Apprenticeship Alternatives/General Questions/Career Advice

Hello, I think this is probably a good place to post this question.

I’ve always wanted to pursue a maritime career, but got sidetracked right out of college by the tech industry. I currently hold two bachelor’s degrees, one in Naval History and one in Philosophy, graduated magna cum laude with honors in both. I wrote my thesis on the econometrics of British Arctic whaling 1775-1779. I’ve also got a lot of programming experience (not that that matters in the slightest). I ended up leaving my tech job because the company started going under, and I’ve been unemployed (though not really looking in earnest, I have substantial savings on hand) for about 5 months.

I’ve been doing a lot of research recently regarding kickstarting my maritime career, and I ran across the SIU apprenticeship program, which seems promising. My only issue with it is that I feel like I’m somewhat overqualified for basic deck service. I wouldn’t mind doing it as part of the apprenticeship to get a holistic overview of how everything works, but I really don’t want to spend 1080 days of sea time as an AS just to make 3rd mate. I’m extremely confident that I can handle the classes with no problems at all, as I have a really stellar academic track record, but as far as I can see, there’s not a ‘fast track’ for officers through SIU.

I looked into Kings Point, but I’m pretty sure I can’t fulfill the service obligation contract, as I have taken mood stabilizers before and am a recovering alcoholic (1 year 3 months sober), which according to the people I’ve talked to in the Navy (my original kickstarter plan) is pretty much an automatic 4-F.

Basically, my questions are these:

  1. Is there an equivalent to OCS in the merchant marine?

  2. If so, where is it and how do I get started?

  3. If not, are there any other options for someone of my academic standing to progress past the ‘moving heavy objects and painting things’ stage in a reasonably quick fashion? (I’m not afraid of hard work, but I don’t really want to waste my education and start all over again, plus I’d probably get bored extremely quickly)

  4. I have a standing offer from a friend’s dad to let me run crew boats for oil rigs in the Gulf- would this be a good alternative so I can rack up some sea time?

  5. Or am I just completely SOL?

  6. Any other general advice?

Thanks in advance- you guys seem to know just about everything about the industry, so I hope you can help me out.


Start from the bottom and go up… Your gonna have to “move heavy things and paint” to make it anywhere out here unless you go to a marine academy and still then most companies will work you 6 months on the deck… Best advice from me, work your way up… Learn how the boat runs and operates before you jump to the bridge. Get a job as a deckhand, or OS (same thing) get 180, 8 hr sea time day, get your AB (OSV), then work you way up to unlimited, then get your license…

You sound like a sharp guy and have a nice resume. That being said…

1.) No. No shortcuts in the merchant marine. Spend a few years at the academy studying, paying a bunch of money, and sailing on your breaks, or spend a few years painting and moving stuff on deck. Your choice.
3.)You wouldn’t be wasting your education. As far as being a merchant seaman you have no education. And yes you’ll have to start from ground zero. If you think you’d get bored with the work and life of a merchant seaman, why in the world would you want to be one?
4.)Run crew boats? You think you’re qualified to run crew boats? If you are, why don’t you have the experience and paperwork to prove it? YES you do need to rack up seatime.
5.)You have no experience that you’ve told us about. Humble yourself and learn to be a damn merchant seamen before your promote yourself to merchant marine officer as fast as possible.

Other than that I don’t know what to say. You’re asking us how to be an officer as quickly as possible, with no experience, because you don’t want to waste your time and you’d get bored…

No. Get a deckhand job. If you’re not a fuckup and show promise you can advance quickly. Short of going to a 4 year academy you’re going to spend 1080 days on deck or in the engine room before you get a license.

Surprised to see you guys almost let this guy slip away… Cut no slack!! Hawsepipe it or go home in my opinion!

“I currently hold two bachelor’s degrees, one in Naval History and one in Philosophy”

WOW, with such useful degrees I can’t believe you can’t find a job. BTW, whose money did you blow on those two POS degrees, your parents or mine(Tax dollars) You sound like a spoiled little brat, too good to move heavy objects? How about wiping the turds off the toilet seats?

"(I’m not afraid of hard work, but I don’t really want to waste my education and start all over again, plus I’d probably get bored extremely quickly)"
Again, you already wasted your education.

You better get a better attitude, or else go home to live with mommy and daddy the rest of your life.

All that education and you’re still a moron.

I would hate to see the company that would let him anywhere near a crew boat.

There is nothing wrong having a formal education and looking to start in this industry. It may give one a wider view to see the bigger picture. That said it you would still be starting at the same point most everyone is, educated or not. I have known several very educated “mariners”. But give them a hammer and screw driver and they became a danger to themselves and the people around them. In other words don’t assume an education would automatically make you over qualified as a deck hand. There are other skills that come into play.

