Pacific Maritime Institute Mate Program vs CMA

So currently I am a freshman at CMA in the MT Program. While I think the program here is a very good one, I don’t feel like it will prepare all that well for working on tugs. I have read this whole forum and while a lot of my questions have been anwsered, I still have a few more.

My Goal: to work on Tugs on the West Coast.

Looking at leaving CMA for the Mate Program at PMI in November.

Is anyone on this forum currently attending the Mate Program or has the contacts for someone that is? I would like to talk to a an actual student.
If I graduated from Cal Maritime with a 3rd Mates Unlimited where would I start in the Tug Industry? Can you qualify for a 1600 ton 2nd mates license?

Between the lower cost, less time, better location (I’m a Tacoma Native), One year of REAL Sea time on the vessels I will be working on, TOAR fulfilled, I can’t find anything wrong with the program. When I decided to go to CMA I was a Senior in High School who had a goal but didn’t know their were other options besides going to an academy.

I’m looking for some advice. Anything would be greatly appreciated.
Jacob Ellestad

I’m not starting a academy vs anything debate just looking for advice on my current situation.

First of all I am almost positive you have to be an AB unlimted (or special maybe) to participate in PMI’s mate program second you really shouldn’t underestimate the value of having a bachlors degree I’m going to be going for my MBA starting next fall which would not be possible if I did not have that MT degree from CMA.

Since you’re a student at CMA, I would stick with it regardless of opinion otherwise. I’m sure PMI has a very good program, but they can’t grant a degree and once you leave, chances are that you’ll never go back. Be as diverse as you can be especially is this economy, your obviously young, and a degree will always give you an extra dimension. Everything else will follow through experience.

Send Gregg Trunnell ( an email with your questions and ask him to put you in contact with a current cadet. Gregg is PMI’s director. You do not have to have an AB to enter the two year Mates program at PMI. You do for the AB to Mate program. Different animal entirely. You’ll find my email address in my account info, feel free to email with questions. I’m familiar with the program and know some of the cadets.

None of the 4-year schools prepares its students for working on tugs. Some of the West Coast companies may utilize an inexperienced 3rd mate on occasion when they need a third man for a 3-watch rotation on the >200GRT / 600+ NM trips, but there would be no expectation of that individual being able to actually do anything except stand an open-water nav watch. If your final destination is the world of tugs then the 4-year schools offer very little, in my opinion. Is a degree worth the big bill? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on what other goals you may have. I do know several academy grads on the tugs in the Northeast that later wished they had gone straight out on deck after high school and saved themselves the four years and tuition. No school that currently exists (2-year or 4-year) is capable of producing a graduate that can serve as a fully-qualified mate (read: stands all watches and performs all evolutions <strong>unsupervised</strong> by the captain except in emergencies or highly unusual situations) in a <strong>2-watch system</strong>. Having said that, the PMI / MITAGS program is far superior to any other in terms of relevant training and experience. You won’t graduate ready to stand your own watches but it’s as close as you’ll find to ideal at this time.
Good luck.

Stick with school. Life is about options and with a degree you will have a lot more.
With your bigger license getting on tugs and getting sighed off is just a little more time, no big deal. It’s those of us with 200 ton and less that have a hard time breaking into tugs.
Im the opposite of the guys in Capt. Jacks post. If I had known the sea was going to be my life I would have gone to school for this instead of computers.

Stick it out. I sailed with a CMA graduate on a small reseach vessel. Great guy. His best friend at CMA worked whatever spare time he had + his “cruises” for Foss out of San Francisco. When he graduated he got a wheelhouse “training” position and within 2 years he had his own boat.
If you want to work on tug boats bad enough, you can find a way to do it while you are in school!
PS - I don’t remember his name but I think he graduated either in 2003 or 2004.

4 years of your life, a piece of paper, no experience and $80,000 in debt.
With the economy headed south like it is I think you’re smart to question learning versus earning.
I agree with Cap’n Jack Sparrow, I work on a NY based ATB with a SUNY 3M. He’s just a better paid AB with a lot of paperwork added to his cleaning duties.

It’s simple, Get your degree.

I had the chance to go to CMA, 20 some odd years ago…To say that I have regretted that decision , is an understatement…
I wish this advice had been around for me…I would have listened…

Thank you very much for the advice. It’s great to hear both sides of the argument. Over break I plan on going to PMI for an interview and to get more information. I had dismissed the value of the degree and from your comments it made me rethink how much that was worth. Still not sure which way I will be going. But, this January during the Job Fair I will definitely work on getting on a tug here in the bay or the sound while I’m not in school. Money is part of the problem, but their is always a way. Again I cannot thank all that commented enough. The counselors at CMA are not sailors and each school says their the best. Captmike your story is definitely heartening. It became very apparent that this school was not geared for tugs at all a month in. My primary concern is that the skill set for handling a tow and handling a container ship are very different.

