Try to get your ticket as soon as you can… that means getting your wiper and OS so you can get your foot in the door. You don’t say how much experience you have, but get your ducks in a row now. Some things you can do in the near term are document all your sea-time, get your TWIC, get your (entry level) MMC…but something to consider…if you have years of fishing experience, you might be able to parlay that out into a Master (25,50,100, etc.) the test for an AB is slightly easier than for a Master so if you get a Master, you can just add on the OS and wiper at the same time and not have to pay any additional fees.
With a Master you can do seasonal guide work to get your sea-time up.
With an OS, you can work (as a deckhand) on tugs, barges, LC’s, fishing boats (that require licensed crew), or even ferrys.
So if you have both it really diversifies your opportunities…
The MUSTS to consider are the requirements such as 1st Aid/CPR, TWIC, physical, and application…also education and testing. In theory, you could do almost all of your studying on the internet, take your tests at the REC, and increase your license that way, you would however eventually need to take classes for such things as: Lifeboatman, BST/PSC, Radar Observer, Bridge Resource Mgmt., Fire Fighting, etc. In practice, most folk just opt to take an “all inclusive” class at a training center or Community College.
As far as the best sector to work…that’s all on you, I work on tugs and barges mostly but I have been known to take a “leave of absence” to drive skiff during salmon season in southeast now and again. I even do six pack dinner cruises and sail training sometimes just because it counts for the “…as a master or mate WHILE HOLDING a master or mate…” requirement for certain sea-time calculations on upper level licenses.
LOTS of info on everything I’ve stated above here in this forum if you dig deep enough, I do understand it can be confusing though.
Oh…and if anyone says you should join the APMA…kick them in the nuts!