There are several 2 year programs geared toward a limited license as well as the 4 year programs (there are 6 others besides Kings Point). Understand these training programs are approved by the USCG and as such there are no short cuts.

If you are seriously looking at the SIU’s apprentice program I would suggest you read It is a blog of one educated guy’s journey going through the program.

If you have the opportunity to work on a crew boat it might be worth the experience to get a taste of a certain segment of the industry. Understand you would likely be working as a deckhand and not actually running the show as you implied in your original post.

Lastly, I have found boredom is usually a frame of mine of ones own choosing.

Ok, first off, thank you to the people who actually answered my question as opposed to attacking me.

I’m currently looking into SUNY’s Master’s degree program, which has an option to go for a 3rd Mate’s qual. If I’m unable to pull a scholarship for that, I’ll likely go the SIU apprenticeship route, which nets an AB qual on completion. I was just curious, simply because there are lots of parallels between the navy and the merchant marine, and the navy has an officer track for people with degrees. Thank you for clearing that up.

For those that are willing to actually discuss this topic with me, are there additional endorsements or qualifications I can work towards between AB and 3rd Mate? In days past there were a few “NCO” positions in between those two posts such as Purser, Ship’s Doctor, and Bosun- are there any modern analogues to those positions? If I’m going to have to spend a full 1080 on deck, I’d like to come out of it as the best-qualified deckhand I can possibly be, and I feel that the possibility of additional endorsements/qualifications to work towards would help alleviate some of the boredom and frustration that would necessarily come with 3 years of what amounts to heavy hard labor.

For those who immediately decided to dismiss my questions in favor of insults, I have a few points I would like to address:

  1. I didn’t waste your money or my parent’s money- I was given a privately funded full ride scholarship for academic achievement. I originally went for Computer Science, but the program at my alma mater was focused on teaching old stacks that have no real place in today’s industry- I opted to teach myself the skills necessary to compete in the marketplace, and am much better off for it.

  2. This isn’t about me not being able to find a job- I’m a highly qualified programmer. I can get a job in the 70-80k range easily anytime I want. Been there, done that, and I’m just not happy or fulfilled in that environment. This is about finding a career path that I can be happy with and enjoy doing for the rest of my life. There are many aspects of sea life which are extremely attractive to me, and I have absolutely no personal attachments to speak of, so now seems like a good time to get started.

  3. It’s easy to call someone a moron from behind a computer screen.

  4. I’ve never done anything to any of you, I’m a complete newcomer to the field, and on the whole your greeting has been very hostile, for no particular reason.

  5. Since there is no academic route to officer, I’ll likely have to do my time (either at SUNY or the SIU), which is fine. I’m looking at this purely from a cost/benefit standpoint- if there was a fast track, it would be more attractive, but my desire to go to sea may still outweigh the cost of having to work a non-intellectual job for a while before I’m able to get back to the areas that I excel in.

  6. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to advance quickly- that desire does not represent a moral failing. There is also nothing wrong with not enjoying moving heavy objects as much as more mentally engaging tasks.

If nothing else, you’ve given me a lot to think about.



Believe it or not, these guys ain’t hostile… Wait till you actually get out here. There a re a few of them that will actually slow down to teach you something rather then beat it in your head. I had it beat into my head an now I will NEVER forget it… Some things are better learned that way. Anyways back to the subject at hand, in my personal opinion, watching guys come out here with no experience wanting to be at the top immediately, don’t last very long… Get your OS (which takes no sea time at all) then get your AB, then look into getting your third mate… That’s the route I’m choosing… As far as credentials in between that, that’s up to you and the route you choose and where you want to go in life… I want to get into shipping and go overseas that’s why I’m going from AB to 3rd mate unlimited… But there are many different routes you can choose, but there is no such thing as a short cut… There is ways to cheat the system, but no short cut… An trust me when I say the experience you get on the deck is worth it… I almost went to an academy to get my 3rd mate unlimited and can honestly say that I’m a deckhand, making shit pay working on a 100 Ton vessel and the experience I’m gaining here I know will help me in the long run… Learn the deck, then learn the engine room, then become a officer… It will benefit you… Now with all that being said, idk anything about apprentice programs… All I can tell you there is do research… That’s about as non hostile as it can come… So now it’s either time to nut up an get ready to move heavy shit and paint, or go to school…

As to number six,

If don’t have a certain enjoyment of moving heavy objects, and getting dirty. There aren’t many sectors of this industry that you’ll do very well in. Except for in the office that is.

Also, as others have said, you’ll need to take more heat than we could ever dish out over the computer screen to make it in this business.

