Is 53 too old to start at the bottom?

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<font face=“Arial” size=“3” color=”#000000]Great discussion board!</font>

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<font face=“Arial” size=“3” color=”#000000]So here’s my situation:</font>

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<font face=“Arial” size=“3” color=”#000000]Got my only child off to college, selling my house, and considering a leap back to the future. My problem is I am 53 years old. Fit and healthy. Run my 4 miles 4-5/ week and eat bushels of oatmeal daily. Got a couple degrees and have been teaching for the last 15 years.</font>

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<font face=“Arial” size=“3” color=”#000000]I added up all my sea service and most likely will qualify for a 100 ton NC and AB osv or AB Special depending how much deck service qualifies. In a nuts shell, I worked on my dads 58’ commercial fishing boat (dragger) off Oregon a few summers, worked the GOM as an oil patch <span> </span>Diver. Got to work my 18 on 6 off hours/day. This was 1979-82. I hear things have got better. Also, spent 500 12 hour days on Russian, Polish, Japanese, Korean fishing boats on the East and North Pacific, and Bering counting fish for NMFS. Oh, and sail my 17 grt sailboat between west coast and Hawaii lots. Gotta watch the daughter play volleyball.</font>

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<font face=“Arial” size=“3” color=”#000000]So the question is………. Who would hire me at my age and what direction would you recommend? </font>

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<font face=“Arial” size=“3” color=”#000000]Not looking for some past dream. Just would like to get back to what I enjoyed before I took on Dad duties.</font>

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<font face=“Arial” size=“3” color=”#000000]Thanks,</font>

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<font face=“Arial” size=“3” color=”#000000]Bob</font>


Companies are always looking for good hands plus parts of the industry are booming and are willing to hire regardless of experience. Your best bet right now might be heading back to the GOM on a drillship, semi or supply vessel. There are other options so you first must decide what you want to do. Large ships to small boats, domestic or international, underway or stationary…? Give us a better idea of what your dream job is and also what sacrifices you are not willing to make (like working in Nigeria or the Winter Noth Atlantic) and we can better help answer the question.


Thanks for the speedy reply.

Youre right, my post was a bit vague. Dream job?

To be blunt: Maximize earnings for the next 10 years. I dont want to be working on boats when Im 63 years old. Looking for the fast tract, not a career or a dream. Please dont get me wrong I truly enjoy water and boats.

Lets try the GOM as long as crude stays over $60. Which would give the fastest encome:

  1. start out on crewboats and work up to operator?

  2. go for higher tonnage OSV as AB and work up to 1600 ton mate OICNW? While the GOM is hopping now, I understand that deep water oil and international are the growing markets. So international would be great. As far as Nigeria goes, I’ll go any place long as I dont need an AK-47 for safety equipment.

  3. Noth Atlantic. Never been, but cant be much worse than the Bering. Uggg.

Sacrafices… the last thing I want to do is slow steady corporate path for the big bucks 20 years down the road. I dont have 20 years. Ive got 10.

  1. Or, go to the GOM build time for an AB unlimited then head to the nearest union hall?

  2. Union AB on ocean tugs?

  3. Great Lakes?

Just wondering where the best cash is with a 10 year limit. Im very concerned at 53 I’ll get the smile, hand shake, and “well keep your application on file and let you know if anything comes up” talk. Just dont want to wast my time. I can do the work. No problem there. But…

Suggestions? Other routes?


I don’t think 53 is too old. Hell, I am 34 and I would have a coronary if I ran 1/2 a mile. If you want to make the most amount with the least effort it will be the 100 ton route with a possible upgrade to 200 Ton with a slightly higher pay for the 200 ton. No STCW for the 100 ton, No Z-Card. No Problems, but the boats are smaller they run more and are not as comfortable as the larger vessels. A 100 ton crewboat captain on average earns 335 to 400 per day. If you work 28 days on and 14 days off for the next ten years you will have 2,425 days considering no increase or decrease in pay you will range from $812,375 to $970,000. Most companies match 50 cents on the dollar on the first 6% will add another 30 grand to that number not to mention tax benefits for participating in the plan.

