Army officer to merchant marine?

Hey guys,
Have enjoyed reading on here for some time. I’m an army captain that is transitioning out of the army after being on active duty for the past 5 years. Hate to leave the secure life on one hand but on the other am ready for some new challenges. I am wondering if any other army guys have ever switched over to the merchant marine? I grew up working summers on crab boats and have always loved being on the water and working hard. I have looked at the PMI-MITAGS workboat academy and am seriously considering doing it since I have a bachelors degree already. I have looked through a lot of posts on here about it and just wanted to hear any current opinions about it. Also with the way the economy is seems like their are a lot of licensed guys floating around w/o jobs so is this still in demand at all? Well thats about it just need to know if I’m officially crazy or not for thinking about doing this. Thanks for any replies


I’m not Army but have worked with several ex Army guys- they all seemed well suited to working on ships.

Couple of things-

1- Being ex military gives you hiring preference at MSC NOAA, Army Corp of Engineers boats- etc:)

2- If you have a mate’s license there are still opportunities. Maybe not as many, maybe not as desirable, but there is work (especially if you’ll sail as AB to start) Whoever you apprentice with through PMI will likely hire you…

3- Lastly- and most importantly- why couldn’t you have added an “S” to the end of your user name?:stuck_out_tongue:

Thanks OS…lol, yeah my nickname has always been Rigg/Riggs because right or wrong I usually try to rig some stuff together to help get things done. I may have to borrow that for an avatar… I’ve got a TWIC already and am waiting on an MMC/MMD

Welcome Rigg,

The is another member here that just went through PMI ,Mt Skiier…He’s been really busy studying but he’ll be along shortly…

Rigg- how old are you?

There’s USCG OCS if you’re under 35.

Also- there’s a veterans program for aspiring entry level mariners at Piney Point Maryland-

Lastly-have you checked into your GI bill for training? I got an email from someone who’s getting free training at the Chapman School of Seamanship- he’s ex Navy…

I believe PMI is approved for GI Bill, call them. Do You happen to be from Army water transportation? That could help! Regardless, I’ve known lots of ex-Army guys that started as OS and worked up through the hawspipe.

Greetings Rigg,
Drop me a PM and we can chat about PMI. I test this upcoming Mon/Tues/Weds and am hitting the books but will try to answer any questions that I can. Doug Pine may speak up here as well - he was one of my instructors and is a great fellow.

Thanks guys,
I’m 26 and have thought about the CG OCS or officer transfer, haven’t looked into it to hard yet, but that would be a way to keep retirement and so forth, although not sure that I would be doing a whole lot as a CG officer other collecting a paycheck. But I don’t have much experience with them and maybe I’m wrong?

I will have a GI Bill and have talked to Victor Tufts at MITAGS about a month ago or so about it. The vet program at piney point would get me a AB unl. I guess was thinking it may be better to do the workboat academy to get the mates license faster even if it was not a unlimited 3rd, but maybe there’s a good reason to go piney point and AB unl as opposed to workboat academy?

I’ll have to check into the chapman school of seamanship, what is that for? Oh and I am army transportation just not any time with boats, been with army infantry the whole time, done airborne/ranger and tours in afghanistan and iraq so not to much in the way of the boats. I think I may need to get on with an anti pirate crew… thanks for all the replies and I’ll send you a PM MTSKIER

have you thought about an Academy? You could probably transfer some of your credits and they would surely accept you, with your service record and your GI bill could pay for it. Plus when you got out you would have an Unlimited Mates ticket.
Thank you for serving!

What about a lateral transfer to Army Transportation command down at Ft. Eustis? I know it’s mostly CWOs, but maybe there’s a way to get down there and then get the Army to train you for a mate’s license.

Hey Rigg,

Where are you in Virginia? I grew up in Reedville. Omega Protein is always looking for people. There’s a reason for that, but it’s good sea time and it’s boat-handling at it’s best. Trying to tie up to a floating triangle full of fish in an underpowered 170 foot boat in a twenty knot breeze with six inches of water between the bottoms is really interesting.

The other guys’ suggestions are good. Coast Guard or an academy would pay off. If I was 26 years old, with a hitch in the military under my belt, that’s where I’d go.

Good luck whatever you do. There are a bunch of people on this site that can and will help you. Thanks for your service, young man. We’re all in your debt.


Hi Rigg,

The PMI and MITAGS programs are very good. I’m an instructor at PMI. I helped develop and implement the program, and have closely been involved with the cadets there. I highly recommend it, for certain people. mtskier was exactly the kind of guy the Workboat Mate program was designed for, and he excelled. Now he just needs to finish studying and pass the damned test!

For a guy like you, age 26 with the GI Bill benefits, I’d suggest checking into the accelerated programs that the maritime academies have for folks already holding a bachelor’s degree. In this market, there are no guarantees of employment for anyone (unless you do the SIU school, but why settle for just an AB ticket?) and you should consider the doors that a third mate license opens that are closed to folks with a Mate 500 or 1600 license. I’ve got a 1600 ton Ocean Master’s license, a Master of Towing Oceans and at age 48 I’m applying for a third mate’s license because I find I need more options. A couple of years ago my license was much more marketable than a third mate’s license, but times have changed.

