Leadership and the Maritime Academies

IDK, I’ve been told that it depends on the school. Don’t know if that’s right or not but it seems plausible from what I’ve seen.

My theory is arrogance is relative to perspiration expended during formative years. I worked with some fine mates and captains who never exhibited one bit of arrogance. But they were trained old school. New third mates right out of school were considered to be an OS with a license. They were expected to learn from the ABs, learn to turn valves, handle a paint brush and eventually operate a crane. They had to earn the right to be a 2nd mate. I’ve also known some arrogant chief engineers but invariably they got their position because they “knew someone”.The most insufferable, entitled pains in the ass started showing up about 20 years ago. Straight out of school they went on the bridge of drillships to be trained as DPOs. Many obtained master’s tickets. Thankfully most shipping companies will not hire them to move cargo as they have neither the maritime nor leadership capabilities. Not all come from that background, some people are just pricks. The Maersk Alabama comes to mind.


And the El Faro, from the transcripts at least. Big time deck and eng stove piping.

To my way of thinking ops are divided into planning and execution. For non-routine operations in the planning stage there is no deck/eng, For non-routine (ie storm avoidance) ops planning I do my planning where the chief can see it. The chief and I don’t always have the same approach (unlike the mates) so he often can find holes in my plans and vice versa.

*assuming he not a prick as you mention, plenty around.


I sailed as a deck seaman and eventually a boatswain’s mate third class on an aircraft carrier. I remember being screamed at on a routine basis; I remember once deck department (about 100 people) had a guy who came back from liberty late (about 2 hours before letting go). We had to stand at attention next to the bitts next to your mooring station for HOURS until letting go…once let go we stood at attention by the bitts for a few more HOURS until we let go the tugs, then back to the foc’sle to get SCREAMED at. That is just one story out of MANY. Don’t even get me started on UNREP and MESS CRANKING episodes.
I had a great time aside from that nonsense, don’t get me wrong, and I am actually still in as a reservist (where that behavior is nonexistent), but to deny that that behavior existed on the Navy deck plates is untrue.

At Cal Maritime they were trying to implement some sort of community stewardship program that would be required for all cadets to participate in if they want to graduate on time. The criteria for completing the program including dozens of hours picking up garbage, volunteering in soup kitchens, going to “leadership” seminars, etc. It was a complete farce. I’m sorry, but leadership can not be learned through a seminar. It starts by being a decent person who can control your frustration…something that no one can really teach you past the age of 4 or 5.

I witness this type of behavior in the merchant marine quite often though. Grown men screaming and throwing stuff like a toddler having a temper tantrum. It is sad. It is very stressful when they also have control over your job and whether or not you continue being able to feed your family.


Who was doing the screaming? Enlisted or officers?

In either case I’m not denying that it happens, just saying I never saw it in the military, just on the commercial side.

99.5% of the screaming came from senior enlisted leadership (ie chiefs), not officers.

If we are only talking about officers, then yes…I concur with your views. I probably misread your initial post and thought it was about all leadership.

We really didn’t interact with them that much…on a mooring station you would have about 20 deck seaman, 5-10 petty officers, a chief, and maybe the divo…who would come at the very last minute after a safety meeting or something of the like for the officers prior to deck evolutions.

The merchant marine is just a bunch of guys looking to make a buck. There isn’t a true “officer” cadre or anything like that as I am sure you are aware being an unlimited master. A bunch of guys wearing carharts and hunting camo ball caps sitting in a hall unshaven for months to be an officer on some ship.
When you are dealing with a group of regular guys like that in the merchant marine that have not been combed through for leadership aptitude (academies certainly aren’t and the union dispatchers certainly aren’t) you’re bound to get a few people who are imbeciles here and there. That is also why you see it in the enlisted ranks in the military as well.

Well, don’t sugarcoat it… :slightly_smiling_face:


For the record I am not saying that it is the majority…just that they are out there (as in any industry, including the armed forces). Lots of absolutely fantastic people as well!

Some (many? most?) here would find this generalization unfounded and offensive. I’m among them.

“On both sides…” no doubt.
So you’re citing a minority to support an assumption on the whole?

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Mr Cavo,
That is not a statement insinuating anything negative about those people. I also count myself in that group as well! :smile: We are guys out here trying to make a buck. My point is it isn’t a “sir yes sir” regiment out here. We are regular dudes making buck, that is all. My description of a stereotypical mariner was meant to be humorous, not taken as an insult.