You go the other route(AB to Mate to Master) and you are looking at schools, training, schools, training, work, school training,…You get the picture. It all equals about 300,000 to 450,000 more in earnings for the ten year period, but it also offers a more stable work environment. A better standard of living while at work. For example a lot of the larger boats do work 8 or 12 hours watches with 16 to 12 hours of off time. Although some of the 100 ton vessels have some creature comforts, it is more the standard on the larger boats to accomodate the workers. One thing to consider is most supply boats ride better in the water and most are dynamically positioned, which means you press buttons instead of manually doing everything. Most supply boats have a cook or someone designated to prepare meals. I can not comment on ships. This is the Gulf of Mexico Oilfield support vessels. More and more vessels are getting internet access. It’s up to you though. Sounds like you are primed and ready. Most guys just need a plan and you already have one. You may be surprised at how quickly you can put your plan in place. I wanted to comment on the smile and the handshake comment referring to your age. I work on an anchor handling tug supply vessel in the GOM and have seen many 50 something AB’s, one 63 year old OS that started his Maritime career at 63. We put him in the galley to start and he came to the bridge and wanted to talk to us about his career with the company and what his plans were. That was over two years ago and he is still with the company as an AB/Rigger on an OSV. 70 year old galley hand. One of our cooks is 62. If you have the right attitude you will do OK. I have seen a 57 year old AB get his mate and then master license and he did fine and out worked a lot of the youngsters around him. Please realize these dollar amounts are all just estimates Gross pay.


“schools, training, schools, training, work, school training,…” …yep that’s been my life the last 10 years. I should take a picture of my training certificate book for you to see… it’s a full sized binder that won’t stay closed without help.

If you’re in the Northwest, The IBU has plenty of jobs they’re trying to fill. DEUs on the ATBs are approaching $300 @ day. AB/tankermen $400. LA/SF/Portland/Anacortes runs. 28/28 sched, transportation paid. Can’t speak for the bennies. Our SIU contract pays the same with double pension contributions, top meds. Both unions have under-utilized schools to advance. Most of the non-union companies are offering their own training programs and paths to advance. The path to advancement is not as clear now as it was when i started, but most limitations are self imposed. Weigh your options.

Hello Cpt. Lee:

Thank you for such a detaild response and the encouraging words. Sounds like you really enjoy what your doing now compared to the crewboat choice. I remember a few long crewboat rides that nearly loosend my teeth. To tell you the truth good hotel services is compelling.

So your choice would be AB- Mate and enjoy the good life?

Ive searched the web for days and cant find any wage information. This is the first real time info Ive found. Thank you. what is a typical day wage for:


200 mate

500 mate

1600 mate

One last question. Is there a poor demand for a certain mate license in the GOM? For example, can a 200 NC Mate find any work as a mate? Or is pretty much AB then lots of school then jump to a 500 ton mate license with OICNW?



Hi injunear:

So your saying I could walk into teh IBU hall in Seattle with as a freshly minted AB Special and have a reasonable chance to ship out? Thought I would need an AB unlimited, no?

Humm, trying to remember, is that the union hall with the bambo and palm tree bar in the basment?


Never been in the IBU hall so I can’t vouch for the palm tree. AB special is all you need for tugs. PIC/DL training is good to have also. Good luck…

Bob, I am not saying which way to go or that the OSV’s are all peaches and cream. I started on crewboats and really loved it. It was exactly what I needed at that time. I got a lot of experience handling a boat. I enjoyed the crewboats and my father still works on a 100 ton boat and is completely happy. He works on a mini-supply boat 165’. He makes a good living. It is all about what your ambitions and ability to endure the training required to get a mate license and then a master. The OSV industry has a industry license that bypasses a lot of the STCW requirements by having a book (Mate & Master OSV practical assessments) That has to be completed as part of your on the job training. This accelerates the time it takes to attain your license. I work for Edison Chouest Offshore. They have a website that has a list of pay. If that does not link you to their site just type in edison chouest offshore in your search engine and you will find the site. My company has positions starting as an OS, 100 ton captain all the way to unlimited Master. An AB special can expect to start from 250 to 320 in the oilfield. The 500 ton mate/1600 ton mate/100 ton master all make around the same. The licensing can get complicated. When you get you master OSV or 1600 ton master is where the pay goes up. A 200 ton Mate with a towing endorsement can make a lot of money.

There are other companies to look at too. Otto Candies, Seacor, Abdon Callais, Hornbeck HOS. These are all companies focused on serving the oil field. Good Luck Bob

Hey All:

Thanks for the info. Lots to think about. I’ll be here reading quietly.



Hey Bob,

Good for you! Lots of different facets of the industry, lots of career paths to choose from. You probably feel a bit like a kid in a candy shop, especially since there is a real need for qualified and motivated sailors right now. A buddy of mine is looking at at a 2 year program (, but another friend decided to go out deep sea as an OS with MSC. If I had to make a suggestion, it would first be to read as much and talk to as many people as possible about all the different aspects of the industry (cargo, tankers, research, tugs, passenger, osv, etc.) and decide which segment most interested you. The unlimited tonnage niche will, of course, take longer to get into the pilothouse. The passenger vessel niche is probably the fastest, but it pays squat. Again, what interests you the most?

