Mariner Shortage

Merchant Mariner Shortage Has Gotten Worse, but a Partial Solution Is Available | RealClearDefense

Talk to me when a Captain/Chief make a minimum $400,000+ a year like the airline pilots do (most senior guys do more than that).

It’s minimum 10 years of life to get an unlimited master/chief license to be legally able to hold the position. Doesn’t take that long to sit left seat in a 747, legally.


Absolutely. I was in the MMP hall recently snooping around. There were tons of car carrier jobs, prepo ship jobs, tankers, etc. Some of those people are MONTHS overdue for reliefs. Downward spiral because some people are hesitant to take the job because THEY don’t want to be stranded either.
I guarantee you if they upped the pay you wouldn’t have a problem filling the jobs. On the other hand, I understand that companies and the government have budgets, and the prospect of ditching US flag always looms over the industry, so it kind of adds some complexity to the situation.

Additionally, the admiral’s article doesn’t really specify what level the shortages are for “mariners”. Is it licensed officers? Is it all positions (licensed and unlicensed)? Is it mostly senior officers (Capt/chief mate, Chief/1ae)?

I’ve heard that Kings Pointless and the state maritime schools all graduated maybe around 1000 unlimited license deck and engine officers a year EDIT COMBINED, but I have not verified that. Not all these grads go to sea and ship…there aren’t enough jobs to absorb them all if they wanted to.

Of those graduates that go to sea, even fewer make it to the senior officer level before punching out, I mean, jumping to shore–and this is probably more true for the engineers. Again, it takes about 10 years of a human’s life to rise up to Capt/Chief…I think the major shortages will be at the Sr Officer level. So bust out the checkbook, I want my 500k…FedEx, UPS, Delta, UA, AA all pay it…where’s mine?


A friend I worked with at an FBO is now with American Airlines. They pay their senior captains an average of 400K/yr with an overall median of around 260K.

Maybe not legally but there’s more to it. It takes roughly the same amount of time for an airline pilot to reach the top tier as it does for a seagoing master.
I flew Part 135 with another guy from a wealthy family who paid for his own training from ground zero. His progress wasn’t slowed by having to jump through hoops working for various companies since he was self financed. The last time I saw him, he was flying 747’s for FedEx. It still took him over 10 years to get to that left seat with a commensurate salary.

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Patent BS. Ditch the US flag? see how that works out for the contractors and their lobbyists. They are just trolling for money from the taxpayers. You pay, they laugh and pocket the money

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Well I hope you’re right.

The article is written nicely, but this is nothing new from the last 5 years +. There is and will always continue to be a shortage of mariners, in all ranks, especially in the US. The profession does not have the same mystique and adventure as it did in the past. Now with post-covid and majority of people working from home for a six figure salary, why would you want to give that up and go away for months at a time.


I said legally, as in having the license and being qualified to legally be the captain in the left seat of a wide body airliner. I am purposely ignoring waiting time on the seniority list and employer’s desire for 5000bazillion turbine PIC hours (I have a few airline pilot friends, I know the game).

1500 hours to get an ATP and and then a type rating PIC is what is required to operate a wide body as a captain. Additionally, the major airlines are direct hiring guys that went to pilot factories into the right seats of narrow and wide bodies with 1500hrs. So, if you decide and start tommorrow at a pilot factory, 1.5 years from now you could theoretically be sitting at a major in a right seat making 100k+

A USCG unlimited license for Master/Chief is: 4 years for 3rd (acad) 5-6 hawespipe, 2yr (even time) for 2nd, 2yr for 1st, 2 yr to get master/chief. 4+2+2+2 = 10yrs. And that is to just earn the license to hang on the wall.

What Capt or Chief gets 400k? It took them more than 10 years to get the spot.

PS: your fedex 747 buddy probably made 800-1mil during covid.

Edit: also, one does not need to be a US citizen to hold an faa pilot license.


Yeah, this was awhile back as evidenced by the fact he was flying 747s. There were no big flight academies back then so it was a long slog. If you didn’t have military jet time you were pretty much SOL. It def looks like you can get there more quickly nowadays. The current FedEx captain payscale posted online:

  • Year 1: $227,000
  • Year 5: $257,000
  • Year 15: $280,000

PS What’s your point about being able to get a license in a shorter time if you can’t use it without more hours and training to be employable?

It’s somewhere around 1,500 - 2,000 license graduates per year between all the academies combined.

From here: FedEx Express |

Widebody Fedex Capt hourly pay (years with company)

$335 (15)
$310 (5)
$276 (1)

First officer

Minimum monthly guarantee 74 hours. This is absolute min a pilot will get, even if he sits at home. There are millions of uplifts and overrides and overtime that make maritime union contracts look super simple. Suffice it to say almost no pilot is ever making the minimum.

You want real world numbers, glance through this thread. It is mind boggling. End of 2021 salary survey - Airline Pilot Central Forums

Lastly, I’ll repeat my point about shorter time to get airline capt license: Right now, people with 1500 hours are being hired into the right seat of major airlines wide body jets. And right now, it is very likely people with less than 10 years flying experience are moving into the left seat (upgrade to captain) at airlines. Additionally, in the past (and right now) people with way less than 10 years experience were flying as captains at regional airlines. There is no way to have any situation similar to these in the maritime unlimited license world, yet we make 25% of what they do–that is my point.

The pay for labor comes down to supply and demand. Education, training, knowledge—all thoughts of “justice” don’t come into it. Labor is a commodity, no different in pricing than lumber.

Nobody thinks of all the education, toil, and struggle that goes into putting a 2x4 stud on the rack at Home Depot. Felling the tree, skidding, milling, drying, marketing the finished product, transport—who cares? The price for lumber goes up and down based strictly on supply and demand. Same for wages.

