Do our Academys prepare 3rd Mates for thier first bridge watch?

This post is to discuss our blog story:

[Alaska Cruise Ship - New Mate, Wrong Turn](" title="Permanent Link to Alaska Cruise Ship - New Mate, Wrong Turn)

The short of it: Turns out the night of the “Empress of the North” grounding was the 2nd day on the job for a brand new Cal Maritime Alumni. I can’t believe the Capt put him on the 12-4, left him alone for the turn, or that the company didn’t fork over the extra 10k it would have taken to attract more experienced mates.

I’d like your help discussing this so I created this forum posts. Please answer the title question as a comment below.

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This story rings close to me because on my very first night watch after graduating from the academy the capt put me on 12-4 and I stood in shock as a 125’ fishing boat approached my port side at 26 knots 20 minutes after the second mate (who’s alarm clock failed) was suppose to relieve me.

This was an 1100’ SEABEE vessel (The Cape Mohican) going a whopping 8kts. The Captain had also told me the day before “Don’t turn the ship for any small vessel unless you see the fear of god in the captains eye while he’s frantically pulling his outboard’s rip-cord.”

I made a few critical mistakes that night:

[li]I had not memorized the Captain’s phone # which had been smudged out on the bridge’s phone directory so I couldn’t call him
[/li] [li]I sent the AB to wake the second mate up at 0400 not realizing he would take a 30min smoke break afterwards
[/li] [li]I called the vessel 3 time wasting my time
[/li] [li]I was the stand on vessel that I stood on too long

What saved me was the whistle, there were 2 aboard. One was a double stacked electric and one a huge steam whistle fed off the ship’s boilers. As the boat got within a few hundred feet I had to make a choice. Sound the steam whistle and wake the captain (and every one else on the ship) or the electric which would cover my ass in court and not wake the captain in hopes that the fishing boat was waiting till the last minute to turn. I chose the steam whistle, woke up our entire crew but also woke up the boat’s captain who had been sleeping in an aft cabin (I saw him run to the bridge in his boxer shorts).

After sounding the whistle my capt ran to the bridge (in a towel) and yelled at the radar “where is it, WHERE IS IT” then glanced at me pointing directly down below the bridge wing.

The result: I got a warning for not calling the captain but an excellent evaluation when I signed off stating “he’s a man who can be trusted” but most importantly by saying “F%$# it” and sounding the steam whistle I didn’t kill the crew of that fishing boat.

Close Call and to answer the question: no I was not ready to stand watch despite having the license and a 4 year degree.


I only got to be officer on the watch 2 times my senior year at schuyler. Once in open ocean (I learned nothing) and once in the English Channel.

In the channel the standing orders were to call the captain for anything that had a CPA under 3nm. Soon I saw a boat with a 2.5nm cpa, I opened it up to 3.5nm but as the boat neared he turned to decrease the CPA. Final CPA was 2.7NM.

Well as the CPA was declining the watch officer waited till it hit 2.9, spent 3 min watching me-waiting for me to call the old man, the next 3 min yelling at me for not calling him…then another 3 minutes waiting for the captain to arrive from the gym.

The captain arrived on the bridge said a few encouraging words and left. The target was now miles past us but the watch officer decided to make a point. He failed me.

His comments on my failure report were great: “Your lucky this is a training ship. If you had not called the captain as 3rd mate on a real ship you would be fired on the spot!” Well being upset and a little arrogent I wrote as my remarks “Mate xxx IS the 3rd mate on a REAL ship and he was NOT FIRED”.

So no I and mostly him were NOT ready after graduation

I once sailed with a green SUNY grad who was useless. He told me he had NEVER been on a commercial ship before, only the training ship. How the hell are you suppose to learn anything on a ship with hundreds of cadets trying to learn the same thing. On a cadet shipping assignment you have 1 cadet trying to learn from 4 licensed officers…BIG DIFFERENCE!!

I’m pretty proud of myself being a hawsepiper. I’ve never gotten into this type of mess since I’ve always advanced at an even pace.

…wow it looks like they fired the 3rd mate!?!

[3rd mate & captain wanted for Empress of the North cruise ship](" title="3rd mate and captain fired from alaska cruise ship that hit rock?)

<p class="MsoNormal]
I would say the vast majority of new third mates, academy or
through the hawse, are not ready for their first watch.<span> </span>You have to be on the bridge in charge where
the metal meets the meat to learn the lessons.<span>
</span>Assisting, learning in Classrooms, Cadet Watches, Chipping paint and being a helmsman for a mate
does not make a decision maker.<span> </span>That’s
why a captain must watch from a distance until you can be trusted or have
screwed up enough to learn some life lessons.<span>

I dont think anyone GREEN could be expected to pull a watch with full confidence.

Then again…I wouldn’t let the Master of the Queen Mary hold his own watch unless it was with me. I have to form my opinion of an individual by observation, not credentials.

