Advice on the Steward career path/SIU program

As the title suggests, I am interested to hear about the SIU apprenticeship program and more specifically details on the steward department.

Really, anything is useful. I am doing my own research from the proper channels, but there is only so much I can find out from official websites.

About me-

I served active duty in the Coast Guard long enough to get a real taste of the maritime and military lifestyle, but not long enough to have a secure job or direction when I entered the civilian work force again.

I have an honorable discharge and a year of Sea time. I served in the Deck department originally but I became really interested in what the snipes got up to, so I transferred once I was able. I became a qualified Helmsman, Lee Helmsman, Lookout and Auxiliary watchstander. I basically was a wiper, but also performed as an ordinary seaman and naturally as a mess cook.

Once I got out, I also snagged a job onboard the NCL cruise ship and went through training in Piney Point. But I was working in Hotel, so it was not a bad gig at all, but not close to the kind of fun I grew accustomed to working Engine. So, I was trying to see if I could slide out of Hotel and into Engine on board the POA, but some marital issues came up and I had to set the whole thing aside.

But, things are changing so I am reconsidering the idea of making something of myself in the maritime industry and hopefully get on track to a decent career. I am already 30 and have had a lot of false starts and setbacks, so I want to get as fully informed as I can before I make any moves.

The idea of starting from the bottom yet again sucks, and the idea of basically living a regimented schedule (meaning, during the program) that is like boot camp yet again sucks, but if the program ends up being worth it then, well, I have already done it once.

Anyway, though I loved being a lil baby snipe, I am wondering now if going Steward instead of Engine is an option that deserves more thought and would be a little less grunt work and heavy lifting. Before the old salts give me grief about that, just keep in mind my age and the fact that I have already been a bilge rat. It isnt a matter of pride or willingness, it is just that I aint getting any younger and my knees and back are already trash.

Plus, I have experience in the restaurant industry already as a prep cook, and I cant help but wonder if it would be smart to choose a skill set that translates to another industry more easily. As much as I would love the idea of doing maritime for the long run, and as much as I would hate to have to start over yet again, I always like having a contingency plan in place. Aside from that, I am married and, although the odds dont look good right now, I will admit, there is the possibility of children in the future. I only have about another decade of child bearing years left, so the clock is ticking for me to figure this all out.

That is enough about me to give a decent scope of my experience and particular circumstance. If there is anybody who maybe went the steward route that would care to share what that was like, what kinds of gigs you got afterward and how the pay is and just, job satisfaction and work life details… whatever your experience, I am curious to hear about it. And I would love to hear from anybody else too, not just the stewards. If you have something to share about the program or how working maritime in general has been for you, please, feel free.

Thanks in advance!

I’m wondering if I didn’t post this on the wrong category. It is more of a general question.

You mentioned having sea time. With a year of sea time have you considered getting your AB and sailing as cook deckhand for a tug company?Pretty easy way to get your foot in the door if you are willing to put out good meals and handle lines.

1 Like

I am certainly willing to do both, though I’m very rusty especially as a deckie. Thing is, I have no idea how to get AB. I thought I would have to test for it but I don’t know if I am knowledgeable enough to be able to pass. I’ve also wondered about Qmed, but again I don’t really know where to get answers. I’ve tried researching online and checking the USCG sites and SIU sites, but I haven’t found the proper information yet.

But thank you, I appreciate the tip! Especially the recommendation about the tugs. The other issue I’m having is determining what kinds of vessels and work that my previous experience would best be suited for and would best align with my future goals.

I was curious about the steward route specifically because I learned that the culinary training was surprisingly good and could be used in the restaurant/food industry. That seemed very impressive to me and definitely did the job of piquing my interest.

1 Like

Your seatime may need to be recent. You might try emailing them and asking. If youre rusty find a sea school that does the 2 week AB course and submit the certificate along with your seatime letter. Let me back up. You need a TWIC card first. Then you can apply for your merchant mariners document. See the USCG website and click on the merchant mariners tab and it will explain a lot.

I may just do that. It’s been five years since I left the service, so rusty could be an understatement.

