Advice for joining the maritime industry?

Im 20 years old living in portland oregon. I have an associates degree in science i got at the local community college, gearing up for a degree in math or computer science. But i’m not sure what i really want to do.

Recently i learned about merchant marine trade and got pretty interested in it. Im currently in the process of getting a mmc and a twic card, but after reading a lot im starting to think it might be worth it to go to a maritime academy.

Sometime in this next week im going to do and talk to a couple companies and see if i could get on a boat for a trip to see if its something id enjoy, or at the very least talk to some people in the trade. Ive learned though that portland doesn’t have much to offer for this field it seems.

So a few questions i guess.

How does the immediate future look for jobs (deck rather than engineer.)? If i did 4 years at an academy would i likely be able to get a decent job right away?

Do i have any chance trying to start out as an ordinary seaman in portland?

Any advice on a way to see if this is something id enjoy?

Any advice on deck vs engineer? Im thinking deck from what i understand about everything ive been reading.

Any advice or help would be great


Shitty but a lot could change in six months.

Who knows? That’s a long way away.

Better than normal. Seattle would be even better.

Get a deckhand job on a harbor tug. I’ve seen many people think they’d like it and never come back for a second hitch. Hopefully you’re single…

1 Like

Watch a few episodes of the TV show Below Deck. This will give you a good feel for what it is like to work offshore


Please dear God tell me you’re kidding?


Fuckin a , sign me up for below deck


I avoided yachts my whole career. If I could turn back the clock to back when I was single with no kids…
awful lot of drama but hell, one could have a lot of pipe-layin’ drunkin’ fun…


Alright thanks, ill continue looking into the local transportation companies and try to get on a tugboat.

1 Like

It’s a tough time to break into the industry right now. Lots of people working jobs they are over-qualified for and wages that are behind the times, and you’ll have to starve for a while before you make any real money.

tongue point in astoria has a seamanship program where you would come out with an ab and/or qmed. this may be a cheaper and quicker route than an academy.

if you have any mechanical aptitude going the engine route may be better. in general there is usually more of a need for engineers.


Thats helpful, thank you.

Google Tug Jobs

You might not like what you find with that search :wink:


How does the immediate future look for jobs (deck rather than engineer.)? If i did 4 years at an academy would i likely be able to get a decent job right away?

4 years at an academy would prep you for a 3rd Mate Unlimited, and would propel you to the Merchant Marine fleet.

Do i have any chance trying to start out as an ordinary seaman in portland?

If you are looking at tug jobs versus shipping, odds are you have to know someone.

Any advice on a way to see if this is something id enjoy?

I was able to go on ride alongs as my girlfriends family are all towboaters. Thats how I knew I wanted to work on tugs.

Any advice on deck vs engineer? Im thinking deck from what i understand about everything ive been reading.

If you go to Tongue Point Job Corps and enroll in their Seamanship program, youll get a chance to be aboard a retired buoy tender, a former Columbia River Bar Pilot Boat, and a retired Navy tug.

As someone living in Portland you have three options for education locally. Tongue Point Job Corps and Clatsop Community Colleges’ MERTS campus, both are located in Astoria literally a couple miles from each other. Tongue Point offers programs for AB Specials and QMED’s, while MERTS will net you with an Associate of Applied Science and your AB Special. If you are looking at going further into the wheelhouse you also pass your Master 200T(though you dont get your 200T, its a component to get your credited AB time). Lastly you also have Columbia Pacific Maritime in Portland, but that is more oriented toward already employed mariners with established sea time.

For companies you have several to choose from with varied openings and hiring periods. Tidewater Barge Lines, Shaver Transportation Co, Foss Maritime, Olympic Tug and Barge, Bernert Barge Lines, Sause Bros, Brusco, Crowley Maritime…the list goes on for companies that do business in Portland.

Tidewater and Shaver do the most hiring publicly, while most other companies do it via contact pages that allow you to submit resumes. However most jobs are all about who you know versus what you know.