Oh yeah, mental task? Try going on to the back deck in 8-10 ft seas with 20 knot winds wondering how the hell your going to land this 100 barrel dirty methanol tank on your back deck to pump it into your tanks without hurting yourself… Been there, done that… Being on the deck is a very mental task, as well as back breaking… Don’t even get me started on the engine room shit I’ve been through… It’s more then paint an lifting heavy objects… Sorry for ranting, just don’t like that people think my job consists of painting and having a strong back… Cause it is more then that…

I was about to say any nonsense on here is nothing compared to what can and might be thrown at you onboard. I’ve been at this racket for a while now and still get verbally abused once in a while.

Lunch has been cancelled due to a lack of hustle. Deal with it.

Responses were mildly unfavorable, not hostile, due to the fact that you told a bunch of merchant seaman that you were too damn smart to do their job! The wording of your posts lack any tact or humility for a neophyte asking to join someone else’s profession. So, you don’t know how to talk to people, despite how smart you are, a common trait of intellectuals. The general flavor of your post’s suggest you don’t want to do any real work and just want to sit up on the bridge and be a genius, geeking out on whatever intellectually rewarding pursuits you think are waiting for you up there. Its a fool’s dream and you must be broken of it if you seek to work and move forward in the industry. And yes, prepare to be verbally abused!

You truly have no idea, you’ll have boredom, frustration and hard labor for more than three years. This is a common theme with some new people who assume a mate or engineers license means you’ve made it and you can sit on your hands for the rest of your career.

Your gonna waste all this knowledge and skill you have on the bridge. It sounds like you should look closely into engineering. You could get the QMED electrician or Electro Technical Officer rating. If you look at the checklist you’ll see you may already meet some of the requirements. Remember it’s the Chiefs boat the captain and mates are just the drivers.

Don’t say shit like that there are many guys out here working deck who would love to be fulfilled with $80k a year. There’s a good chance you’ll make twice that out here and still not be fulfilled.

Please enlighten us with your romantic notions of sea life.

This is the best one, show of hands for all of us who’ve met this guy? You know him he’s the guy the goes to the bridge in the middle of a very difficult evolution to cry about the AB yelling at him for being a moron. This is the same guy that suddenly realizes a week into his first hitch that he left the toaster plugged in at his house and needs to go home and address it. Better yet he’s the guy that suddenly becomes ill, has random injury or just starts sobbing and needs to get off immediately. Just so happens your days from anywhere and can’t wait to throw him and his shit overboard.

In this statement you’ve managed to call all deckhands, AB’s and OS’s dumb. Also your journey to the top is not going to end with a license. It could be way longer than 3 years before you excel in anything onboard.

It could be many years before you’re trusted with any mentally engaging tasks. Bring a chess board with you in the interim…

Listen to Fraqrat. With your background, engineering or ETO make the most sense, but first just go get any seagoing job and get a taste of the seagoing life. Also consider offshore oil drilling

There are many seagoing job employers who prefer to hire guys with a college degree

Having a college education is a plus any way you slice it. Computer skills, also.

Keep in mind, most of the folks on here are seasoned mariners who busted their asses and paid their dues a billion times over to get to where they are at. Could be why some of your comments could have struck a nerve.

Its unlikely you will ever be able to dodge manual labor in this business, even if you stick with it to the point that you become a deck/engine officer.

Advancement in this industry, in general, is gaining seatime, courses/testing/training, and finally right place/right time scenario. Right now is pretty tough for newcomers, but don’t let that discourage you. Just pointing out its far from seemless.

If you have a way of getting on crewboats, I feel thats the best way to learn the fundamentals of small boat handling. However, you need to get on there as a deckhand and gain a couple yrs of seatime to get licensed first.

Having thick skin, being a self-starter with a can-do attitude is the way to go. Assume its going to be hard and a pain in the ass so if something comes easy or falls in your lap you will feel blessed.

Yeah! Plus all that other stuff he said. Besides, that’s my job.

Again, as others have said, watch your tone! Your implication of being too educated to do heavy labor is a serious slap in the face to everyone here, regardless of how educated they are. Don’t assume your education suggests that you are smarter than anyone. Just work hard, listen, and shut the f#@k up. Get this romantic notion of the sea out of your head. I had the same thought before I ever went on a boat. You will start off being lonely, homesick, dirty, and tired. If you can get over it, you may discover you love the sea for other reason. I hope when you start, you treat other mariners with respect and try and learn from them and earn your place amongst them, instead of assuming your education and brains entitle you to the fast track to the wheelhouse. I had the same attitude when I first started. Boy, I sure as hell learned to shut up. after 2.5 years, I am still very green, but with a different attitude and it makes the job better and me less annoying a student of the craft.