Pros/Cons W Coast vs E Coast MSC?

I heard there is a pay difference?
Is there a cultural difference too?

FWIW, any others wondering, these are some things I’ve already found:,-Seafarers-International-Union

Not too useful for making a decision, but interesting anyway:

It really sounds like the main differences are:

MSC you are much more likely to go beyond your expected duration on-ship. So away from home a lot more at a stretch than SIU.

MSC does sounds like it is a like more stable ref getting a ship–please correct if I’m wrong here. MSC folk do not have to go to a Union Hall and watch TV monitors for job calls (traditional Union thing, although I’m still confused why this is even a thing anymore–there really should be an app).

MSC has better benefits. For instance, if you need robust health insurance due to family members, then MSC is it.

SIU seems to have better pay. Please correct me if I’m wrong! I do not know if this means better base pay, overtime availability, etc. MSC job boards now are showing total average expected compensation that includes “all things pay.”

MSC you can hit the ground running, no 1.5 or so years of apprenticeship. They’ll take you as-is and train you as needed. Perhaps better room for advancement?? <<< Please correct if wrong.

SIU has their apprenticeship that gets you out the door with some nice benefits for the union–you can bid on jobs ahead of non-apprentice folk who still have their C book. I think you come out an AB? <<< correct me if I’m wrong.

Anyway, enough rambling, I’d love to hear from folk with relatively recent direct experience in one or the other (or both!).

Right now there’s no shortage of ships with SIU. There are lots and lots of available jobs on the board and on my last vessel we sailed one oiler short because the union couldn’t supply one.

The reason for in person job calls is to prevent backroom deals. If every job is called publicly then everyone there can see the seniority of whoever gets it. Otherwise, what’s to stop union reps from taking bribes to give the best jobs to certain people?

SIU has really good health insurance with no payroll deduction for any of it. Unless your spouse has mental health issues (which aren’t covered) you’d have a hard time doing better.

That depends largely on the contract for the specific ship.

You can join SIU and start shipping without doing the apprenticeship.

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Thanks for all the responses. I have NO idea how to do the fancy quotes you used, but hopefully this’ll all make sense :slight_smile:

“Right now there’s no shortage of ships with SIU. There are lots and lots of available jobs on the board and on my last vessel we sailed one oiler short because the union couldn’t supply one.”
I must’ve been reading complaints of C book folk who had to stay in their halls for a long time before they could get a ship (or they were just a loud minority!).

“The reason for in person job calls is to prevent backroom deals…”
Thanks for that info! Now that you mentioned that, I am sure there are a lot of historical incidents that resulted in this. Technically speaking, could fairly easily have all the info about the jobs within the app, but I do see the appeal of everything low-tech in order to make everything visibly obvious.

“SIU has really good health insurance with no payroll deduction for any of it…”
Health insurance is one of those touchy things where everyone has their own experience. Right now with my current company, we have Cigna and have to fight tooth and nail for every single thing, seemingly. I believe one of MSC’s options is BCBS, which I have had nothing but good experiences with across multiple companies (queue someone saying they’ve had nothing but bad experiences with BCBS :smiley: )

“That depends largely on the contract for the specific ship.” << Ref pay
Ok, I understand what you are saying. It was just a feel I’d gotten from hearing other people complain over various boards/blogs/etc. Nice to know they can be comparable!

“You can join SIU and start shipping without doing the apprenticeship.”
I have heard you can get your TWIC, MMC, pay for a class (or two?) to get an endorsement, and go down to the Union Hall and wait for a ship you can get on as a C book. But that kind of wraps back to my other statement about C books complaining they have to wait so long to get a ship (which could be totally wrong!).
It sounds like with MSC, you get hired, and basically start getting paid while they send you to whatever classes you need.
The apprenticeship does sound like an amazing way to really make some progress in the union (going to B book at completion) and skills-wise (I think you get some endorsements upon graduation?).

Again, thanks so much for your information, I really appreciate it!

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Since the SIU still owes me a couple hundred in reimbursements, i love to chime in when insurance comes up. Its cigna, but the problem is all your eligibility queries, claims and such have to go thru the union. Its a huge heachache and a serious pitfall using this rockstar insurance they claim to offer.

I’ll save my go-to rant about what a pain in the ass it is to become eligible and then get the insurance started for another day.

When were their complaints made though? I said now there’s tons of jobs on the board unfilled, that isn’t always the case. The industry is cyclical and right now there’s lots of work.

It’s not Cigna. SIU is self insured, they just use the Cigna pricing network.

It can be obnoxious, especially because the number for the doctors to call and verify eligibility is only open M-F, 0800-1630 East coast time and they usually can’t verify eligibility online like actual Cigna insurance. All in all, I had a positive experience with that insurance and it’s one of the best ones I ever had.