Good luck,


Hi Frances:

You are right about kid in a candy shop. I only wish I was 20 years younger.

Ive looked at the workboatacademy and a couple other AB to Mate programs. To tell you the truth Im not sure if I want to spend the next 5+ years working twords a 3rd license. Ive spent about 500 days on unlimited bridges but with the greatest respect Icouldnt drink enough coffee to keep my eyes open. But then, I wasnt responsible for anything.

Ive been thinking the 100 ton crewboat may be a good bet for my needs down the road. Lots of boat handling and underway time I understand and that is what I’m wanting.

Idea 1) So what would happen if a reasonably green guy like myself shows up in Morgan City with a fresh 100 NC and an AB osv? Where would I start on a crewboat and how long would it take to get to First Captain if I was a reasonably squared away guy? I am assuming the transportation sector is like diving contractors: bigger companies offer better employment stability, more options, predictable advancment; while smaller companies are a little dicy but a guy can move up faster. True?

Idea 2) Go to GOM and build some AB time. Then head to the west coast and work out of the IBU hall as an AB on tugs? What can I say, I like smaller boats. Their closer to the water.

Ive given myself 10 years and then Im out. But who know whats around the next bend? Might just get such a good gig I dont want to give it up. Here’s a question for you Frances. If you had to do it all over again where would you start and which path would you take?

Oh , last thing. Are you Francis the ex SEAL who lived in Seattle in 1979-82?



Hello again Bob,

Nope, I’m not an ex-Seal, but I have lived in Seattle since 1988. Great question, if I had to do it all over again, what path would I take? I’m pretty much retired now, so I can look back with some detachment on how it all went. Well, I can tell you one thing - I wouldn’t be as big a hurry to get to that fourth stripe. I know, it’s sounds so glamorous and studly to be a “Captain”, but let me tell you - the thrill wears off, and if anyone tells you otherwise, be a little suspicious. I loved sailing as 2nd Mate and Chief Mate on research ships - not as good pay as you can probably get in GOM, but I wasn’t ever in it to make the most cash as humanly possible. I just really enjoyed waking up someplace different every day, and when we pulled into port, we stayed for up to a week (no quick 24 hour turn arounds), so I really got to explore some pretty great countries. So, I guess that if I had to do it over again, I would probably do the exact same thing: get my AB Unlimited and then try to get on whatever research or charter expedition ship I could. Then I would get my 3rd, then 2nd and work to get a 2nd Mate position. But instead of sailing as Captain for the last half of my career, I would hang out at the 2nd Mate slot and just enjoy life and my 12-4 watch.

Trust your instincts Bob and good luck, Frances

<span style="color: #062971; font-family: Arial]<font size="3]Thanks Frances:</font></span><span style="color: #062971; font-family: Arial]<font size="3]So you were one of those lucky guys on the big white boats that tie up at the east side of Lake Union or maybe a UW boat? Ive thought about giving the R/V route a try. OSU has a continuous job post for OS and ABs. I wonder why :wink: Had a high school friend who worked on their old boat the R/V Yaquina and met several crew on their new ship over the years when I lived in Newport. Everyone seemed like a pretty good group of folks. </font></span><span style="color: #062971; font-family: Arial]<font size="3]I will heed your advice about the glamour v. headache curve. Im not sure I want the kind of responsibility that comes with unlimited vessels and large crews. One thing Ive learned about people is that the more there are the more potential there is for something unexpected happening. That’s why I was thinking more along the lines of crewboat. But only knowing them as a passenger and using them for a dive platform Im sure they come with their own set of challenges. </font></span><span style="color: #062971; font-family: Arial]<font size="3]Hope your weekend goes well. And thanks again for your advice.</font></span><span style="color: #062971; font-family: Arial]<font size="3]Bob </font></span><span style="color: #062971; font-family: Arial]<font size="3] </font></span><span style="color: #062971; font-family: Arial]<font size="3]PS Anyone with some recent crewboat experience care to help out here?</font></span>



Cpt. Lee <span>is our resident crewboat expert with lots of recent experience, his advice is on target. Also if you are looking for advice on smaller boats head over to our friend Richard Rodriguez’s blog:</span>

He is very helpful and runs a training school for limited Captains.


How can someone be the resident crewboat expert and the coffee boy? LMAO

For what they pay me I will make coffee, scrub toilets and fluff your pillow with a smile![img]/maritime/forum/js/tinymce/jscripts/tiny_mce/plugins/emotions/images/smiley-cool.gif" border=“0” alt=“Cool” title=“Cool” />

Sorry Lee, OSV expert… also don’t forget the wiseass’ mint :wink: