27 years with MSC as an engineer (22 as Cheng) and now almost 2 years with NOAA as a Cheng…here’s the rest of the story.
MSC is always in need of engineers for a variety of reasons. In addition to people who don’t want to sail 10 months a year, who don’t want to wait until they’re 67 to retire, who want to be able to plan a vacation, and thus need to know when they’ll actually be home…and in addition to those who want to take more than a few weeks off between “4 month” assignments, that often are more like 5 to 6 month assignments, they have a constant turnover due to retirements and natural attrition.
NOAA is suddenly hiring in all positions because I was able to convince them that they really shouldn’t be sailing their crews for an entire field season without a break (8 months plus). After much convincing, point papers being written, etc., the powers that be decided to implement some of the changes I recommended…such as paying round trip tickets to and from the ship to the nearest MOC (marine operations center) to a person’s home of record after three months onboard (equivalent to three month tours), and that they needed to have a relief pool to implement this policy. The policy was put into place last year, but it is only now bearing fruit in the way of increased hiring. The downside is that the infrastructure is small so it takes awhile to even get hired…but that too will hopefully change. The other end of this is that until just now, they hired low and chose to “grow their own”…and have experienced a serious brain drain over the past decade. Many positions are filled with licenses under that of the position they fill (2a/e sailing as Cheng, etc.). In addition to a lack of benefits MSC employees take for granted, many of these guys stayed with NOAA because they had limited horsepower licenses and could never have sailed in deep water vessels or vessels with unlimited horsepower unless they sailed unlicensed. I believe the Administration within NOAA now understands the vulnerability this old philosophy created and are now trying to remedy the situation by hiring into the relief pool…which is why all positions are now open (the just opened the Chief Engineer position advertisement within the last week).
MSC pays you to sit on your backside between assignments when your leave has run out…but they try to sail you as much as possible and often don’t let you extend your leave past 30 days even if you have it on the books.
NOAA does not pay you to sit around between assignments when your leave has run out…but since they crew their ships differently, because you can sail on a union ship between assignments, etc., it isn’t apples and apples, it’s apples and oranges. NOAA has “permanently assigned” marines and “relief pool mariners”…those permanently assigned, take as much leave as they desire (even if it’s leave without pay), and always get to return to the same vessel. Those in the pool only get paid when they are assigned a relief job or are on vacation, but their tours are as short as one month and as long as 3 months, so they’re home more frequently. Those permanently assigned are allowed to go on vacation every 3 months, but when their leave runs out, they don’t get paid until they’re back on the ship. Also, NOAA “voyages” are shorter, the crews are smaller (so are the ships), the food is far better, and the pace is far, far slower…which usually means less stress.
The down side is that they have smaller ships, which means they move more underway. Also, the limited horsepower of their ships (only one is currently unlimited) means it’s very difficult to upgrade an unlimited license to the next higher unlimited license…but that too is changing. I’m working with MEBA right now to get the horsepower rating of two NOAA class ships upgraded to unlimited, which would translate into the greater portion of the NOAA fleet providing platforms that would count as unlimited horsepower ships for USCG upgrades.
So, which way to go…MSC will provide faster advancement of your licenses, NOAA provides a lifestyle that is closer to “normal” for non-mariners. Less Admin on NOAA ships, similar pay, although their smaller size does mean slightly lower wages, but only slightly. If you have an unlimited license, you’ll be running the show before long. If you’re just starting out, it’s a good way to break in without getting broken down. MSC goes world-wide, NOAA is mostly US waters, although at least one of their ships goes to south america.
If you would like more information on any part of life with MSC or NOAA, give me an email directly at email@example.com.
Whether to go to MSC or NOAA really depends on what your long term goals are and what kind of quality of life are you willing to live or expect while you’re sailing. Either company will provide a steady paycheck, both have advantages and disadvantages.
Hope this helps.