Question about career path, Tall Ships, Maritime Academies, and 3M License


First, gCaptain is so awesome! the threads here generally seem to be pretty helpful compared to other forums I’ve been frequenting (USN related). I am a 37yo veteran and switching careers to maritime for a host of reasons I won’t go into. I will try and keep this question as directed and effective as I can.

Let’s say that I wanted to skipper tall ships and run a charter business later. What would be the better path to do that:

  1. Start out as a deckhand on Tall ships now and get the sea time/ work my way up to Mate/Master over the course of years.

  2. Go to an academy, get 3M license, work in commercial maritime for the pay and experience, THEN transition to Tall Ships

For background, I am applying for SUNY and TAMU for Fall of 2019. This means I am angling towards #2 for the flexibility and the pay starting out. HOWEVER, the problem with #2 is it is very expensive and would add another What… possibly +80k/100k (out of state tuition) To the debt I already have from my first degree.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t JUST want to skipper tall ships. Being on the deck of any commercial maritime vessel sounds appealing to me. But the cost of the schooling is very daunting. Any input/thoughts/advice is very much appreciated.

This is one industry where I can guarantee you, you’ll make it back. Definitely go to school, especially if you already have your ba.

My understanding is the academy that plugs you into the tall ship (or at least wooden boat) community is Maine. Can’t go wrong with the SUNY grad program though.


Go to kings point for free. You’ll piss excellence when you’re all graduamated. Also I wouldn’t waste your time at an academy to be a captain on a tall ship. All the chicks have hairy armpits and eveyone is a vegan. Just sayin.


One issue I foresee with your plan if you go down the path of #2, is that in order to serve as an officer on tall ships you will need an endorsement to serve on sail or auxiliary sail vessels of large tonnage. In addition to specific test modules for the sail endorsement, the USCG requires a specific amount of time served on sailing vessels of this same large tonnage. Time on ordinary recreational sailboats can be used, but since these are generally small, it only works for a license less than 200 GRT. After that, the time has to be on sail vessels over 50 GRT, which is a very large recreational sailboat. And even if you have that sea time, USCG would limit you to a tonnage shy of what I imagine the typical tall ship has.

So, since the only academy I know of that has a tall ship is the Coast Guard academy, you would have to figure out a way to cadet on another tall ship while attending SUNY or TAMU or another academy.

Tall ship sailing is a very special calling. If your heart is set on this, the first option seems more likely to get you there.

I looked up the requirements. For a typical tall ship, you’ll likely need a license good to 1600 GRT: Master/Mate 500/1600 GRT OC/NC 360 days on appropriately sized sail or auxiliary sail vessels, Master Less than 500 GRT – All required sail service over 50 GRT Master Less than 1600 GRT – All required sail service over 100 GRT

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Being a vet, you may want to consider Great Lakes; you don’t need to rehash the regimental stuff and may find the opportunity to write pilotage when you graduate beneficial down the road.

The OP is too old to go to Kings Point.

Oh yeah that’s true, you can’t be older than 25, correct?

Maine Maritime has the schooner Bowdoin

Some of my tall ship friends swap back and forth between commercial shipping and sail training jobs, depending on how the hiring is going.

Haha. I spent a couple of weeks as a volunteer deckhand on the Hawaiian Chieftain a few years ago. Chow was great and so were the chicks. I had a great time! And no hairy armpits. There may have been a vegan or two around though.

This is very interesting. Kinda sounds like what I’m aiming for. switching between the two I mean. Are your tall ship friends licensed officers?

Interesting. Thank you so much for taking the time to look this up. I agree that option #1 is probably the more direct route if that was my only target. However I would still like the flexibility to earn the higher income that employment on commercial vessels can lend with the option to transition or spend time in the tall ship community. The more I read these replies and comments the more it seems like #2 is the option that allows for the most opportunities.

It looks like the schooner Bowdoin is 66 GRT. So a year on it could get you a 500 GRT license w/ aux. sail. If it is a MARAD sponsored vessel, I believe 240 days will get you 360 days credit on a training ship at 1.5 credit.

Well, you did say you were switching careers. If you are a 37 yo veteran, then it may be difficult to make the switch at this point and have much time left to enjoy the income before retirement. If you don’t have any sea time yet, you are going to have to spend quite a few years accumulating it for an oceans license. If you are able to count some of your military service aboard ships, then that will give you a head start.

