Late career change to professional mariner. What are my prospects?

I am a mechanical engineer with 30 years of federal service in a testing laboratory environment, none of which relates to the maritime field. In six years, when I am 56, I can take retirement from my day job, albeit at a reduced rate because of my age then. I could work until I’m 62 or whatever, then take full retirement and rock in a chair. Or I could retire at 56 and get a job to supplement my somewhat reduced retirement income.

I’ve always loved the sea. A little voice in my head says that I should give up life in a cubicle as soon as I am able to, and start a second career in the maritime industry. My preferred career choice would be as a deck officer, probably on a cable-laying ship out of Baltimore. I have a 36 ft. powerboat. I am an airplane pilot. I am accustomed to being responsible for expensive machinery and peoples’ lives. I enjoy the responsibility of leadership and command. I enjoy working as part of a team. I think that I would be a good fit as a deck officer.

The question for me (and for you) is, how long would it take to get there? And how would I? What would my wages likely be starting out? I looked at maritime academies, but it appears that I would have a hard time getting an education without going to school full-time, which I can’t do while I work. And the prospect of starting 4 years of school (and while not earning an income) starting when I’m 56 is untenable. I live close enough to MITAGS in Baltimore to commute to classes there, but most are offered during the day. I obviously don’t think that I can start out as a captain, but I don’t really want to spend years as a wiper or chipping paint either. I figure that I have about 10 years to devote to the profession. Is there a happy medium where I can bring value to the new profession and make decent wages? What advice can you offer to help me decide whether a career change is feasible? Thanks, Perry