Is there a deck officer shortage?

I’m 24 years old and about to begin school this fall with the end goal of graduating Texas A&M Maritime as a 3rd mate. I live about 30 mins from TAMMA and being a deep sea deck officer has been a dream career of mine since I was about 15 years old and still holds true today.

I’m just curious… I hear on the internet quite often that there is a big shortage for deck officers in the United States (supposedly engine is even worse) and are in high demand. Then at the same time, I also hear that academics are pumping out more 3M’s than the US fleet really demands.

I had a meeting with the advisor for marine transportation at A&M last week and he told me the ratio of deck cadets to engine is astronomical (something on the lines of 300:40).

Which really had me thinking, how is there a supposed shortage of licensed deck crew if there are that many deck cadets from A&M alone? I don’t know which side to listen to… Is there a demand for 3M’s or not? I plan to pursue it regardless, it just brings this gut feeling that I’m about to get into debt for something that isn’t in demand like I hear it is. I know anything can change in the 4 years it’s going to take me, it’s just something that has me wondering

Just to go ahead and throw this out there, I have absolutely 0% interest whatsoever in going engine.

Thank y’all!

With four years we will certainly in another war, more like in 6+ months. The Merchant service and fleet is unfortunately 65% + GOGO, GOCO or COCO but w/long term governement charters. Despite the continued war on offshore oil drilling and dismissal of LNG, the use of vessel support will continue to climb for these and wind farms, but increasingly foreign flag will dominate even in our EEZ. The point is luckily most new grads are not expected to last very long offshore, 5 yrs if that, so hang in there and with any luck at all you may be able to make a career or half career before being forced ashore. The obituary was written for us decades earlier but some of us are still hanging around.

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But for certain, engineering officers are and have been forever in greater demand. 5-7:1 on the posted job board openings. But at least in the AMO, a surprisingly large number of 3/M-2/M openings have appeared the last 2 years. Hang in there. I’ll try to hang in a while longer as well and you can relieve me!

Seems like all the unions are desperate for people. While it is true that engine room sets you up better long term, there are people who go to maritime academies and never sit for their license. I know a few. And like mentioned above, most 3m don’t make it 5 years so I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. In fact there was some article floating around recently about the academies having the best roi for new graduates.

There is no shortage at the moment of licensed deck officers where I am and we have plenty of people in junior roles with the skill set and qualifications who are just waiting for the old-timers to hang up their hat so others can advance.

Perhaps a little bit on the short side of Engineers, I feel, but not at a level that’s uncomfortable.

Many people are willing to work-over or work 2/1 schedules which is a boon for vessel operators.

There is indeed a pretty large ‘skill’ shortage though. It’s easy enough to find a fresh faced 3M 3AE to just check the boxes, much more difficult to find one that is proficient in that role.

It depends on where you look. Factor in what company, what union, and what time of year. Sometimes there is a need for people sometimes there isn’t. The ratio of deck to engine officers at Texas might be 300:40 but at other schools it’s the exact opposite. Maine is probably 20:300. Also the industry might need unlimited engine guys but there might be a greater overall need for deck guys on smaller tugs and lower tonnage vessels that don’t require a licensed engine guy.

At school your focus should be getting the most endorsements possible. Getting the following will set up with the most opportunities.

  1. PIC DL
  2. TOAR
  3. Great Lakes pilotage ( you probs won’t bc you aren’t going to the Great Lakes academy)
  4. DP cert

Cadet ship with a as much as possible. At Maine unlimited deck students only get one summer to cadet ship. By doing so you get a leg up on Academies where people just cruise on the training ship each summer. Idk how Texas is but if you can cadet ship more than one summer with more than one company than do it!

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Well, as with most things, its complicated. Things seem to be comparable shoreside for junior officers which either has people going ashore, or never sailing to begin with.

The Gulf is better than it was in 2016-2019, which is soaking up a lot of new grads.

The tanker security program has been taking more folks with tankerman credentials in a time when we were already kinda short on tankermen PICs due to covid shutting down cadet shipping. This problem is tapering off. But it definitely seemed to create a vaccume in AMO, and I had heard there is another round of TSP tankers on the way.

And as is the problem in all sectors, boomers continue to retire.

Couple this with the 5 year career burnout/shelf life of the average academy grad, and we have a lot of mate jobs on the board.

When I graduated and was sad I was sailing in the Unlicensed union, quick math would indicate that the US graduates enough 3rd mates to replace the fleet every year, but who know where they are. Took me a year and a half to get a 3rd mate job in 2018, my relief on here is sailing 2nd mate a year and a half after graduation. Ive never been unintentionally un employed or overdue for more than a week or so.

Lots of things can make the shortage better or worse over the next 4 years. You’re not married to it if you hate it, make some money and go shoreside if you want. Maybe you’ll fall into something you love. Maybe we’ll all be on a ship moving tanks and bombs to normandy together, who knows.

I appreciate all the replies to this

So y’all say that a lot of academy grads aren’t even going to sea. Anybody have a clue why that is? It seems to me the only reason you’d go through the bs for a 3M license and a marine transportation degree is to sail as a deck officer… at least for a handful of years I’d think….

Of course, I can only procrastinate and speak of how I feel today. But me personally, I plan to make a career at sea. If I ever feel the need to come inshore, I’ll go on tugboats (or be a pilot if I’m lucky). It just seems odd to me to go through that degree and license to not even sail on it, especially knowing that the marine transportation degree is basically only good for mainly that…

I can totally understand this if you’re going marine engineering, because from my knowledge the shoreside opportunities are endless.