But the real issue is that any commercial job that pays anything is not likely going to help you get a tall ship sail endorsement you can use later in life. Remember that it takes most sailors a year and a half to get one year of sea time.

Forgive me, answers seem to spawn only more questions on my end. Regarding the Bowdoin and Maine Maritime they have this to say about how their cadets gain sea time:

" Sea time is accomplished through specialized laboratories, simulation, and three at-sea experiences: two training cruises aboard the Training Ship State of Maine and one 90-day cadet shipping experience aboard a commercial merchant ship, tanker, container ship or cruise liner at the conclusion of the second year"

If that is the case, between studies and these cruises, how would a cadet gain sea time on the Bowdoin? Or am I just confused and if I wanted to get sea time on the Bowdoin I’d have to be in a program other than MT.

Yes, upon reading the brochure it looks like that experience is gained through the other programs:

"Vessel Operations & Technology (VOT)
Students choosing this major are required
to complete 240 sea days. In order to qualify
for the Mate 500- or 1600-ton License, sea
service must be earned aboard appropriately-sized vessels over three cooperative work
experiences. These experiences typically
occur between each academic year and may
be gained aboard a variety of commercial
vessels including tugs, supply vessels, ferries,
and even tall ships.

Small Vessel Operations (SVO)
Students choosing this major are required
to complete 120 sea days before the Mate
200-ton License can be issued. Like the VOT
major, these experiences may be aboard a
variety of commercial vessels including tugs,
supply vessels, ferries, and tall ships


"Sail Training Concentration
Courses leading to an Auxiliary Sail endorsement, with qualifying sea time under sail,
• Auxiliary Sail Vessel Operations
• Traditional Vessel Technology
• Two-month Auxiliary Sail Training Cruise

So this might be doable in the MTO program. I’m going to give them a call and see what’s possible. Thank you all for giving me the idea to take a second look at Maine Maritime!

I don’t want to dash your aspirations, but as a SUNY Grad myself who sailed for a bit on a tall ship. I wouldn’t recomend it. Maybe look at becoming involved in some tall ship organization, but if you want to captain a tall ship, whether you go work on one now as a deckhand, or go to school and get your Mate’s license, you’re gonna need to get the time onboard to add the sail endorsement and eventually advance to a mate position and someday a master license. It’s very physically demanding work. I’ll give you credit and say maybe you’re in much better shape then me, but working as an AB on a tall ship was physically exhausting for very minimal pay…not that it wasn’t a lot of fun.

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They run the full spectrum from Master to AB.
One works long sea voyages. Others work tugboats or ferries.
One specific comment was to go get the real money ( commercial shipping ) when the market was up, but go sail a tall ship when the market was down.

Because the tall ship pay is lousy. Especially as an AB. And you have to spend a couple of years as an AB to understand how to sail. You won’t get the practical knowledge otherwise.
As LI_Domer said, the work is exhausting. You might still handle it at 37 yo, but I volunteer on tall ships and at 52 it can be rough some times.

You might be able to get a commercial job and work ( even volunteer to start) on a schooner or tall ship on your “off” time.

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TMA I believe still gives Cadets the choice of working their required maintenance hours in concert with volunteer time on the barque Elissa at Texas Seaport Museum, so there’s that opportunity as well for real sailing time on a larger tall ship.

If you did the SUNY grad program, you’d be relatively close to be South Street Seaport Museum and have opportunities to volunteer there and make some connections in the community. Maine is the place for tall ships, but as others said, tall ships don’t pay well.

This sounds about like what I’m starting to align with. I’m going to probably add Maine into the list of academies I apply to. I’ll see what comes back, but I like that Maine has a Tall ship on campus. that would provide some opportunities there I’m sure. But the main goal is the 3M unlimited. Then see if I can find windows to do some low/no pay work on tall ships to get the sea time and sail endorsement if I don’t already have it out of Maine. (or by possibly volunteering at these other places that were mentioned in Texas and NY)

The physicality of the Tall Ship work is not intimidating (yet). I did some work on the Square rigger hawaiian chieftain out of Washington and so I’m somewhat familiar with the work involved. I’m still in great shape I do kickboxing several times a week and frankly I loved crawling all over the chieftain. Aloft work was my favorite.