Here’s a photo of the ship I was on during the above story…you have to love flickr!

[img]" border=“0” alt=“The Cape Mohican” hspace=“12” vspace=“12” width=“400” height=“400” />

Photo by [SF Bukaroo ](" title="The Cape Mohican Flickr Photo)

I am a Maine Maritime Academy grad and I can confidently say that I was well trained. My first ocean watch was well before my first job. My instructors were great and they did not baby us in the slightest. I had a great cadet shipping experience- the guys on that ship worked me hard for weeks and before I left I was able to run the bridge on my own without incident.

So yes, my first year of work I did have a few oh-shit moments, but I was prepared for them. I was confident that I could do the right thing. I always knew the Captains number-- and I knew that most fishermen aren’t trained the way we are (and might be asleep at the helm)

I think it all depends on who you learned with- but experience trumps all- and even the most seasoned mariner can get in some trouble when not paying attention. However in the case of the Empress- that captain should have been hanging around and getting a feel for his new mate. The responsibility always falls on the captain.

Casey O’Donnell

Co-owner / Editor

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I have worked with many fresh grads, most of whom were not ready for their position. There was the occasional one who stood out from the crowd and could handle himself, but for the most part, they were not prepared, some of them were even a hazard.


As a CMA Grad that class was a bunch of idiots. Not supprized by
this. An that turn BTW is a very easy turn, 90 degree turn to the
right keeping 1 nm off the rock.

Experiance wise nobody is truly ready for their first watch. However, most of the Maritime Academies, give their graduates the right amount of knowledge to know when they are getting over their head and to call the captain. My first watch at sea was coming out of the Straits of Mallacca, the captain came up and checked on me ten minutes after the turnover. He looked around, asked how I felt, and then went below. He wasn’t below ten minutes and the 10cm radar died. I called him, he came up again, looked at the traffic, told me to keep a closer eye on everything and not to hesitate to call him. Their are both good mates and bad mates from all the Academies, as a student you either take advantage of the education that is offered to you or not, unfortunately common sense can’t be taught and that is the most important “skill” of going to sea…Also, I believe that if a mate gets a bad captain -screaming maniac, panicky, irritable, etc- than he/she can learn a lot of very bad habits that can be hard to unlearn. We all have our own “Sea Daddies” in our past that without their help we would not be the mariner we are today.

i think with suny maritime and other places that dont have cadet observer mandatory the process should be made easier. you basicaly have a report an inch thick to make, plus apply and get recommended and have excellent grades, most people don’t even apply for it because they might not get in, and its a month longer because you dont get the seatime bonus of being on a training ship.

i did not feel experienced at all when i was on watch coming out of the kiel canal and having to maneuver for vessels constantly, mate seemed to think that having only one watch as cwo before was sufficient. hey, if you’re that good on the start thats great that you would be recognized and given the chance, but i think, like a convoy, the training should follow the slowest so that noone gets left behind.

i wish i sailed cadet observer but the only school i know that has the upper hand at that is KP, and id never go there.


As a soon to be Schuyler grad, I can say that we are not prepared to stand our first watch alone. The high numbers of new cadets being let into the school vs. the amount of cadets to be held on the training ship does not give the cadet the opportunity or capability to actually stand their own watch as a 3rd mate. I do feel, however, that it isn’t the Academy’s fault. What more can we expect when the school continuously refuses to have relation with its faithful alumni whom wish to donate more and more to students to give them the opportunities and experience needed to get out into the industry. Also, what are the chances that a Schuyler grad is competent to work as a mate in the movement of tugs and barges? They aren’t, in fact they are set at the very bottom as AB’s so they can get their qualifications to become a mate. Perhaps we have to look at this in another aspect. Can a school really teach its future graduates to be Watch Officers and Mates on board vessels, or does it only give you a permit to be something of that nature? I think, overall, that becoming a mate is a process that takes time and experience, something that in most cases, we don’t get from the academies. It’s all about experience, and if companies are willing to not have training programs that ensures their mates know what they are doing, then thats a risk that should have a budget allocated to the side. You can not base what you hear from an interview, which is 90% BS, and then entrust those people on your vessels. So for all those against 3/M not prepared, help one out and show him/her the ropes. This way you know that you did all you can to prevent something catastrophic from happening. I know when I’m up there, I will!


Many years ago I graduated from college with an engineering degree. I had passed my EIT [engineer in training] exam and gained employment. I was an engineer in training and certainly not allowed on my own for a year or so. Whether mate or engineer all new graduates come out with a license to learn only. They have the basics and hopefully have some school ship experience all of which will allow them to stand a competent watch after training with a mate who wants to sleep well.
I think the maritime schools continue to do a good job in preparing mates and engineers. It’s up to those of us who like some peace of mind to continue that training. It’s always been that way, whether thru school or the hawsepipe captains and engineers are made with the help of others.


