article.

I took this exam in 2015 and of all the modules, I always found chart plot to be the easiest. It’s simple drawing lines on paper, and if you do it right all the answers line up perfectly.(most of the time, I’ll give you that they’re were a few “choose the best option” on some of the exam numbers. For those who were, for some reason, capable at doing celnav and memorising rules, but bad at the arts-and-crafts chart plot, there were only like 15 versions of the module, and I know of people who would just memorise the series. This is obviously a huge flaw.

One issue I have with points raised in the article is this:

The Consortium is also concerned about the growing emphasis on the Chart Plot module, as many cadets will sail on vessels without paper charts, and newer ships are required to be fitted with the Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS).

Is there a growing emphasis? I have never heard of such. The emphasis is has always been the same as far as I can see for the past few decades; it’s one of seven modules that needs to be passed. Perhaps they meant to say that, like the sextant, the relevance to the modern mariner is decreasing, rather then the NMC’s emphasis on plotting is increasing.

Another issue I have:

One notable structural change in the exams is the linkage between multiple questions, making a correct answer to one question dependent on having answered a previous question correctly. The Consortium does not believe this approach is necessary or fair.

This is how previous versions, c2015, were. It’s all based on a continuous scenario and previous answers can affect the future ones. Heck if anything though, I liked that about this exam because it was a great way to check your work. And yes there were practice exams I would get through and towards the end realized I made a mistake early on and have to start from scratch, but having done them dozens, maybe hundreds, of times in practice, I knew them forward and backward by the time of my license exam. The three hour limit was much more then sufficient to complete it, I can’t say the same for my celnav Oceans module, where every second of the three hours mattered for me.

A final point I would make is more of a writing critique, and I make this suggestion with utmost respect, I loved the recent coverage on Icebreakers! “The consortium…” is mentioned many times, but it would’ve maybe been better to write “Joe Schmo, a spokesperson from the consortium, said this of the recent exam changes,” it felt weird as a reader to see the consortium mentioned repeatedly, but not have a spokesperson. In its current format, the consortium sounds like a mysterious group, sure it’s made of the academies, but who, the senior administration, the Marine Transportation department chairs at each school, some lawyers that just represent the schools.


And to further not specifically identifying the source, it appears to lack independent corroboration of the allegations, and any attempt to seek the view of the other side, both basic tenets of responsible and sound journalism.


There are lots of things on the coast guard exams that are not necessary or fair, but a sequential chart plot is not one. It is statistically much more likely to sail inbound or outbound Chesapeake Bay than it is to calculate stability for a victory ship by hand, or need to identify all the parts of a yard and stay rig. Once we start teleporting, our jobs are on the way out anyway, why not make it a little realistic with one question relying on the previous.


I took the exams last year and failed the chart plot on the first try. I don’t know what went wrong the first time but out of the 15 questions I got 10 wrong. It was a linked test, but what was weird to me is that every wrong answer I got was an exact choice on the test.

The second time I took it I got a 100. You can argue all day about the necessity of the chart plot, but would you rather have a mate that could pass it or one that got a watered down version. There are still plenty of boats that are primarily paper.


Engineer coming in peace. I took a 100ton Captain class about a 2yrs ago. I work on smaller boats and stand watches, record position every hour on paper charts, etc. But, was commercial, supply boat, drill ship engineer before, no formal deck training. Convinced the company to send me to the class. I STUDIED and passed everything pretty easily. I was in the class with multi-year mates from yachting and even some commercial ships(sightseeing, dive boats, etc). So many of them had no clue when it came to the chart plotting questions. Using a compass, they’d never done. They knew lat/long but not exactly what it meant. Honestly I was a bit stunned. When given two points of reference from the questions they didn’t even understand the direction you were supposed to be looking.

For me, using the Murphy books was the key. I didn’t memorize answers, I just knew that if I could answer every type of question in the book, I would pass. Chart plotting is nothing more than understanding the problem and drawing lines. If you know the material you pass. If you don’t know the material you suck. Since I am a boomer, it’s easy to throw shade on the GenZ’s coming through the Academies now. Lol


Came here to say what @LI_Domer said.