Just two more questions
What does the TOAR requirement qualify you for?
What do I need to work on a tug during the summer?

Jacob Ellestad

Jacob the TOAR is your gateway to a towing license. If memory serves, it is in NVIC 04-01, but I have had both sake and beer tonight so I could be wrong. Also, I don’t know your age but you must be at least 19 to start PMI’s two year program because you have to be 21 to get the license.


I say stay with CMA. My personal story: I graduated from college (non-maritime), and began work on tugs and harbor cruise vessels as an OS. By age 30 I was sailing Captain, but wanted to work on ships. So I had to go back and work as AB. I’m now over 40, and finally ready to test for Chief Mate. Point is, it took almost 20 years to get this far. Once you have the 3/M license, there’s no shame sailing AB on a tug, but you’ll have a license. When a Mate job opens up, you’ll be ready. And you can always ship deep sea if you want. Like others above said, it’s about options. When you’re 40, you may have a family and want to move into the office. The degree will put you there faster. I think all will agree with that.

CMA_Cadet, I want to make it clear that I’m not arguing either for or against a degree. I’m keeping this in the context of what program, if any, <strong>best</strong> prepares you for <strong>work</strong> in the towing industry. Hands down, PMI’s Workboat Mate wins that contest easily. The federal and state academies, all seven of them, aren’t even in the same time zone with them.
As far as the value of the degree is concerned, I cannot say. I’m not an educated man, but I do know that there’s a tendency for people to place an inflated value on whatever it is they have the most of, be it education or practical experience. I’ll also point out that, in terms of enhancing your ability to get a job and keep it, in the tugboating world it’s <strong>all </strong>about what you can do. No one cares about how well educated you may or may not be. This is neither good nor bad, just a fact.
Options are always good, and having more of them is better than having less . However, you have to balance that against the cold hard fact, pointed out by seadog!, that you have to pay for 4 years of school while earning no money, versus actually earning money and gaining valuable practical experience as you do it. Of course, if you sit in the galley and watch television all the time then it is time wasted. It’s all what you make of it.
Finally, to work on a tug for the summer in an unlicensed capacity you need a Z-card (MMD) and a TWIC. The TOAR is the final step for qualification as mate / pilot or master of a towing vessel.You must complete one to work in either capacity. It is your proof of competence to practically perform the job, as witnessed and attested to by a CG-certified Designated Examiner. It cannot be honestly done in 30 days, not in anyone’s wildest dreams.

I would email, then follow up with a phone call to any and all the tug companies you think you may want to work for when you get out. Tell them your story and I’ll bet you can get a break with one of them. As a temp worker (ie during your breaks) you may not get full wages but you will have a place to work and gain experience. Once you graduate, I would be surprised if the company you have been working for didn’t find a spot for you right away. Also, check with your counselor and see which tug companies you can do your summer cruises with and target them.

We have a very comprehensive list of links to tugboat, towboat and oilfield operators on the jobs <strong>page</strong> of the MTVA Forum. Go to to check it out. I think you will find what you need there.
Good luck.


I just discovered that site the other day, great list you have! It is helping me out big time with searching for experience on tugs before I attend MITAGS for the workboat mate program.

Do the degree. In the scheme of things, whatever time you have left to graduate is a drop in the bucket, yet oh so important when you want to try and start marketing yourself. Hang in there, and arm yourself with all the tools you can before you step off the dock to go to work. It’s a hell of a lot easier to do it now, than to try to do it later. Trust me on this one.
You can still run a tug with BSc degree, but you can’t be a BSc with a tug degree. Take a deep breath, and hit up some of the tug companies in the Bay Area to do some deckhand work while you’re on break, or go talk to the Pilot’s about working part time on the launch.
As always, all the best…

PMI’s program is designed for people who want a vocational approach to their maritime education versus the college route. Also for people wanting a new career later in life. I agree with those urging you to stay at CMA. In my own experience, while I have done most anything I have set my mind to, I am aware of the doors of opportunity that are closed to me for lack of having a degree. Always set yourself up to have the most options you can is the advice I’ve given my kids, and I’ll give you the same. Hang in there and finish what you’ve started. You’ll be glad you did.