Internship Opportunities on Great Lakes Freighter's? Career Advice?

Hey, does anyone which of the following Great Lakes Shipping companies offer the best chances for Internship this upcoming summer?
I’m the same Freshman student from the Maritime College in Houston that asked about ATB’s.
As with that one, are there any Mariners here who are or have worked on Lake Freighters or have insightful knowledge about them? They have recently peaked my interests and I think I would also like to work on those ships, What is like to work on onboard these Vessels?
How are the working conditions onboard?
How has your experience and impression been working on these ships?
Why do you sail on them?
How is the pay?
What type of jobs would be onboard these ships, especially in the Deck Department?
What are the Pros and Cons of employment on these vessels, overall in general?
What type of education/endorsements/experience/etc is needed or recommended to work on the Great Lake Freighters? Any advice for starting a career in this aspect of the Maritime industry would be helpful.

I know the following companies that operate them are both USA and Canadian, the following being mainly USA; American Steamship Company, Andrie Inc., Central Marine Logistics, Inc., Great Lakes Fleet/Key Lakes, The Interlake Steamship Company, Inland Lakes Management, Inc., Port City Marine Services, Inc., and VanEnkevort Tug & Barge, Inc.?

Sorry if it seems I’m jumping around from one field of the maritime industry to another, I’m just researching to find the best route for me.

You can always reach out to the companies themself with these questions , and at the same time put your name in their head . Good luck

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The lakes is a different beast than most would expect. Not only in terms of weather but operationally is unconventional as opposed to most ships. This time of year you are dealing with very cold temperatures, frozen cargo, ice, etc. It’s a dirtier job than most, with a less than desirable rotation for the most part. 95% of the companies on the Great Lakes work a 2 for 1 schedule, typically 60/30, give or take. No matter what boat you are on, the work you are doing is generally the same. Runs are quick, you’re in port every other day or so and you have cell phone signal a majority of the time. Most of the boats will lay-up for a couple month period during the winter. The pay is nice for officers, not sure about unlicensed. All in all, it’s a good place to work with good people.

What is like to work on onboard these Vessels?
It’s unlike any other vessel you will work on. 95* temps in the summer to -20* in the winter. Busy schedules, sometimes you will unload and load in the same day. As a Mate you might have a cargo watch, a lake watch, or a river piloting watch. On the longer runs (3 days between docks) you would have something like this: 2 lake watches, river piloting watch, lake watch, river piloting watch, and a lake watch and arrival to the dock, a cargo watch and departure. The thousand footers unload in 8-10 hours on a pile, 10-20 hours depending on a hopper. The smaller “workboats” unload in 3.5-8 hours depending on the cargo. We haul dry bulk cargoes: limestone, taconite, coal, and then some odd ball stuff( Slag, mill scale, sand, etc.) Loading this stuff can take anywhere from 5 hours to 24+ depending on the dock and weather. Winter sailing things freeze up and ice causes all kinds of issues and delays.

How are the working conditions onboard?
Pretty good. Fresh water allows these hulls to not rot away as bad as some deep sea ships. Being close to shore allows pretty decent cell phone coverage and being in port frequently allows fresh produce in the Galley. The food is definitely better than I’ve had elsewhere.

How has your experience and impression been working on these ships?
It’s not as glamorous as sailing on a brand new Tanker, or a box boat running the European route, or a Matson ship on the pineapple run, but it pays the bills and provides some perks.

Why do you sail on them? When I left the oil patch in 2016 I considered deep sea or going back to the Great Lakes ( I had done some Cadet time up there in 2012). My friends sailing MMP were sitting in halls for months trying to get jobs. A quick phone call and some paperwork and I was headed to a Great Lakes Freighter in a few days. It’s pretty steady work for a new hire with no seniority. Within a year you can get a full 180-200 day season in. I also looked at how many retirements these companies were going to have and how much room to move up there would be. I was able to go from relief Third Mate to Relief First Mate in just over two years. I really like the variety of watches. You go from a easy lake watch, to river piloting, to cargo watches. As First Mate I enjoy loading the vessel. TPI and MT1 and all that stuff you’ve probably forgotten from Stability class & Dry cargo class comes into play.

As a Captain you handle some very large ships in very confined waters without hardly ever using tugs. Definitely some extremely skilled shiphandlers up here.

How is the pay?
Less than most deep sea contracts but not horrible.

What type of jobs would be onboard these ships, especially in the Deck Department?
Almost all have 1 Master/First Class Pilot, 3 Mate/First Class Pilot, 3 AB wheelsman, and a 5 person deck crew.
Mates stand navigation watches on open lake, cargo watches in port, and pilot the river systems during their watch. AB wheelsman wheel the rivers and do sanitary. Deck crew does maintenance and unloads the vessel.

