Beard Ban At MSC

Looks like the “official” beard ban is finally here. Anyone broken up about this? It makes sense to me, everyone should be able to properly wear the SCBA. No one will quit or complain too loudly. Vast majority of CIVMARS would never in a million years be able to find another job paying anywhere even close to what they make at MSC.

It’s like eating vegetables: no one likes them but it’s good for you.

ALMSC/001/18 //


GENTEXT/REMARKS/ 1. Due to the nature of MSC’s mission, civil service mariners must be able to respond rapidly to shipboard emergencies and other exigencies, in times of peace and war. Our crews must maintain their personal grooming and wear apparel in a manner that permits proper donning and use of emergency, safety, and military-specific equipment with little or no advance warning. This is one of a number of areas where MSC was lax in enforcing training and other standards due to the relatively unchallenged nature of the global commons.

That is no longer the case. In addition to the normal risk of fire aboard a ship in peacetime, that risk is heightened in contested environments in which peer and near-peer competitors may target our ships not just with conventional weapons, but also with chemical, biological, and radiological ones.

  1. POLICY: All civil service mariners must be ready at all times to properly use a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, Emergency Escape Breathing Device, gas masks, lifesaving and survival equipment, and other similar required devices and garments. Any hair growth between the skin and face piece sealing surfaces, such as stubble beard growth, beard, or mustache or sideburns WHICH CROSS SEALING SURFACES is prohibited. Additionally, mariners cannot be attired in clothing or jewelry (including religious articles or devices) that interferes with proper donning and operation of this required equipment.

  2. The Department of Labor Safety and Occupational Health standards, Navy occupational health standards, and MSC standards are not new in this area. For example, respirator protection regulations in 29 CFR 1910.1 specifically address facial hair. I bring up this issue now because in the last year we have increasing reports of ships finding sufficient numbers of crewmembers who cannot properly don protective gear, primarily due to interference of facial hair. On several occasions our Afloat Training Teams came close to failing ships on emergency drills because of challenges in assembling emergency parties who could obtain tight facial seals.

In the last year we had to separate from Federal service a civil service mariner who refused to shave on religious grounds. That mariner appealed to a third party who ruled in MSC’s favor and upheld the separation.

  1. I ask for your support and assistance in getting the word out: Officers and crews who CANNOT obtain a tight seal on a gas mask or self-contained breathing apparatus due to facial hair, jewelry, headwear, or excessive hair bulk or length are putting their shipmates, themselves, and their careers at risk. Civil service mariners may be fit-tested at any time while aboard ship to ensure compliance with these requirements. Non-compliance could lead to transfer off of the ship and disciplinary action up to removal from Federal service.

  2. Those under treatment by a physician for a medical skin condition that prevents shaving may submit a note from that physician to the ships Medical Service Officer or Medical Department Representative.

These cases will be reviewed by the MSC Force Surgeon who may approve a 90 -day waiver to determine if the treatment regimen will resolve the condition. If the treatment is unsuccessful, we anticipate that the mariner will be ineligible for continued afloat employment with MSC.

  1. We have reached out to maritime union presidents, soliciting their ideas, support, and assistance in communicating the importance of this issue. The intent is to come back into compliance with occupational and Navy standards, improve safety and readiness, and minimize instances in which CIVMARs who elect not to comply will need to be transferred off the ship for administrative action.

  2. Please commence enforcement within 30 days. You may repatriate those who refuse to shave or who have their requests for 90-day medical waivers disapproved.

  3. Although I recognize that individuals with heavy beards may view this return to standards as impinging upon their sense of individuality; however, occupational safety and readiness to operate and succeed in a contested environment come first. I know that you and your officers will set an example for the rest of the crew to follow.

  4. United We Sail! Mewbourne sends.//

However I do wonder how the good Admiral Mewbourne would address USN no shave chits? It seems like MSC is under greater restrictions then USN sailors.

Can MSC have no shave chits as well?

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I mean I would think it’d be treated the same as any other illness or disability that prevents you from carrying out your duties.

Just saw the message posted onboard. Nobody seemed too broken up about it. I guess it makes sense since we have very small crews unlike navy ships so I can see them not allowing people to get no shave chits as nearly everyone is either quick reaction force or in a repair locker.

It’s interesting though because we have a couple of MSC guys on board right now supposedly to help us with our DC training and word is it’s all because of the recent destroyer collisions. Dumbass navy crashes into merchant ships for no reason? Make the goddamn merchant mariners shave and do more drills, that will fix it lol. They will literally never learn.

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Damn poor guys , no beards

There’s nothing wrong with being clean shaven at work.

What I chuckle about is the Navy has a MWR (morale fund) that almost always sells ‘no shave chits’ for the men. Basically you make a MWR donation so you don’t have to shave for that underway period which, in the Navy, can be weeks to months. These are common on deployments. Deployments are common these days to the Middle East (near Iran) or Western Pacific (near N. Korea). It is on these deployments where operations, hostilities (and collisions) are likely to require the use of firefighting masks or CBR defense masks.

So the Navy has a tradition of not shaving where the need for a clean shave is greatest. Yet the good Admiral wants the civilians to shave in those same seas.