I’m not sure procrastinate means what you think it means.

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Kinda sucks out here some times, not gonna lie. A lot of quality of life issues that folks just think they can put up with or are unaware of, and then once you realize you’ve either graduated or youre too far in to transfer.

Issues range from food, exercise, sleep, accommodations, connectivity. Work life balance is technically ballanced, but only in terms of extremes. Full throttle at work, then nothing at home.

Some days I’d take a small pay cut to only work 40 hours a week and sleep in my own bed. Not yet though.

It’s just not for everybody forever, and sometimes you dont know till you try it, or things change at home.

Its not as much luck as some people make it out to be. The closer you get the less competition there is. People make it every year.

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The extremes is for certain. Unbelievable work load and hours on the ship and literal retirement the other more enjoyable part of life (for the brief periods it lasts).

25 years for me and the entire experience of going to sea has changed. Sadly, not for the better. The companies are trying to extract every last morsel of value from the vessels and long ago gave up the pretense of giving a shit about the crews. I’m not sure I would go this route if I knew then what it is now.

OP, you can take that however you would like. Oh and I think you meant to say “pontificate”.

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Well I’m an Engineer so I guess I can’t entirely comment with authority, BUT I do remember the early 80’s when the Unions closed the doors and things looked a little bleak, after starting school with a 100% job placement promise. It has always been a feast or famine career however, I sponged off my parents and finally landed a wiper job which became an Oiler job as the Oiler hired walked away, the ship was rough however I learned a lot and made some great friends but most importantly, I was fed and housed and put my money in the bank, next trip I was a 3AE and made more, and just kept going, never paid rent, bought a house, etc. etc. I had some good times ashore too. All those supposed shore jobs which pay the big money just remember, you have to eat, commute, find housing, all for a lousy 2 week vacation, living in the same possibly stale community.

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I’ve learned in my 6 years in the work force (been a mechanic since high school actually) that I have no willingness to work a generic 9-5 with 2 weeks off a year. I absolutely can’t stand it. I like the thought of working 6 months, and being off for 6 months. That is a pipe dream.

I want to buy a house and have a family and what not. I do understand that doing the family part can be difficult with this career but that’s a challenge I’m willing to accept that as of now if it means a great career. I have to focus on myself first. I’ve read online of some y’all literally renting airbnbs while you’re on land rather than actually owning a home. That’s just not something I think I’d wanna do

There’s just certain goals I have in life, and being a mariner happens to line up with all of it with the partial exception of the family part.

I have a few reasons I didn’t jump straight into it out of high school and quite honestly now that I’m serious about it, I’m glad I didn’t. I’ve matured since high school and have some work/life experience. With that, I feel I’m in a better position to make the proper career choice, rather than someone fresh out of high school without some experience in the real world to know if it’s for them or not. It’s stuck with me since I was 15 so I feel like that in itself is probably reason enough to say I’m going down the right path. I was really just curious if the demand I’ve heard about is actually true, and this has cleared it up quite a bit.

Even with all that said, if I really find out it’s not for me, I can come shoreside.

I really appreciate you guys!

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When you get married and start a family and it gets really hard to leave.

Why not go engineering?

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I have no issue getting greasy and nasty turning a wrench on my own projects at home if needed, I just can’t see myself doing that as a career.

I grew up on the water running boats and fishing, and early on in high school developed an interest in the maritime world. I’ve always had this ”weird” interest of navigation, maneuvering ships, reading radar, reading/plotting charts, meteorology, etc…

What really set it off for me was a Carnival cruise I went on when I was 15 with my parents. My mom bought me a “behind the scenes” tour where they take you around the ship at sea showing you where the crew works. We went to the engine control room, galley, bridge, etc… I remember the second I walked out on the bridge and got to see everything up in there person that it’s what I wanted to do. I actually have a picture of me with the captain and a giant smile on my face somewhere… lol

I am mechanically inclined, but I don’t exactly enjoy it. I just cannot see myself down in the belly of a ship turning a wrench.

Does someone else want to tell him or shall I?

You’ll still be getting dirty doing deck maintenance. As you move up there will be less of it, and jobs where you just stand on the bridge pushing buttons do exist, but mechanical skills and putting in the work on deck are absolutely crucial parts of the job and the making of a good deck officer.

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Overhauling cargo valves, pressure testing, changing/slushing falls, tank diving…oooooh, the excitement of a “Dirty Jobs” episode. Generally, it is tolerable. Other times? Not so much.

Oh, wait…sailing on the Lakes busting ice for six hours because someone (likely you as new mate) didn’t think the spray was “that bad” and when the Old Man comes up at 0800 for coffee and sees the shipsicle, you WILL be out helping the deck crew clear the hatches/winches/chocks for arrival. Good times.

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What are the rumors on the TSP ships incoming? I haven’t heard too much.

Looks like MARAD last opened a slot in April of 2024. I haven’t been paying that close attention, I know when they passed the frist round I had heard they were trying to get a second round, maybe they haven’t filled all the slots from 2022 yet.

A lot depends on what kind of ship you land on. Some crews are just totally miserable and really turn people away. Other crews make the most of the time and it’s bearable.

The divorce rates working on ships is insane. 4 people on my boat now are in the middle of terrible divorces.

And then pay for time off: if you can make 110k on land, or 150k sailing, that 40k difference isn’t enticing people as much to sail, when you could have a normal job with a life / relationship.

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