OK, I admit it

I’m a former NOAA Corps Officer. I know, I know. But, I have to say, back when I was in the NOAA Corps (1988 - 1991), I was really lucky to have a super old school hard assed training officer during OCS. Made us really get down to the basics. Which was probably because he was a licensed mariner and had graduated from SUNY before he joined the corps.

I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity that I had. I mean, tell me where else a 22 year old is going to get to drive a 300’ ship from north of Barrow all the way south to Antarctica? And since it was a single screw steam plant, I really had to learn how to think more than a few ship lengths ahead.

I’ve taken all those lessons and applied them to my sailing career, and am proud to say that it has been a pretty good 21 years so far, and I’m looking forward to another, oh, let’s say 10 more years on the water.

Any other former (or current) NOAA Corps types out there? Feel free to PM me if you are a bit reticent to come out in public…

Cheers all,

I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of life in the NOAA Corps. I’m considering applying myself and haven’t been able to find much information from people who currently serving or have served previously. I have my 3rd Engineer’s license but think I might like to try the view from the bridge.

Anyone else is welcome to add their comments.


[QUOTE=StevenT;15916]I’d be interested in hearing your opinion of life in the NOAA Corps. [/QUOTE]

Hi Steve,

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,

I certainly appreciate your reply. I’m sure a lot of your insight is still valid even though it’s a few years old. I had the chance to apply to the Corps a few years ago but didn’t for a number of reasons. Looking back, I wish I’d made the leap, however; everything worked out well in the interim. Now, I’m thinking about making another go at it.

My last trip out as an engineer was onboard an ATB in the Gulf of Mexico. It was an interesting experience that made me think long and hard about what I was doing. There were times when I loved it and times when I hated it, much like any job. Unfortunately, the scales tipped away from engineering. With the 3 month basic training period, the NOAA Corps seems like a great way to make a career change.

What appeals to me about the Corps is the opportunity to learn something new but not completely different, being able to sail (not as an engineer), the camaraderie, working with scientists, and to an extent the uniformed service. As an organization, the Corps is fairly small and it seems as though there are a lot of people who stay in for a long time.

I’d be interested in hearing more about your sea duty. I know how the merchant fleet typically does things but don’t have any experience on research vessels. On the ATB, we went from point A to point B and then back to point A. I realize that the experience varies from ship to ship but it would be good to know what it’s ‘typically’ like on a survey ship and on a fisheries research ship with regard to day to day and week to week operation. Are the ships in and out of port fairly frequently or infrequently?

Have a great weekend and thanks again for the reply,

I was just cleared for appointment last Friday. I’ll start BOTC August 30th and I’m real excited about it, panicked, but excited.

It’s true that there really isn’t a lot of candid information about it. One thing that helped cement my decision to go was the helpfulness of the officers already there. After my first interview I had decided I wanted to go into survey work. I found contact information for the chief of the Atlantic Survey branch, got invited to meet him and the branch and from there got invited to look around the R/V Thomas Jefferson and talk to the officers there. I got a lot of honest talk about it, even an officer who hated it, and it all made me want to be there more.

If you can get through the application process (sure is competitive for a service no-one knows about), do it. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Word of advice, if you don’t get in the first time, don’t gripe about it, just ask the recruiting officer what you can do to improve for the next one and keep sending in the application. I got it on the second try.

And Jill, I’d be interested in hearing more too. I never can pass up a good sea story and I’m sure any insight you have will help me in the coming months.

Also, fess up, which one is you?

Front row third from right.

Holy crap, you can’t hide anywhere now, can you? LOL And how about that skirt? Very useful ship attire.

Yep, that 12 year old in the front row, third from the right, is indeed me. But I’m told that I haven’t aged one bit. Ahem.

Got a project for the next couple of days, but I’ll post some NOAA sea stories this weekend.

[quote=danzante;16477]Holy crap, you can’t hide anywhere now, can you? LOL And how about that skirt? Very useful ship attire.

Yep, that 12 year old in the front row, third from the right, is indeed me. But I’m told that I haven’t aged one bit. Ahem.

Got a project for the next couple of days, but I’ll post some NOAA sea stories this weekend.[/quote]

Hah no worries, my big ugly mug will be up there soon enough.