Also, I am not saying anything about the whole at all. My point is that as with anything, a bad egg or two will slip through the cracks…namely due to the fact that no one is going through scrutinizing leadership aptitude in order to gain employment; rather, technical ability is the preferred gold standard for employment. This is the case across multitudes of industries.

I apologize if my remarks were misconstrued to lead you to believe I was saying negative things about the whole.

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That may be true of the junior officers trying to ship out of the hall or whatever but for moving into a permanent position as a senior officer it’s another matter. In my experience management skills and the ability to cooperate and gain cooperation are going to be scrutinized.

Good technical skills are necessary but not sufficient.

I once worked on shore for a brilliant engineer. He had a PhD in mechanical engineering and we had many interesting discussions BUT he had little people skills thus was not much of a leader. Being smart he decided that though he was making more money than he had previously made teaching and doing research at a university he thought it would be best if he returned to the university. Like I said he was a smart man. Unfortunately in business the ineffectual and incompetent leaders aren’t that smart normally.

When you sign on a ship and in your pass down you’re told “this Captain loves to eat 3/M’s for breakfast “…you just know it’s gonna be a good hitch. I sailed with one Captain who got pissed at the 2/M for some reason and legit threw a cordless phone across the bridge. Very professional.


As an engineer, and as I stated previously, I have worked with captains, good and bad, the worst was a mercurial bipolar screamer. . . oftentimes you just didn’t know which version of him you were getting. I also recall, as a cadet, sailing with a 1AE that was a screamer and tool thrower. Although I was never the target of his tirades, they did get old. . . . on that particular ship, the CE was a “cadet hater”, but I just kept my nose down and ground out the work. We never had words, except for the day that I signed on and he expressed his opinion of cadets. . .

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As a former CE I did not allow tool throwing when an AE did it during interactions with other engineers. I’ve dropped a few tools horizontally after banging my hands or other body parts, that is understandable but otherwise absolutely inexcusable. That behavior is an indication of both poor character as well as mental instability none of which one needs in an ER when there is a major problem with the vessel/people at risk. Not to mention it’s just rude :wink: They were warned twice and then allowed to seek fame and fortune elsewhere.

I was lucky. As CE, I never had an assistant that was a screaming tool thrower. Not to say that I didn’t fire my share, just not for that. . . .A side note about that certain individual. Flash forward about 15 years or so, and I am the Galveston ABS surveyor. The two permanent Chiefs on a certain vessel are the screamer, and probably the best engineer that I sailed with, and certainly the best one as a cadet. Needless to say, they didn’t get along. . . . and in a way, I am glad that I sailed with the screamer. Good guidance for things that I did not want to emulate.

I kind of think I’ve learned more about good leadership over the years by observing bad leadership and resolving to never be like that when I got the opportunity to do it myself. Working for good leaders was great and preferrable, but lessons learned from poor leaders just stuck more in my opinion.


Just wanted to say, not ALL merchant marine officers are just camo wearing good ole boys looking to make a buck…some ACTUALLY ARE highly professional career ship’s officers…not just rig hands and bored society second son’s masquerading as ship’s officers…


With the small number of ocean-going vessels, why keep giving federal dollars to the maritime academies that churn out these individuals who only wish to be petty sadists? As for screamers, how many are hungover, waiting to go to the bottle in their cabin? I personally have only been on 3 vessels where people weren’t almost at each other’s throats but I sailed on many go-go & go-co vessels.

That’s the first lesson I learned on my first ship out of school. The ship was know as a 3A/E mill since they could only seem to get green new 3rds to go because everyone else knew better. 3rds made one trip on that ship and either quit the company or requested to never return to that ship. C/E wouldn’t give you the time of day if you were a watch-stander. The 1A/E was the same only just a complete dick. Wouldn’t let you even read a tech manual (which he kept locked in his office), or use a tool. All equipment failures were to be reported so that the 1st and 2nd could fix them, preferably on their OT.

I was determined to never be like that when I got the position. I chose to encourage my assistants to learn, do, and ask as much as possible. The more they knew the better I could sleep.

To this day I’ll never understand why that C/E and 1/E ran things that way. That the company didn’t care about their failure of leadership is mind boggling as well. It was well known, and cost of hiring a new 3rd for every other one that quit that ship alone should have justified some intervention.