What are the Pros and Cons of employment on these vessels, overall in general?
Pros: 1. Steady work and lots of room for advancement. 2. One of the best jobs to learn river piloting and shiphandling without tugs. 3. Decent cell phone service and good food. 4. Not much paperwork (SMS hasn’t arrived…yet)
Cons: 1. You haul dirt for a living. Just a big floating dump truck. 2. It can be hot as hell or cold as F#@! 3. Typical schedule is 60 days on 30 days off and then you get laid off during the winter. 4. Lower pay than some parts of the industry.

What type of education/endorsements/experience/etc is needed or recommended to work on the Great Lake Freighters?

Biggest thing is a First Class Pilotage endorsement on you license. Some companies will occasionally take “open water” Mates but the Pilotage is key to steady employment. If you Cadet up here record your trips and write the Pilotage. Put in the time to learn the rivers and most ship’s officers are willing to shed some light on the tips and tricks to pass the Great Lakes Pilotage exams at the USCG REC.

A few Texas cadets rode on Great Lakes Maritime Academy’s TS State of Michigan a few years back. See if anyone has the Pilotage info and chartlets before you ship out.

Any advice for starting a career in this aspect of the Maritime industry would be helpful.

If you’re interested start with a Cadet Sea project. Even if you don’t want to sail on the Great Lakes after your sea project, I can promise you, you’ll have a better skill set and outlook going into every job there after. I know I’ve been a better Mariner because of what I learned as a Cadet on the Great Lakes.

Let me know if you have any other questions.


Doing your 2/1 schedule, do you save enough money to float you during winter, or do you find temp work elsewhere? Draw unemployment?

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Yes, I always have enough. Some companies offer a 10% bonus at the end of the season. Almost all of us that get laid off claim unemployment. Most boats layup Mid January and fit out the third week of March so you get just over two months off if you fit out. My first two years I didn’t go out until they needed reliefs in April & May. The bank account got a little thin those first couple seasons.

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Thank you, that really helped a lot. Also, the Maritime collage (San Jacinto College Maritime) I’m attending is not the Academy but I would leave the Associates Program as an AB Special though I could upgrade towards license with the amount of sea time I’ll hopefully acquire through summer internships. I had already sent an email to the major Great Lakes companies a week ago inquiring about internships, would it be best to call them as well to follow up on that?

Sorry I assumed you were a Cadet at Texas A&M. As far as what you are looking at doing I will give this insight. Most of the companies have unions. Not sure how they would handle a deck intern without you joining the union. American Steamship is SIU and they take the Piney Point interns. Most of Great Lakes Fleet and all of Interlake are Local 5000 steelworkers. Your best bet might be to go to VanEnkenvort Tug & Barge or Andrie as they are the two big non union companies up here. Andrie has oil and chemical barges and Cement barges. VanEnkevort runs the same stone and taconite as the ships. As an OS on these ships you would be pulling mooring cables, rinsing holds, chipping and painting, etc. I would talk to all the companies but again be ready for a “no” at some due to union issues. Another thing to consider is we are down to the last three to four weeks of the season up here. Most ships won’t start moving again until late March/early April.

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Best advice anyone could possibly give you, take your associates at San Jacinto and transfer to Texas A&M - Galveston, get your 3rd Mate Unlimited. There are so many 3rd Mates its ridiculous. I have a 3rd Mate and got denied even for an AB position on the lakes.

I thought that generally Union companies are able to take interns as long as they don’t fill a union billet.

Thanks for the feedback, I kinda figured the season would be slowing to a stop due to the ice, I’ve already got in contact with VanEnkenvort (On a list, waiting for a spot), still waiting to hear from Andrie, Inc.(Still need to call them soon) and I left a voice messages to the others. Hopefully, I’ll hear back from the more this following Spring, I had been made aware of the union issue. Hopefully, I can get opportunity for at least a consideration for an internship. Thank you for also providing a perspective of what I may be tasked to do on board and the Maritime Industry up north, truly appreciated.

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I’m 15 turning 16 in 2 months. After learning about Edmund Fitzgerald, I have always wanted to work on the Arthur M Anderson. I would like to know if I have to have a certain education to work aboard a freighter. I know I have to be at the age of 18 to work. If anyone could let me know it would be a big help. Thank you

  1. Finish high school.

  2. Decide whether you want to be an officer, or unlicensed crew member (AB, QMED, steward, etc,)

  3. If you want to be an AB or QMED, apply for the Harry Lundberg School of Seamanship in Maryland, also called Piney Point. This is a one-year course.

  4. If you want to be an officer, you can go to the Great Lakes Maritime Academy. This is a 4-year college like any other, with the added opportunity of getting a merchant mariner license as 3rd mate or 3rd engineer as well. (There are about five other merchant marine academies you can go to in the USA to get the same education/similar license).

  5. Which route to go depends on how well you do in academics. Merchant marine academies are not particularly tough academically, but they are colleges, and colleges have standards. Merchant marine academies are the best way to go if you are academically inclined. A college degree gives you more job opportunities later in life. But if you are not so inclined, go to Piney Point and sleep well at night knowing you’re going into a good paying job.