In terms of if its for you or not…it depends. For me I have maritime history on both sides of my family, and then my girlfriends family are all towboaters. I ended up going to school for computer engineering before deciding the deck of a tug and barge suiting me better. Course I was always repairing computers and other nema 1083 issues along with gps and ais issues while in school because of it. Since you’re under 25 I would recommend Tongue Point if you are serious, I was a year past the cut off and screwed myself out of a free QMED. Good luck


A) that doesn’t answer his question about will he be able to find work after he gets out.
B) the “Merchant Marine fleet” is a very vague reply. Are you referring to deep sea ships? If so, that means you don’t think tugs are part of the merchant marine (they are) or that third mates from an academy can go to work on tugs (they can and do).

True. Though most jobs are also about luck and being in the right place at the right time. I expect more people get hired by being at the office in person when they need to hire someone than by knowing someone, though those are the two main ways to get hired when you don’t have some super rare qualification.

Let me cut to the chase. You will probably be better off to stick with math and computers.

If you are thinking of going to an academy, become an engineer.

Engineers have many options. There is a lot more demand for marine engineers than mates because they have other options. Engineers can easily transition between going to sea, working in a shipyard, technical sales, and non marine shoreside engineering and repair.

Frankly, the Mate training programs at the academies are obsolete and a terrible choice.

The academies should stop offering their four year Mate programs. They should only run 4 year engineer programs, and 5 year dual license engineer/mate programs. The first academy to do this will suddenly become the best academy with the highest rates of post graduate employment at the highest salaries.

The academies should work with the USCG to develop a 12 month crossover programs for both mate’s and engineers.


Engineers learn predominantly concepts and theory. Mates learn some theory and concept, but mostly concentrate on procedures, rules, regulations, and more rules, and more rules. The amount of regulations and rules that a mate has to know is daunting and difficult for those that aren’t strong at memorization.

Engineers like to joke and poke fun at the deck’s intelligence, but the truth is, the mates have a lot of stuff they need to know up in that brain. Just look at the difference between USCG exams for the two skillsets.

I don’t see academies offering dual license tracks in our lifetime (I heard it was done in the past). There is just too much to know on both sides of the fence with all the technology and regulations. Even if one was smart enough to absorb both, it would be very difficult to gain and maintain proficiency.

And, as noted in other threads, a USCG engineer license is different than a ABET engineering degree + PE license. Training in the former tends to concentrate on operation and maintaining the plant, training in the latter is more theoretical and design oriented. However, one can have both.

To clarify, most people up here usually go to an academy to serve on deep draft ships and to jump to the Columbia River Pilots, most tug jobs offered here locally are about who you know. It might be different elsewhere but thats just how the culture is here. Unless you have at least an AB, it’s pretty difficult if you don’t know anyone willing to put a good word in or to refer you.

I really don’t see all that much difference between training for academy mates and engineers. They each have at least a year of the same liberal arts. Same regimental nonsense. Same basic seamanship, ship construction, safety, etc. Same English, humanities, pre-calc, calc, and physics, etc. At least two years, probably more, of the training is the same. More of the training could be the same. Yes, there would be some extra classes, and twice as many cruises.

There probably isn’t much reason for an engineer to become a Mate, unless he just wants to. But if a mate wants to consistently make a living sailing as an officer, becoming an engineer should be attractive.

I know academy 3rd engineers that are small vessel captains, and academy 3rd mates that are small vessel engineers.

I was under the impression that most of the Columbia River pilots were tug and barge guys. Hard to get the trips on anything else as an American. The Bar pilots are a different story, but you don’t need any local experience to get in. Just Sea time as master on large tonnage vessels. Each is difficult to accomplish in its own way.

Some go to cal maritime for a boost on their education credits for when they apply so they can get higher on the waitlist. And you need enough local knowlege to be able to pass and acquire bar and river pilotage.

And to clarify, merchant marine fleet was directed toward our Jones act fleet, and I never really got into foreign companies mainly because his language implied he was looking at getting on tugboats. So my entire reply is directed toward getting a job locally.