[QUOTE=StevenT;15916]I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of life in the NOAA Corps. [/QUOTE]
I was in the NOAA Corps quite awhile ago ('88-'91), so I’m not sure how relevant or accurate my experience would be to what it is like now. That being said, I had a great time and only got out because I fell in love and didn’t want to leave the Seattle area. Looking back, that was probably a mistake (not the least of which is because that relationship only lasted another year), but I have no regrets because I can’t imagine having a better career than I’ve had over the past 20 years.
So, when I first got into the Corps, I had 3 months of training that were pretty intense navigation, seamanship, shiphandling, radar, etc. All, of course, pre-GPS, etc., so they really pounded the basics and fundamentals into us. After graduating from that, we had another 3 months of hydrographic survey and fisheries training, but I don’t think they do that anymore.
I ultimately ended up on the 300’ NOAA Ship SURVEYOR. She was built in 1956, single screw steam plant, no bowthruster, teak main deck, and more brass in the pilothouse than the quartermaster could keep up with. (She was later decommissioned and is now lying at anchor off Tacoma.)
The junior officers stand navigation watches, but under the guidance of a previously qualified officer of the deck (OOD). To become an OOD, I had to complete a 100 something page training book and get checked off on a whole bunch of assessments. Essentially what an AB to Mate has to get assessed on today.
I was really lucky in that the Captain hated driving the ship and the LT thought enough of me to let me handle the ship alongside quite often. I was too young and dumb to really know how lucky I was to have that opportunity, but can certainly see how that experience shaped my shiphandling skills today.
The bridge watch could be pretty intense if we were doing some work that involved putting equipment over the side. Trying to hold that sucker in one spot and into the wind and sea without pissing off the engineers was a challenge (43 rpms please. No, wait, 48 rpms. Ooh, too much, how about 45 rpms.). As an engineer, I’m sure you will appreciate hearing that we all had to stand several watches in the fireroom during dockings/undockings before we were allowed to handle the ship. Nothing like a little empathy to help shape a brand new Ensign…
The mission of the ship changed quite often. One trip we were doing sea ice studies in the Chuckchi Sea in November, the next trip we were conducting hydrographic surveys off Monterey, then we were down in Antarctica studying the ozone layer and resupplying a remote scientist outpost and surveying our way into the bay.
As I asked in my original post, where else would a 22 year old have that opportunity and responsibility? Don’t get me wrong, though. There were bad days. For example, I did not enjoy being in 65’ waves in Drakes Passage. Nor did I enjoy sailing with other Ensigns that were pretty sure they were the sh^t, just because they had pretty gold bar on their collar. And I didn’t enjoy sailing with the civilians that were pretty sure I was a sh^t, just because I had a pretty gold bar on my collar.
But, those incidents are only blips on the overall memory I have of being in the Corps. But again my caveat: that was quite awhile ago and the Corps could be totally different now. If you are still interested, shoot me a PM and I can try to get you in touch with some current NOAA Corps types that will have more relevant insight.
Best of luck,