AHA! Thanks :slight_smile:

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Ohhhhh. That is very good to know, thahnks.

Oh, another layer of bureaucracy on top of a company I personally have found to dig their heels in to pay for anything. That’s good to keep in the back of my mind, thanks.

MSC benefits package is pretty good, I imagine better than most private sector companies. You can choose from a large number of healthcare providers. Supplemental vision and dental is very cheap. They match 5% on the TSP and FEGLI life insurance seems to be a good value. MSC pays for everything, training, work clothes, boots, you even have a van to use for Wal-Mart runs in most ports. You can shop at military base exchanges in the states and commissaries (overseas only). Working on MSC ships is easy, lots of people with very little to do. Create your own kingdom by becoming the flight deck AB, Carpenter, Fire Marshall, or “guy who paints things yellow”. OT is always available. Weekends of course and normally 3 hrs/night Mon-Fri. ABs who stay on a ship 10-11 months routinely make $110K+ a year. Live in Norfolk/Virginia Beach and much of the year you are just a 8-5 employee and go home every night and take weekends off, almost a normal life. It would be great if only we could get relieved on time.

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Really awesome information, I appreciate it! “Guy who paints things yellow” lolol :smiley: Everyone’s gotta have something they’re good at!
I’m keeping in touch with an MSC recruiter for a potential entry into the Radio Electronics Technician Advancement Program. Not sure how realistic that is, but I have no ship experience, but have an MS in IT, a Security+ cert, and a TS clearance, so hopefully that all means something to them.
If that doesn’t pan out, then thinking about Deck in MSC or SIU (if I go SIU I would really want to do Apprenticeship program, but that’s a long haul without much money or benefits).
I’m probably way too old to have a goal of Captain–I could always get another degree from a maritime college, but damn I’d be even older AND be seriously in debt when I get out.

No one has yet touched on the subject of East/West Coast differences in MSC. Maybe there is none?

Thanks again!

Hopefully one of the current MSCers can chime in. I can offer a stab at it with historical differences as I left MSC in 2010, but some of these are likely still relevant. Anyone can feel free to correct any outdated info…

They still have two different posted pay scales for east and west. Anecdotally I recall being told this was related to the history of split union collective bargaining. But currently for most positions on the same class of vessel the rates are the same east vs west. There are a couple positions that only exist on one coast’s base wage scale, like Cable Mate, because there is only one cable ship and its generally home-ported on the east coast.

I believe it is still the case that everyone is hired to the east coast CSU and when available you can request transfer to the west. Right now they show no availability of transfers. The east coast CSU is in Norfolk, VA and was historically unpleasant and rigid. I was always east coast but (at least at the time) there was no requirement to go to your assigned CSU when waiting for a ship so I usually went to the west coast CSU since its in sunny San Diego (point loma). They were much more lax and the beaches are nicer. Of course as an east coast civmar you still get flown to an east coast ship but at least the wait was more pleasant. Now currently they are pilot-testing some positions that don’t have to go sit at the CSU to wait at all, and hopefully that plan takes off.

When assigned to the east you get east coast ships from there (generally Norfolk) to the Med, Persian Gulf, and HOA. For the west its CA/WA, asian pacific, (and maybe some HOA/gulf cross over?)

The main difference is that almost all east coast ships are home ported in Norfolk and always return to Norfolk between deployments, and for yard periods and availabilities. Generally 6mo overseas deployment, then 6mo east coast as duty vessel, shipyard, dry dock, etc. Whereas for most west coast ships they spend majority of service time and repair/yard time overseas, and there’s usually a limited number of ships actually in San Diego, like a duty oiler.

If you do end up getting hired by MSC as an RET make sure you do some homework on the USCG NMC requirements for obtaining a credential for ETO in case you want some future bail-out options with another employer in the shipping industry. (I know, that’s a lot of acronyms)

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Great information, thanks so much!

Re-East vs West:
Pay is the same for officers.
Unlicensed is different. One coast has a higher base pay, but a lower OT rate. Final pay averages out for most people.
Pay scales are published at: Finance and Travel - CIVMAR - Military Sealift Command
All benefits are the same for all.

Other than that, it’s bragging rights. I know lots of west coast officers who snub their noses at East coasters.

ALL new hires are East coast.

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How long for a new hired Chief Mate/1ae to make master/chief engineer?

SIU can get you a job now.
SIU has training.
SIU can put you on contract operated MSC ships.
There’s a reason MSC needs Mariners.
Being explicit will get me flagged.


You need 1 year as First/CM to qualify. Applications only open up once a year for like a month, results come out a few months later.

In theory, you could get hired on when the applications open up, sail for a year getting stellar evals and a few different ships under your belt, apply after being in for 1 year, and make CE/Captain about 6 months later. In reality you probably need a few years experience as a rockstar (average anywhere else) to make it.