Answer - in most institutes, 3rd mates are theoretically well versed, but unless they were given opportunities during training on the bridge, they are <strong>not</strong> fully prepared for the first watch.

The only place where the academy can help is if it has a full mission simulator - the closest it comes to real life. Lost of practice of - not complex situations, but normal watches that they would see… interpreting the radar and arpa info, putting radar fixes (in most, visual fixes are too unrealistic unless you have a proper azimuth mirror)

The best time, I feel , is in the last few months of training (cadetship) - if only mates put cadets lesser on maintenance and other duties and more on the bridge, explaining what they are doing, hey certainly would be better prepared for the first watch. aye even give them a watch to conduct under the officers supervision and watchful eye.


I’m at the tail end of my time as a Bosun, just about to take the last AB-to-mate classes. On my regular ship, new 3rd mates are paired with one of our two more businesslike and professional AB’s to help them out. By and large, the new mates are not ready, except for the ones from King’s Point (which is a shame, as most of 'em are pr*cks and don’t stay in the field anyhow). The guys from the state schools aren’t exposed to a particularly regimented cadet shipping experience, and, unless they got lucky in their cadet shipping, they are rarely at their best.

In my own opinion, this is easily remedied by pairing cadets up with good watch officers, as opposed to giving them a needle gun and orders to stay out of sight for 90 days. Just a few weeks of actually conducting the watch under a watchful but passive eye seems to make a big difference.

most training schools now i think have simulators. however the one here at Suny Maritime is hard to get in to. Generally there are 5 people in a section, and you are mate on watch in a 5 man rotation which is 5 weeks, the other positions are assistants to the mate, towards the end of the semester the rotation changed a bit with everyone having a 20 minute or so slot. However, I wish there was a simpler way to get more time on the simulator, considering how detailed and advanced it is, most professors are overbooked with classes and meetings, and classes get filled up very quick. Even so, I feel more confident than if I wouldn’t have taken this, and getting a little of the hang of maneuvering and communications is the biggest help. Dealing with 40 knot high speed ferries coming from the right of you, losing power while overtaking a vessel, and arrival and departure procedures, is a lot of good stuff, i liked the simulator more than being on the training ship.


I am a KP grad, retired shipmaster and Pilot, holding my 9th issue of Unlimited Master and 10 First Class Pilot Endorsements. The only school that produces grads able to stand competent port and sea watches upon graduation is KP. But not all KP grads have the confidence and skills to do the job unsupervised. Some are no better than state schoolship grads. After a few years at sea, the differences in competence among all the academy grads disappear. The three worst scares and near collisions/groundings that I experienced in my career were the result of misjudgements by experienced senior officers. The worst display of professional incompetence that I experienced was when I was Captain of a large tank ship, not gas free. The failure was on the part of a 67 year old third mate with several issues of Chief Mate Unlimited. At night, he mis-identified the port side running lights of a US navy DE on our starboard bow and closing. Thank God that he had the sense to call me. As soon as I got on the bridge and saw the DE’s lights, I ran into the wheelhouse and cranked the rudder hard right. We met the DE port-to-port, in near total darkness, but close enough to read the number on the bow of the DE. That Third mate was replaced at our next port and was never again left on the bridge without another officer watching him. The second event happened when I was a Pilot. I was boarding a 900 ft ship, a regular trader at our port with a very senior and savvy Captain. On that ship, there was a long walk from the Pilot boarding area to the bridge, partly inside the ship. When I emerged on the bridge, I saw that the Captain had put the engines on Half Ahead and steadied the ship up on the entrance ranges to a small boat harbor, where the water depth was much too shallow for our ship. I ordered hard left rudder and full ahead. The Captain did not countermand my order, but asked what the Hell I was doing since the ship was on the range. I quickly explained that those range lights did not mark our harbor entrance. The third event, as harbor pilot, I was assigned to bring a very light draft tanker into port. By radio, I asked the Captain to remain offshore until I could get there, but he kept getting closer to the reef line. He was about 3 miles west of the harbor entrance channel and stem on to the reef. As I climbed up the pilot ladder, I could see the coral bottom under me. I raced to the bridge, and ordered full astern. &lt;/p&gt; &lt;p&gt; The point that I am making is that length of experience or higher licenses is no guarantee of competence. PS to Anchorman. I would not trust the Captain of the QM2 to stand a watch unsupervised either.


I would say defiently NO to this one I have worked with alot of guys freash out of the acamadies some were willing to learn and add to what they were taught in schoool and some just felt that graduating made them know alls. The hard facts are if you dont continue to learn from the people you work with and gain further experience than your just an idiot regardless. Look at guys who come out of medical school that have to do interms with experienced doctors. Plain and simple Im a license holder and I learn something everyday that I didnt know some from other mates and some from no license holders