If you go the academy route, you could earn your third mate’s license in a few years, put one year’s sea time on it, take one simple test and get your 2nd Mate AND 1600 Master Oceans. With the hiring preference you will get at MSC, NOAA and elsewhere, you’ll be on your way.

Please feel free to PM me if you have any questions.

Whichever way you choose to go, I wish you much success, and I join with Capt. Nemo in extending a heartfelt thanks to you for your service to our country.


I appreciate all the help on here. Capt Nemo-I was born down in Kilmarnock, so hello from one northern necker to another, been to Reedville a few times and used to know some guys that worked for Zapata Haynie, but don’t anymore.

I have always been highly interested in tugs and towing. The main reason that I was thinking of the PMI MITAGS program was so that it would maybe be a little easier to break into the towing industry. I was sort of under the impression that if you went to the academy and received a 3rd mate unlimited you would probably be better off just sailing on the deep water just due to the fact that you wouldn’t have as much experience on them and a tug company may not want you there. So maybe I need to readjust my thinking? I need to check on any grad degree programs available at academies for guys trying to get a 3rd mates though.

Also I thought that it would be good to be able to be home a little more than if you were sailing deep water. I have known some academy grads before that have hit my age or a little older and started looking for shore jobs because they’ve realized that being away at sea for 6-8 months a year is hard on families and so forth. That is partly a consideration of mine as well because I’ve been away too for the last few years so am a little worried that I may need to settle down a bit more. I am still thinking through that one and I think this is just one of those things I will have to do though regardless.

I like the MSC and NOAA ideas. On MSC ships and NOAA ships what is the schedule like? I know that MSC ships stay tied up down in Norfolk sometimes for awhile. Is that part of the work rotation?

One of the largest tug and barge outfits in the US, Crowley, hires several academy grads each year. The academies are starting to give more instruction in towing to their students because that is where a lot of jobs are. If you’re looking shoreside down the roard, Crowley management is full of academy grads.

On the other hand, NOTHING prepares you better for a career as a deck officer on tugs than the PMI and MITAGS programs. During the two years, you’ll collect an entire year of sea time working on tugs, which is something no academy can get you. Even better, you’ll develop that invaluable set of skills that only one who has worked on deck has. Many academy third mates seem to think they’re too special to work on the deck of a tug. But I can tell you, and many will agree with me, that the best all-around tugboat officers learned their craft as deckhands before they moved up. PMI/MITAGS will get you that experience.

You should be aware from the get-go that with any sea-going job, you’re going to be away from home at least six months a year. With MSC, you’re looking at 10 months a year at sea. It is a great way to collect sea time, but otherwise you’re gone gone gone. If that doesn’t excite you, you’re a better candidate for a shoreside job if you have a diploma from an academy.

Rigg, the dockside time for MSC ships is part of the work rotation. So if you lived in VA Beach and was on an MSC ship that was operating out of there for a protracted period of time it would give you lots of time with your family - but they all deploy eventually. I believe MSC has a training pipeline for OS>AB>3rd Mate.

I just graduated with a retired enlisted army guy from Texas Maritime. He was in the Merchant Marine Reserve (MMR) program and will get commissioned after he gets his license. The reason he joined the MMR is because his army active duty time can be used in conjunction with his Navy Reserve MMR time for a retirement with military benefits. might be something to look into if it sounds worth your while

Thanks again for all the help. You all have definitely given me some good ideas to think about. I realize you have to do what you like to do, but is there a huge pay difference between say tug and/or OSV mates and a 3rd mate unlimited on a regular ship? And then would there be a big difference between being a mate on a regular ship versus being on a MSC type ship?

I know a brand spanking new mate on a tug, a guy who just finished PMI’s Workboat Academy, who is getting $450.00/day. I don’t know what deep sea 3/M guys are getting though.

Depends what you consider huge. If you’re comparing mate on a tug with a junior mate on a ship, not really. The big pay difference comes as you move up the ladder. The master of a container ship makes a lot more than the captain of a tug. Personally, I think the tug captain has the funner job, but that’s just me.

I assume you’re still talking about pay here. If you consider your pay on a hourly basis, you’ll probably make more on a commercial ship. If you look at it from a total annual basis, it is very possible to make more at MSC. That’s because you’ll work more hours with MSC. It’s good if you are looking for sea time or as much $$$ as you can make, but I have to say the two worst years of my life were spent with MSC. I’d never go back, no matter how much money they threw at me.

I am an inland mariner we typically work 20 days on and 10 days off, or 30 and 15. As a relief captain I am at 465/day. I am ex-army also but, I entered the industry in 1990.
My boat pushes chemical barges all over the Gulf Inter Coastal Waterway.
just throwing that out there as a possible option for you.

Like the others I also thank you for your service