Looking for a career change

Hi everybody. New here. Due to the pandemic, my trade as an aircraft mechanic has been decimated and it maybe many months if not years before I can get back into it. Living near the Great Lakes and seeing freighters from time to time has always had me wondering what it would be like. Well, now its time to take it seriously and see what steps I need to take.

I am 42, in decent shape ( good cardio/not over weight). I have a wife and two kids and I live in a Great Lakes port city. I know it’s not easy work and I would be working in the worst of the elements. I also know that I could be gone for weeks at a time. My biggest question is: Would somebody like me with no prior maritime experience be able to find work on the Great Lakes? How much work? How much could I expect to make in a good year? I know I’d start from the bottom. I just want some good honest work, and if I can’t be around aircraft, I think ships would be a neat alternative.

From what I’ve been reading, I need my TWIC and a merchant mariners cred. Is this all I need to get started? I know there are maritime academies, but I’m not looking to take on more debt. Can I still find work without schooling? Basically just looking for pointers on the appropriate steps to get a shot with one of the Great Lakes freighter companies. I’m hoping to not have to go back to factory work. Been there.

Just wanted to ask some of you veterans for some advice and maybe point me in the right direction. Thanks in advance.

TWIC and MMC is a must. Get started on that now. Due to covid, most RECs are closed/delayed. Lots of well trained, talented mariners looking for work right now but your skills as a mechanic give you a good starting place. I’d throw out any serious expectations of making a good living right out of the gate but no reason why in 5 years you couldnt be making a comfortable living. You’ll be gone a lot, so make sure your family is fine with that. A lot harder than it sounds, especially after already having kids. Great Lakes Maritime seems like an awesome place to get some credentials, which is the name of the game in this industry. Worth considering if you want to make a long term career. Hawespiping is pretty difficult imo and the return on schools like that (especially if you pick the right sector to operate in) is there. Lots of threads just like this one so doing a search would yield good results. I’d start calling/knocking on doors where allowed and keep at it. Buddy sent me a posting for VT Barge. They’re hiring atm. Rewarding career for sure, but only for those that are committed, much like everything else. Good luck!

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Hey thanks for the response! I just got my TWIC card in the mail today. So I will contact the appropriate channels for the MMC in the next day or two. I know the pandemic has screwed a lot of things up, so I definitely wasn’t expecting to get employment anytime soon. But I’m hoping to set myself up to find work within the next year or two. Trying to stay ahead of the curve. I will certainly take your advice and search the threads and forums for further advice and tips. I just wanted to know whether or not it was possible for somebody like me to get my foot in the door somewhere eventually. Apparently so. Again, thanks for your time and response! Take care.

Definitely possible! I commercial fished for a while, left the maritime industry and now I’m back trying to make another go at a longer term career in the business. It has been a struggle at times but really rewarding. This site has helped me tremendously in navigating the maritime world and it seems like any question I’ve had, there has been sufficient discussion on the topic at some point. It seems like the maritime world, in particular and for whatever reason, tends to attract a lot of career change types, so deciding where you want to go and what you want to do and stick with it seems to be the most important thing, other than credentialing. Good jobs tend to find the people that are truly motivated to work within the field. There are a ton of trade publications that are free that I’d suggest subscribing to in order to keep up with what’s going on. Those publications are a great way to learn about companies, too. Make a list of any and all companies you’d wanna work for near and far and start calling them. Most are flooded with applicants so the more persistent you are, the better it seems. Tell them what you have and see what they require. Try and get BT training too at somepoint. Feel free to message me if I can help in any additional way. But 42 is young enough. It is definitely possible. Stay on it!

Man, I hope everybody in the industry is as helpful as you are. I intend to stay on it. I’m pretty motivated and I’m going to try my absolute hardest to avoid factory work. Like I said, luckily I live in a port city, so knocking on some doors won’t be a problem. (I’ll try not to be a total pest. Ha!) …What is BT training? Sorry, I haven’t been on this site long enough to know some of the acronyms.

I suggest that you go to the tugboat and marine construction companies. Vessels under a certain size are not required to have crewmen with MMCs.

You do not need a Basic Training course at this point. Save your cash.

Is a Basic Training course for later on down the road?

BT is part of the USCG required International STCW requirements.

STCW is NOT required on the Great Lakes, nor is it required for vessels under 200 gross tons (including 95% of all tugs) operating anywhere in the US or Canada.

If you are “admissible to Canada” (no disqualifying convictions like DWI) that is an advantage.

Ah! Got it. I have nothing disqualifying on my record. I would have lost my FAA license and airport customs clearance if I did.

I need to take an exam in order to officially obtain my MMC, correct?

No exams for entry level. As you move up the ladder getting endorsements, yes.

Okay cool. Thanks!

Basic Training is for STCW only, it’s generally only required of vessels on international voyages (other than to Canada) and vessels over 200 GRT operating offshore. For vessels that are subject to STCW, BT is usually required of everyone on board, it’s required of anyone with safety or pollution prevention duties. On a vessel with a small crew, that’s everyone.

Not for entry level. There would be no exam until AB or QMED.

All really great pieces of advice. I agree that you don’t need BT at the moment. Work first, see what you wanna do and where you wanna be. You’re only as good as your current credential in hand, so just don’t be in a position where you’re otherwise qualified but stuck at home because you missed out on an easy endorsement. I’ve never not been hired for a job by being aggressive on training. Decide if the industry is for you, and if it is, be proactive about your career and your advancement. You really need to be a self-starter IMO to advance, due to all the licensing, which is a good thing.

Good site for company listings. Facebook also has some groups that will post jobs from time to time and of course, here…

Alright, got it! Thank you!

Ah cool. I just bookmarked this page. Thanks! The current pandemic situation obviously has everything a little uncertain so I’m aware finding maritime work immediately should not be expected. I have a few warehouse type opportunities to keep the bills paid in the meantime. I guess my current plan is to get my MMC and do some self educating through publications, these forums, and other means. It appears that the great lakes season starts ramping up in March, so I’m guessing maybe in December or January I start making some phone calls and gettin my name out there. Does this sound like a smart plan or what would you recommend?

The HR staff at most Great Lakes companies probably won’t even know what STCW is, or what an endorsement for BT is.

The Great Lakes companies lobbied years ago to be exempt from STCW, and they are.

I showed my MMC at a harbor boat company, and they were completely confused by all of my STCW endorsements. They said they’d never seen anything like it before.

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Well that’s good for me then. One less obstacle to worry about.