Middle aged Navy Vet returning for sea duty?

I’ve been reading the posts here for a few months now and have found them very helpful. I appreciate the experienced and honest opinions out there. So in that vein, I ask this question as more of a “how should I best proceed?” rather than “should I proceed at all?”. I’ve been researching this for quite a while now and know with a high degree of certainty that I do want to get back to a career at sea.

My background: I was in the Navy for 10 years (non deck, petty officer) stationed mostly on cruisers and destroyers and was honorably discharged after discovering I wanted more control over how I lived my life. Initially upon getting out of the navy I was looking at attending the Seattle Maritime Academy and had already registered to attend. Life took some unexpected turns and here I am 10 years later having achieved a succesfull career in the telecommunications industry (my rating in the navy). I’ve started a family and have lived an honest and good clean life. I’ve always wanted to get back to a career at sea and my family knows it and is behind me on this.

I’ve researched lots of different ways to go about this and have narrowed it down to a few. But before I decide I wanted to put it out there to the sailors whom I would be working for. How would you best like to see someone like me coming aboard your ship (or your school)? What path would be the best fit for an older sailor going back to sea? Any advice on what to expect would be great.

To add: I’m in excellent physical and mental shape. I’ve already started the process to obtain my MMD.

Thanks for any help you all can give me.

First off were do you want to work offshore, towing, blue water? And were to you want to eventually end up deck, engine room, wheel house?

As for coming on board for the first time all I want in a hand at the end of the day is that you do you work quickly, do a good job at it and I don’t have to stay on you to get it done. But I have never had problems out of the guys who are here for the love of the job, its the ones that are there JUST for the love of the money that aggravate me.

Also start work on getting your TWIC, you are going to need that just as much as your MMD to start in the field.

Jemplayer, thanks for your reply. I’m leaning towards towing, seems like it might be a good fit for me. I like the idea of working with a smaller crew and the somewhat specialty nature of tugboats. I’ve started looking at PMI in Seattle and MITAGS in Baltimore but I’d prefer to be out on the west coast. I’d like to end up in the wheelhouse but I’m ready and willing to put in the hard work on deck first.

I remember being in the navy and watching junior officers getting thrown into situations they couldn’t handle because they didn’t know the basics. So I want to avoid that route but I have to admit, because of my age, I’m looking for the quickest way towards a mates license. But I also want to stand solid watches and know the boat from the bottom up.

Start with reviewing CFR title 46 chapter 10 to see what you may qualify for, from there google the Marine Safety Manual. There is a section that specifically relates to converting military service to commercial sea service. The info you glean from those 2 sources will give you an idea of what license/position you may be able to qualify for. No matter what though you need to get your MMD and TWIC which are both relatively easy to get, you just need to patient while navigating through the bureaucracy. GO to www.uscg.mil/stcw for details on how to apply for your MMD and follow the application instructions to the letter. Google TWIC to find out how & where to apply for the card.

You may hear how tight things have become but I still believe that persistent folks that have done their homework and are well prepared won’t have too much difficulty in obtaining a job.

Good Luck

[I]charlesp[/I], you sound like you have the right attitude. But I’ll point out that, especially in towing, you can’t expect to do it quickly [B]and[/B] know all that you need to know. Those are incompatible goals and there’s no substitute for quality time on deck.

You need to get a TWIC before doing anything else. Click here to get started on it. [I]captmike[/I] already gave you the link for obtaining your Merchant Mariners Document. Go to this post from the Master of Towing Vessels Association Forum for information on why deck service on tugs is so important for those who want to steer. While you’re there go to the Sea-time page for downloadable flyers that explain the sea-time requirements for towing vessel deck licenses, as well as limited-tonnage deck and engineering licenses and the various AB ratings. Being ex-Navy you’ll also need to contact National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis to get your [I]transcript of sea service[/I]. Your non-rated Navy deck service will count toward getting an AB certification once you start working on deck again. Finally, click here to read the part of the Code of Federal Regulations that pertains to your military sea service as it applies to obtaining a CG license. Good luck…

You’re actually the exact type of person that PMI and MITAGS seek as applicants to their 2 year Mates program. Have you been in touch with Gregg Trunnell at PMI? He would be your first poiint of contact.

Be advised, the PMI program is no walk in the park. You have to want it to work, and make it work, and you’ll earn your success there. They don’t just shove the guys through, it is demanding and you come out having actually learned some good stuff. The caliber of the cadets that I’ve had contact with is quite high.

Even with the current state of the economy, there are good opportunities in the towing industry right now, especially because it has become so difficult to break into towing. While that may seem a somewhat contradictory statement, the truth is that the people who are willing to do what it takes to get into towing will reap the rewards down the road as there will be room to move up.

As to your questions about what we expect from guys walking on the boat, I always tell people that you usually make whatever impression you’re going to make within the first hours or days of your first trip, and if you make a bad one right out of the gate it takes a long time to correct it. The best thing to do, I think, is to find the hardest working guy on board and work just a little bit harder than he (or she!) does and you’ll be just fine. Show some initiative and find something to do every day that makes that boat a little bit better than it was when you came aboard. Don’t buy into the griping and complaining that you’ll hear from the guys who, for whatever reason, go to work and bitch about how much the job sucks, or how that office has it out for them, or how much their relief fucked them over again. I think I said in an earlier post that this job is so hard on our bodies, our minds, and our families that we are either crazy or we just find so much joy in being out on the water that it makes it worthwhile.