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Could it be that these are “new” tests, and have not been shared profusely? It seems more and more people don’t learn “how to plot”, but rather “to memorize the answer”.

When I took my 3rds, decades ago, I remember the positions progressed as in real life. A minuscule error on the 1st questions might not have been apparent until Q #7.

As to why do this in the age of ships going paperless? That is becoming a more valid argument every day, unfortunately. Too much GPS spoofing and failures to let me sleep at night, when paperless and especially totally autonomous.


Cross posting from another thread :slight_smile:

Hello in case it is helpful for anyone studying for 3rd mate exams, I filmed a solution set for one of the publicly available “new” 3rd/2nd mate chart plot exams from NMC.

3rd Mate Chart Plot Sample Exam (2023)

I think the exams are fair but just a little different from the older versions which I think was causing some hate and discontent at the academies. If you put in the time and practice, you should be ok on the plot exams.

The sample exam (in early 2023) can be found here:
and then click on “Chart Plot.”

Hope it is helpful if you are studying!


It becomes a matter of knowing how to plot manually on the ecdis, which should be drilled more and more. There is nothing (usefull) you can do with a paper chart that you cant do with an ECDIS.


Pretty much this.

There’s an argument to be made that a free version of electronic plotting software should be made available and the test conducted that way, but there is no difference between manual plotting on a paper chart and plotting on an electronic chart. The techniques are the same, the electronic chart is slightly easier and more accurate to draw lines on at sea in rough weather while maintaining situational awareness.

I meet more people that can plot on a paper chart but not on an electronic chart, but that’s just because of hidebound ridiculousness. Having people that can’t do either is not a benefit. Training people that learned how to plot on paper to plot with the best available tools is, but you can accomplish that without overhauling the exam structure.

If you get ‘GPS spoofed’ or you have a ‘GPS failure’ it’s because you’re a shitty navigator, not because of them dern video games.


BuT wHaT r U gOiNg 2 Do If PoWeR gO oUt?

Seriously the ECDIS is incredibly redundant with so many fail safes, id argue that paper charts are the more dangerous of the two. Every grounding and collision before 2011 happened with paper charts. If you actually lose the ecdis, you’re already NUC, and there is nothing you are able to control becides whatever lifeboat release mechanism youre equipped with. And even then… ive got Open CPN and a garmin in my ditch bag, we can still know where we are.

It becomes a question of how do you teach and test that knowledge, and while I would like to see improvements in the future the paper chart plot still works for the fundamentals. Things are changing too rapidly right now to agree upon a standard and overhaul everything just to have to change it again.

Good example is the Starlink constellation. Right now the second best source of position information is the Starlink constellation. It requires a little more preplanning and research than a Nautical Almanac. But I wouldn’t know how to teach and test that information because the techniques may change rapidly.

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That means the “distractors” (wrong answers) were well designed. You made common mistakes that were anticipated when drafting the distractors.


I mean personally over the last 15 years(particularly in the last 5 years), I’ve noticed the caliber of mariner the schools are pumping out are just absolute shit.

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That was always the beauty and the brutality of the USCG exams.

What I really find alarming in this story is that the academies response is to bring the license exam down to the student’s level rather than on raising the level of the student to the exam.


Different academy’s cultures play a part in the pass rate. In the past, I know that Maine Maritime Academy’s pass rate was low because the students have to come back early from winter break to take the test and many would rather fail it in two days and get the rest of the week off to go ice fishing and snowmobiling. Many at MMA hate the regiment so much that they would rather fail it in two days than have to deal with wearing the uniform and regiment for an extra week. They would “rather take it in Boston in sweatpants than kakis.”

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Yeah that’s definitely not the case. No one I knew intentionally failed their exams, and if by chance some did, they’re in the extreme minority. The pass rate is definitely lower than it should be, but Maine also has the smallest number of deck students. I think I took it with maybe 15 other people. Also just about every deck student at Maine is from out of state so your point doesn’t make sense


Wow sounds like it’s Jody is a legend in his own mind. Kinda bold statement to say all of them are junk. Let’s be real here

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Which is why the the pass rate should be higher than it is.

And how does this information not make make my point valid?