What happens next? During an underway replenishment the clean-shaven civilians will look across the rails and see the scruffy USN sailors. This will become a weekly reminder of ‘why Navy rules are stupid’ which will encourage a questioning and resisting of other rules.

(First Rule of Command: Never give an order you know will not be obeyed.)


I am old enough to have served back when Navy men had full beards, and I recall the day when they had to report clean-shaven in the early 80’s. So many tan lines, and more chins than a Chinese phone book. Good times.

I wonder if this policy will spread to my agency. We have a lot of bearded fellows here.

I’ve fought more than the average share of ship oard fires during my long tenure as Chief Mate. Most were before I grew my beard. Each time I got way closer to the fire than I should have.

After growing my beard I had a lively debate with the captain who thought Both me and his relief should cut their beards. I disagreed fully. At no point should the on scene commander (usually the ch mate) expose himself to smoke… and it should without saying that neither should the captain. We kept our beards.

Of note, some of the newer crewmembers claimed that making them shave and not doing so ourself was hypocritical. I disagreed here too. The guys who had worked with me for years could attest to my willingness to accept danger and the fact that a hoseman and an on scene commander have different roles to play is not hypocrisy but truth.


My Company had a No Facial Hair policy for anyone that had to be fit tested for masks, tankerman / AB’s. Engineers were not involved in this, or at least in the Fleet that I was in at the time. So, I decided to transfer to a different fleet that had a total no facial hair policy. So, I shaved my full beard the day before joining the Vessel in New Orlean. Once onboard, I was reviewing some fleet memos, I was pissed as the very firstne that I read repealed that damn policy for Engineers.

Not sure how to be PC about this but here it goes. I took Advance FF at MSC in New Jersey and I remember them telling us that no one would be able to take the course unless we were clean shaved. The Instructor was a Black Male and made a point to speak to the other Black Males in the class about how he did not want to hear about how their skin was affected by having to shave everyday and how he dealt with it so they would have to or leave.

I talked to some of them during the breaks and was told that they usually got an exemption from shaving due to a medical problem but did keep it trimmed very short. So, I have to wonder how this will fly with this new policy of shave or you will no longer be able to work there.

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That sounds familiar. I went through there in 2003.

I was a volunteer firefighter for many years. I and many others had beards from time to time. This was especially true during hunting season. None of us ever had an issue maintaining a seal with an scba mask. This is an outdated thought process.


It’s a positive pressure system, and I agree with it being an outdated thought process. However, if they were talking about respirators needing a tight seal (and fit test), then yes, no beards.

Did you ever quantify how good your seal was with a beard by using a fit test machine?

And yes, while an SCBA is positive pressure, any leaks in the seal will contribute to your air supply being depleted that much faster. In a situation where you are using “30 minute” bottles that in reality last 10 to 15 minutes based on how hard you are working, why allow leakage to further reduce your valuable air supply?

And, although I have not seen the research myself, OSHA has said that “research has demonstrated that even modest facial hair growth can have a significant adverse impact on the protection of a positive-pressure system.”


SCBAs are overdue for new tech. How about very light weight carbon fiber bottles? How about much higher pressure to get much more air into the bottle? How about a carbon fiber “hard hat” that better protects the head, face and neck? It seems to me that firefighting turnout gear is long overdue for upgrades.


Lightweight carbon fiber bottles are already in use. One drawback for their implementation in the marine firefighting protection world is that they are 1. more expensive 2. have a limited service life.
The aluminum cylinders seen in use onboard have an unlimited service life as long as they continue to pass their hydrostatic testing.
For higher pressure SCBA, similar answer. Already in use.
I have seen european firefighters using some interesting looking head protection, but as always, there is resistance to change.


Given all the money being spent on making a big show of “safety”, with boat loads of new paperwork and offices full of safety professionals, I cannot understand the strong resistance to paying a little more for the best commercially available personal safety equipment.

Look at the hard hats we are not expected to wear just about all the time.The companies are not interested in safety, only the appearance of safety. The hard hats we get are the cheapest crap they can find. They are only designed to save construction works from small items dropped short distances.

We need newly designed specially purpose “maritime safety helmets” with good straps, good built in LED lights, good hearing and eye protection, and built in hands free radios.


I was just in Manhattan and visited a construction site… Their hats look durable! …you’d be laughed off site if you wore a regular ships hardhat


Working for a private company now that is implementing this rule. I agree with it, as it really is necessary for the safety on-board. The one thing that I would say to senior members and office workers of MSC is “If we shave, you shave”

I’ve seen some European rescue boat helmets that look a lot better.

The US logging helmets are a lot better. I’ve looked a mining helmets and a few others, but don’t really see anything with all the right features.

The truth is that hard hats we are forced to wear now are more of a hazard than an asset. I’ve come close to falling overboard a couple of times trying to keep from losing my hard hat. Why would anyone issue hard hats for a boat that don’t have chin straps?

Why on earth do I need a hard hat and safety goggles to walk out to the bridge wing or aft controls? Or go take a piss? Ridiculous.