If there were suddenly 2 million extra aircraft pilots in the USA capable of flying a 747 right now I guarantee you pilot wages wages would drop, all their education and training be damned.

Similarly if all U.S. unlimited master mariners refused to sail, their wages would go up. But a nationwide strike would have a much chance of succeeding as you have of finding a straight 2x4 in a Home Depot. And more unlimited masters are minted every year. So the wage scale for unlimited masters is what it is.

Dragging education and training and some sort of concept of justice into the matter just drives people crazy.

Supply and demand. Nothing more.


You got that right. Years ago when it required 3 shuttle landings to even interview with a regional, some had actually charged “first officers” for the privilege of sitting in the right seat.

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We are at a big inflection point in the American and world economies, linked to demographics and technical revolution, and accelerated by the Pandemic, with symptoms playing out in real time in the maritime world.

Why is container traffic so lopsided between the US and Asia?
Because US workers increasingly produce digital constructs rather than physical goods. Digital constructs which are transported by fiber optics rather than container ships. So the containers move mostly one way.

Why is there a mariner shortage? First because the timing of Baby Boomer retirements was accelerated by the Pandemic; secondly, because many of the younger generation find employment making digital constructs (“coding”) a fulfilling, well paid occupation.

The Baby Boom Generation was numerically huge; every generation after it has been smaller. So the problem with a shrinking workforce won’t disappear. Once there were many workers. Now, absent immigration, there will be fewer available every year.

Why is inflation so high? In part because employers are chasing that shrinking amount of workers, even as the economy wants to expand to absorb the buying power of those same well-paid workers.

The employers’ only tool to increase recruiting and stop resignations has been increased wages. Increased wages=increased prices for goods and services to pay for the wages=increased wages for people to pay for the goods and services. Classic inflationary cycle.

How can it be that factories are disappearing but unemployment has functionally disappeared? Because the older observer looks upon physical production (“manufacturing “) as the backbone our economy, which is 20th century thinking. In fact, digital-construction is now just as important.

All those tech workers working from their homes are today’s steel mills and machine shops. The older generation hasn’t caught on yet. The one-way container trade is the evidence: We can afford to buy Asian low value crap because Our workers are churning out high value digital constructs bought by the Asians over a fiber optic network. 20th century meet 21st century.

The big problem: the US is at a demographic bottleneck. Economies expand proportionally to the amount of workers in them. The US population has plateaued because of the falling birthrate common in all developed countries.

The population will drop as Baby Boomers kick the bucket. Unlike many countries the US has historically been ok with immigration. So the country has a choice. Throttle immigration too much and the economy will stop growing.


It’s quite obvious you know nothing at all about the airline industry and the pilot situation. There are thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of pilots that are qualified to fly big jets for 500k a year. How the pilot unions have increased pay over the years is a mystery I’d like to solve…because I want maritime unions to follow their strategy.

You do know a lot about the airline industry, so please opine. Even years ago when there was a huge real surplus of pilots (if they literally were charging F/O’s), major airline pilots still made extremely high pay. How was this so?

Guess this squashes “muh supply vs demand” debate.

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Deregulation was still only a theory and the “two-tier” pay system was just an airline exec’s wet dream.

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I remember being in favor of STCW and new USCG rules because I thought it would professionalize the tug and barge trade and reduce the enormous glut of limited license mariners. For years it made no difference at all.

Now, it is making a big difference. Supply and demand are in balance with very little slack. Wages are finally rising again, instead of declining (in real dollars of buying power).

As I have been looking for some odd jobs to do this winter, it’s amazing the differences I see in opportunities.

There are still a few companies operating with the same low wages as a decade ago. There are a small number of companies with very good and increasing wages, and a line at the door. Most companies have improved wages, but not enough, they don’t have a line at the door, but they have enough guys to get by.

There are some localized shortages of mariners in certain places and trades, but overall there are still too many mariners willing to work too cheap.

$483 for a 3AE on a drill rig? He might as well stay home and fix cars, or wire or plumb houses.

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Here’s a couple of articles on the pilot shortage. I like the second one because it does include a dissenting opinion to the thrust of the article. But the dissenting opinion is from a union negotiator: hardly impartial.

One google search will turn up several articles all explaining the pilot shortage. Basic reason from each author: low supply/high demand. Simple stuff. None of the authors mention an untapped reserve of…

One author cites simple FAA stats:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues ATPs, Airline Transport Pilot certificates, the highest level of certification a pilot can receive. The certification is for pilots, what a Ph.D. is for scientists. In 2021, the FAA only issued 4,928 ATPs, less than half the estimated number of pilots that the industry plans to hire this year [2022]

Even the USAF has a pilot shortage.

The US Pilot Shortage: Everything You Need To Know.
U.S. Air Force is Short 1,650 Pilots, Report Says - FLYING Magazine.

The cost to go from student pilot to an ATP is literally astronomical now, the only people who can afford to do that are millionaires who don’t need a job anyway.

Back in the good old days when I started, aircraft rental and flight instruction was affordable for a young person. When my ambition grew I bought a slow airplane for $3000 and flew it for many hundreds of hours burning cheap fuel until I got enough hours for a commercial and flight instructor rating so someone else would pay the bills. Starvation wages flying WW2 surplus round engines across the mountains on winter nights bought the kind of experience and hours needed for an ATP and an airline seat. The big bucks were still a distant dream because of long lines of hungry guys with space shuttle time and military heavy drivers got the good seats. The glory days of airline flying in the USA faded with deregulation. It was and still is a far better deal in the rest of the world, airlines “sponsor” flight training and can put an FO in the seat with a handful of hours and virtually no experience beyond instruction and simulator time.