Thanks for the 2 week AB school suggestion! I had no idea that was even in the realm of possibility. But now that I do, I’ll be looking into it.

I forgot to mention it in my original post, but since the cruise ship I worked on was US flagged, even though I was just there to fold laundry, I still had to get STCW quals. And I had to get both TWIC and MMC. I’d have to double check but I think they haven’t expired yet. But that is something that I am grateful is already taken care of at least. Now I have to figure out what the heck I would like to/am able to do with it.

1 Like

Your sea time has to have some recency. I cant remember exactly but it’s like 1 year in the past 3. Dont quote me on that. Otherwise you may have to start out as an OS and get your seatime. Then take the 2 week class. I think those certificates are only good for a year. Check the website. It should have a recency requirement listed. I dont want to give you bad advice so please dont take my word for it. But its good to know whats out there. The cook route might still be viable on tugs with an OS, but its harder to get a spot. Some companies will hire you as cook deckhand as an OS.

1 Like

You might be right about those numbers, they sound familiar to me. The STCW papers I am fairly certain were only valid for a year. So, they are expired. But hopefully my cards are good. I’ll have to dig them out of my filing cabinet and check later on.

Yeah, I was afraid I would have to do my time as OS no matter what. Nothing’s easy, that’s just the way of things. This is partially why I’m leaning towards the Apprenticeship Program. It’s likely going to take considerably longer, but the pay off might be end up being worthwhile since I should have a bit of a bump in seniority at the end of it. I actually emailed the SIU about that, and that was more or less what she told me. That I would have a B book seniority at the end of the program but that if I go and work with my current credentials I will be bottom of the barrel, so to speak.

I really appreciate you taking the time like this btw! Your advice is helpful and I will be sure to research thoroughly.

1 Like

The only STCW endorsement or training that was limited to one year was Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch with a limitation that it is only for lookout duties. The USCG has not issued those since 2013. Most other STCW, including Basic Safety Training, is valid for 5 years.

1 Like

Your old time never expires so the only time you need to do as OS is however many days are required to be recent for your AB. Cooking is just about the only way to get an OS spot and there are a few companies that carry OS cooks.


I was trying to explain recency, but I couldnt remember what the rule was.

1 Like

Thank you! Yes, I took a look at my certificates and it says 5 years. So that’s a relief, they are still valid. I’m not certain exactly what good it’ll do me, but better they are unexpired and not useful than useful and expired. That’d be a bummer.

Thanks! Yeah, I’m seeing different numbers in different places about how recent the time needs to be and how much time qualifies. I’ve sent a help ticket to the USCG live chat. Which is funny, because it’s not live. So hopefully hopefully I’ll get a definitive answer.

This may be a dumb question, but do any cooks double as wiper/qmed or just OS/AB? Is that a possibility? I have experience in deck, but I enjoyed getting my hands dirty in Engine a little more.

Also, if you happen to know, what are the requirements to be a cook? Can anybody qualify if they get a food handlers license? Or are they looking for some sort of culinary training/schooling?

It’s cool, that answer is pending (hopefully), since I’ve contacted USCG to ask what the exact time requirements are and how recent they need to be. Their site is so wonky to navigate and there’s a lot of jargon that I am still too green to fully comprehend.

If you work on a smaller vessel, with a smaller crew, your chances of doing some engine room watches will be greater I think. As far as experience cooking, Ive seen everything from chefs to guys that didnt know how to cook a hot dog. It’s in my self interest now to tell you that I wrote a guidebook to mitigate some of that and it has its own thread on here.


Anyone can cook on a small vessels, like tugs. It’s typical for one or more of the deckhands to cook. Its not uncommon for the engineer, a mate, or even the captain to do some, or even most, of the cooking.

Many tugs have a deckhand/engineer, sometimes called a “deckineer.” Typically, no license or Qmed rating is required. However, many companies prefer guys with a qmed rating.

Get every rating that you can. AB, Lifeboatman, Qmed Oiler, plus as many STCW endorsements as possible.

The staff at one of the better schools can help you figure out what ratings your seatime qualifies you for, and what additional seatime you might need for other ratings.

1 Like