One of your biggest challenges right from the start is going to be dealing with the absolute mess that the Coast Guard has created with the NMC and the new medical standards. You will literally wait MONTHS to get an application through NMC, and if you don’t act early you’ll wind up on the beach like many have recently.

With all of it’s faults, pitfalls, and downside, I absolutely love my work in this industry and I encourage anyone who is interested in this life to join it. But you must come into it with your eyes wide open. The informed Mariner is the successful Mariner. Buy Lenny’s book “The New Hawsepipe”. Read it cover to cover, and then use it as a guide through the process. Make connections, network, build a group of contacts and use them for the help they can offer. Then turn around and do the same for someone else. This industry is built on who you know, who you’ve worked for, who you’ve sailed with. I will guarantee you that after you’ve been in it for a while you’ll find that someone you sailed with, even if for only one hitch, can be instrumental in helping you out. Don’t burn any bridges. Be honest. Take the best of what you learn from your more experienced shipmates and fold that into your own skillset. Be safe! Be willing to admit when you’ve fucked up, and learn from it. Open your eyes, open your ears, and ask good questions. Be prepared to find that some of what you may learn at school may not be applicable in the “real world”, and accept that. Be a good shipmate. Work hard, work safe, and be the kind of Mate that by his skill and competence allows the off watch to rest easy. It will pay off for you in the end.

I was kinda in your same shoes when I got out of the Navy. I worked crew boats before joining, when I joined I was a deck seaman for about 2 years then crossed over to become an AO. Got out after about 8 years with just under 5 years at sea. When i turned in my military seatime to the CG the only gave me 60% of 8 hour days for the 2 years I was a deck seaman. If you were not in a deck source rating in the Navy you wont be able to get any seatime from the Navy. Now don’t let that get you down, like others have said before me it is vital for a good master or mate to have plenty of time on deck before going to the wheel house. Except for nights like tonight where it’s like 15 degrees outside I’m glad I didn’t go striaght to the wheel house. Good luck getting into the industry.

All the advice has been invaluable. Thanks, it’s much appreciated.

I’m just finishing up the Workboat Mate Program and think that Capt A. (see above) described the program accurately. I’m a Navy vet and got nothing for my sea service as an STG and SAR Swimmer.

PMI essentially force feeds you the STCW required material but you need to learn it yourself, and remember that STCW does not equal USCG when it comes to your license testing… Fortunately I hooked up with a study partner early on. He and I have been able to help each other through assorted difficulties through out the program.

Of critical importance is choosing a company to work with/for - I should have interviewed more companies - and I mean it the way it’s written. I have worked on some interesting projects with some great people. Keep in mind that PMI has it’s own political agenda with regard to the participating companies and that after you and a company agree to work together you will be very much on your own with regard to getting hitches, explaining yourself to every crew that you go to work with, etc.

It appears that some companies are much more interested in the Workboat Mate program as a source of future staffing than others. Some, though, are willing to continue to hire from the academies with the expectation that they will keep 1 in 12 by the end of the year…

Personally I hope to get invovled with one of the companies that are running the well intervention or deep sea construction “boats”. With the current backlog at the NMC I have lots of time to study and look for work…

In the end, the PMI program is a great way to accelorate the process, get great experience on deck and in the wheelhouse and get back to work…Enough ranting and raving - hope this helps.


There’s a reason PMI can’t count your Navy time. In short, we won’t let them. The reason is that STCW has two routes to the license and STCW certification, 3 years of sea time or completion of an approved program that includes at least one year of shipboard training. Note that the latter requires shipboard training, not just “sea time.” So obviously sea time from before you were in the program can’t be counted as being included in the program.

As far as the Mate 500 or 1600 GRT license, that takes 3 years of sea time, and the PMI training was approved for 2/3 of that (the max. permitted by law). Although you could have used Navy time to make up the balance of the sea time for the license, you still needed the one year of shipboard training you get from the PMI program (see the sea time equivalency discussion for more info on sea time credit and STCW). Also, if you did the training on a tug, you may have been able to complete your TOAR and get some of the deck time you’ll need befopre most companies will put you in the wheelhouse.

60% is the general guideline to account for normal inport periods. However, if you can document that you were underway for a much greater percentage of your sea time, the Coast Guard will consider giving greater credit.

That’s generally correct, but see my last post on the PMI program, I think the issue is motre the program requirements and the path he’s taking to get the license/STCW. This issue isn’t unique to Navy time. If you went into the PMI program with 2 years of time as an OS and/or AB on a commercial vessel the same thing would apply, the time copuldn’t be credited in conjunction with the PMI program. If one were applying for the license via the hawse-pipe, yes, but in an approved program, no.

thanks Mr. Cavo. If I say I felt like it felt like I was underway for a lot longer, would that help? :slight_smile: