Choice between academy vs hawsepiper

Hello, I am looking for some guidance on what direction to take getting into the maritime industry. To make a long story short I am 30 and only hold a high school diploma, no consistent work experience due to a chronic medical problem now been resolved. I want to get my life sorted out, and trying to decide what course to take. I am on the east coast. I could get my SCTW locally and for free, which I understand would allow me to become an OS and start looking for work while also continuing to train to get further licensing. I am also looking at Mass Maritime which offers an unlimited
ton license and a BA, but it is not appealing, almost 200,000 in debt and I am not educated enough for their mathematics
courses so I would have to study and transfer from a community college. There is also the Northeast Martime program, 2 years,
less debt, gives an associates degree in nautical science and graduates can work on smaller boats, ferries, etc.

I have accepted that my life isn’t going to go to way I wanted it to, so I am not too concerned about timeframe. If I could be making 60,000 a year by 40 I’d be happy. Debt would not be too big an issue if I could make around 50,000 out of an academy, because I could live with family to pay off debt quickly, but still not my preference. My problem is that I get overwhelmed trying to navigate the maritime hierarchy to figure out my plan. I am interested in working within the USA, lakes or rivers, preferably commercial non-passenger type boats, so cargo, shipping and the like. Do I need an unlimited ton license for that, is it worth it to go to Mass Maritime for that reason? Could I successfully get my foot in the door with Northeast Maritime and hustle to work my way up to third mate?

I am sure I seem a bit clueless. This is a lot of new information for me and I am trying to orient myself to make a good decision. Any guidance you could offer would be very appreciated. Thank you.

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Really, the question comes down to one thing: how well do you do with scholastics? If you do well in school, then going to an academy is hand-down your best bet. It gives you the most options.

If your mind isn’t best adapted to going to college then a two year maritime program is for you. Because dropping out after two years of a more difficult four-year academy is going to saddle you with debt.

The good thing is, at 30 you probably already have the answer to the question, unlike a lot of 18 year olds.

Freighterman literally took the words out of my mouth. Heard many good things about Northeast Maritime and you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to get accepted. However, you will need to be at least proficient in math to get a license no matter where you go. In all the years I have participated on this site, don’t recall anything but good reviews on that institution. They will get you through it.

I’m a hawsepiper, and if i could do it all over again, i would have went to an academy.

I’ve been doing this 20+ years now, started out in the mid-90s. It was way easier coming up the hawsepipe then rather than now. Most employers don’t finance license upgrades these days, so even hawsepiping is going to cost you money and accrue debt most likely.

Having a degree will give you a leg up for shoreside opportunities and a lot of companies prefer academy graduates, anyway.


You can use something like Khan Academy for free online to learn the math. A one on one live math tutor might be good too. There are retired people that volunteer to teach. There are plenty of high school and college students, not to mention teachers that will tutor in math for a reasonable fee. Much cheaper than a for credit college course.

If you approach learning math, and going to the academy, like a job, and simply work at it, you will do much better than most.

As an old hawespiper, I say: Go to the academy!

If you can take “STCW” Basic Training” for free and get work as an OS, that would be a good thing to do, while you prepare for the academy. Some jobs do not leave much opportunity for studying, other job provide a lot of time to study. Many mariners are good teachers.


Thank you, that is good advice re math tutors. My biggest hesitation with Mass Maritime is the amount of debt. If I am able to get a job quickly after graduation, I’d guessing it would take me 3-4 years to pay off my debt if I lived at home. Northeast payment would take me 1-2 years at home if I can land a starting salary of at least 40,000. I don’t mind having to continue to hustle a bit to climb the ladder towards third mate, which is why I am leaning towards Northeast right now. I can get my foot in the door that way and then hustle the rest of the way. What are you thoughts, please? Do I have a good read on the situation?

Thank you, this reply is helpful. Although what do you mean by “the most options” please? Do you meant the most options immediately after graduating? I am not well suited to scholastics, not dumb, just not a school type. Right now Northeast looks like my best option: less debt, less time in school, less superfluous academia. My understanding of Northeast is that I won’t graduate as a third mate, but I will have job opportunities and can hustle my way up the ladder. It seems like a half academy/half hawespiper combo that might suit me pretty good. What do you think, am I understanding the situation alright?

Graduating from a four year academy allows you to test for a unlimited 3rd mate or engineer license, which means you can work on any size vessel immediately, large or small. Two year academies offer licenses of limited tonnage, which restricts job opportunities. Similarly, having a BS degree expands shoreside employment from what you can expect from an AS degree.

I may be incorrect, but I believe NEMI offers schooling leading to an AB certificate/ 100 ton license, The 100-ton license as captain restricts the number of jobs available to you. Many tugs are over a 100 tons. Large ships are 10,000 tons+. The AB certificate allows you to work a blue-collar/laboring job making the amount of money you mention. With an AB you can advance to 1600-ton captain fairly easily. But any farther is much harder.

The compromise is the 500/1600 ton license program, such as put out by MITGS

MITAGS gives you a certain amount of classroom training, but also pairs you with a commercial vessel operator to apprentice you for several voyages at sea. You end up with a 500/1600 tons mate’s license. Also a two -year program, though I may be wrong. Also, I don’t think you get a degree.

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You have got excellent advice from the seasoned posters who replied to your post… My son was lucky enough to go the academy route. Doesn’t make him any better or worse, just more opportunities. Go with the best journey you qualify for and can afford… I was a hawsepiper, wasn’t the easiest path. And even harder now. I truly wish you the best of luck. I really enjoyed sailing.

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Any school you decide upon must include some form of seatime as part of their program or you are wasting you time IMO. The program @freighterman1 referenced fits that bill. If you are interested in the Great Lakes, I would suggest you consider Great Lakes Maritime Academy.

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If you are going the deck route like Chief_Seadog suggested the best route is Great Lakes. Don’t go to any of the other schools where you would just to end up dealing with bs that has nothing to do with your education or license.

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Perhaps I thought Great Lakes and Northeastern were the same outfit… Great Lakes is the bomb. Again, good luck sir.

Establish residency in the state with the school you want to attend while you are working and studying math, then pay in-state tuition when you go to school.

All of the state academies are easy to get in to. There will be a few very smart students, but most students will be average, just like you. There will be a few dimwits too.

If you don’t have a house with hone equity and a lot of cash, you will qualify for financial aid at the academy. Most students receive some financial aid. A few receive a lot.

Federal student loans are currently very low interest. Essentially rent free money that can be paid back in The future with deflated value dollars. Don’t worry about the debt. If you graduate from an Academy, you will earn enough to easily afford the debt.

20 years from now, an associates degree won’t mean much. Good jobs will require a Master’s degree. You cannot get into a Master’s degree program with a two year degree. You’ll need a 4 year degree to get in. Shorter “Graduate Certificate” programs are becoming popular with shoreside employers. You need a 4 year degree for that too.

The key to future success, more than ever, is being ready, willing, and able to quickly adapt to changing circumstances. Go for the 4 year degree.


I believe SUNY offers close to instate tuition for regional students. It’s slightly more than instate but not 40K a year. Definitely work on your math now. That is the biggest hurdle for many license students.

And I think AMO still has the Engineer program where you can earn an engineers license when committing to sailing with the union for a certain time after earning the license if you wanted to go that route.

Academy route is definitely the quickest option for biggest license and offers the most opportunities after graduation. Any of the three SUNY, Mass or MMA are great, with SUNY having the most shoreside opportunities and MMA (Maine) tending to be the most well rounded at sea. Graduation from one of these academies will easily let you pay off your loans. It’s not easy, but it’s worth the work and you’ll be glad you did it.

Hawespiping is still an option but might cost you the same in the end and take you longer and you won’t be able to get federal student loans for those classes.

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IF you decide to go the hawsepiper route I would suggest looking into the SIU’s Apprentice program (if you are not too old for it). There are a couple of reasons for the suggestion. First, they generally have the most jobs. Secondly, the training is free for the courses you would need. The key here is to stay focused on your ultimate goal. Take the jobs that others may not want as you want SEATIME in the quest for advancement.

They call it “in-region” and it’s about 20% more than in-state. It’s available to residents of Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
I think the other academies have similar regional rates.

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Having done both I recommend an Academy like the others. I worked unlicensed for many years and never made it into the pilot house. I ended up getting a job in civil service.

Upon retirement I went to SUNY for the 2 year program, I was hired before I even finished. SUNY claims 100% employment upon graduation with the highest starting salaries nationwide. It also is usually in the top 10 for mid career salaries as well.

One thing to note, which I don’t think was mentioned yet is that you will not be hired as an officer when you graduate. At least on the deck side. I decked and eventually went up on the barge as a tankerman. At today’s rates you should easily gross 60k as a tankerman.

It takes a lot of time on deck and acumen to get in the pilot house of a modern tug or ATB. There are good reasons for that which have been discussed in other threads.

I was on a full scholarship, but if I had to pay out of pocket I would make a spreadsheet with tuition and living expenses and go with the cheapest option. All the school options will get you to the same place but sometimes it’s HOW you get there.

In the meantime get yourself some cheap credits at your local community College, make sure they will transfer. To see how you do and save time and money at your choice of school. No matter where you go you will be spending lots of time in classrooms. There is a lot to learn.


good advice above: I worked very hard, tested as soon as eligible, studied, bought all the books, recorded sea time religiously etc. made my way to CE but looking fwd. in the industry i’d take a route that most readily leads to unlimited tonnage.
and yes, go to school. While I had a knack for math and mechanical engineering, even excelled at it in some respects, I would of been even better had I gone to school for it gives you a ‘base’ to work from. I think it a huge advantage though we have all seen “educated idiots”.

“Claims” being the key word there.

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A good point sir. “Claims”. As more than a few schools do. Still, would go academy route if possible.