Questions about GLMA & working on the lakes

Hello gCaptain,

I’m an Alaskan resident currently finishing an accounting bachelor’s at University of Alaska Anchorage. I’m 28 years old, have previous work experience in the concrete/gravel industry, and am also familiar with rotational schedules due to working a 6/3 schedule at a remote, SE Alaskan gold mine. I’ll be graduating in spring '16, and the thought of sitting behind a desk manipulating spreadsheets for the next 30 years makes me want to put a bullet through my temple. I honestly wasn’t aware of the American Merchant Marine until my father told me my grandpa sailed during WWII. The more I look into this industry, the more it seems like a perfect fit for me.

Since I’ll already have a bachelor’s, SUNY and TMA are my only options if I want federally subsidized loans (master’s degree w/ licence programs). Being a pet owner it will be necessary for me to live off campus. Needless to say, I’ve heard mixed reviews of Galveston and rent around SUNY is ungodly expensive. All of these factors have led me to believe GLMA’s accelerated deck program is the best fit for my situation, regardless of lending options.

From what I’ve been able to ascertain thus fair, these are the pros/cons of attending GLMA:


  • 3 years to graduate

  • Unlimited license for oceans & GL

  • First class GL pilotage

  • Traverse City is a safe, livable area

  • Small class sizes

  • Less regimented

  • Older student body


  • More expensive (TMA offers in-state tuition to anyone in the corp)

  • Potentially difficult rental market (especially with pets)

  • Loans would need to be secured through a private lender

I’ve decided the real question is whether or not working on the Lakes interests me, since the perceived value of attending GLMA is the dual licensing + first class pilotage. I’ve dug and dug – information pertaining to living and working on lakers is sparse. So here are a few questions:

  • How valuable is the GL license/pilotage and is it worth the extra tuition expense (i.e., is pay on the Lakes comparable to other segments of the maritime industry)? I’m aware that the GOM has, for the past few years, been where the money is at. However, I’m not pursuing this career for the money. I understand why people chase dollars, but I’m more concerned with my ability to pay off academy debt, support a family, build a nest egg for a comfortable retirement, and avoid the soul crushing grind of a 9-5.

  • What schedule do GL deck officers work? 1-for-1, 2-for-1? How many months on-off?

  • How has your experience with GLMA & Traverse City been?

  • Are any of you currently sailing the lakes? Do you recommend doing so? Pros/cons?

  • How did you approach the housing situation in Traverse City (especially with a pet, if applicable)?

Sorry for the lengthy post. I’m just trying to be thorough because this will be one of the biggest, most important decisions of my life. I appreciate any additional insight you guys can offer. If I end up at GLMA I promise to buy you a beer. Thanks for your time.

I’ll take a stab at answering a few of your questions.

  • Pilotage is HUGE! You’ll get a job with a lakes company if you have GL pilotage, and there’s a pretty steady demand for Great Lakes Pilots. You’re pretty much useless as a mate on the lakes without pilotage. Rotation really depends on the company, the boat and the union. For example I think the AMO contract is 2 months on 1 month off standard, there’s really no one rotation that fits all on the lakes. MM&P and AMO are the most prevalent unions here FWIW. You can make good money here and into the 6 figure range as a 3rd if you get after it. Also it’s pretty quick up the ladder here as well with some of the uh…“hungrier” companies.

  • Traverse City is a dream town for many in Michigan, but I’m from out of state and definitely don’t dream about spending my life here. I guess it’s fair to say that TC is safe, active, fun, and somewhat trendy. People from the North like it more than I do. Although, I will say that the food and beer here kicks ass…get the wings at Brady’s if you come to visit. Don’t be fooled by the mainstream places like North Peak…we’ve got a couple awesome dives.

  • GLMA is a great opportunity for deck guys. [B]You’ll get BY FAR more ship handling experience here than any other academy. No comparison, hands down. Sailing on the Great Lakes is basically the exercise of the art of ship handling. [/B]I’ll say the typical trend for probably most maritime academies is to show up like you’re the smartest sob that ever almost stepped foot on a boat, then when you step foot on one you engage in the cadet olympics, then you settle down some during the 1st year, then if you happen to attend GLMA you’ll go out on your summer lake project and you’ll get humbled when your ass puckers up and climbs your throat as you execute the turn into the rock cut on the St. Mary’s river in a pea soup fog for the 1st time. After that most guys settle down and get ready for the hard year of pilotage training ahead and you’ll notice how much effort that the instructors at GLMA actually put into you (THANK YOU MR. MASON).

-There’s plenty of GLMA grads sailing the lakes, most licensed are hawsepipe or GLMA. Some hate it, more love it. Tight community…the lakes states love their sailors and the ships they sail upon.

-If you are intent on struggling with the prospect of pet ownership while attending a maritime academy then I guess it can be done, best way to find housing is with another cadet. There are several cadets that hold the main lease on a house and rent out rooms to cadets arriving or coming off sea projects all the time. It’s not an easy place, but not impossible. If you decide to leave the pet with family then I would actually recommend the campus apartments.

-Oh and we’re pretty much only regimented to the extent that we wear these god awful mall cop uniforms.

Hope some of that helps, I’ll check back on what I typed when I’m a little less pressed for sleep. GLMASailor will probably chime in before long, that guy’s one of if not the best to come through the academy in recent years.

I’ll answer your questions tomorrow when I don’t have to type on this iPhone.

Thank you for taking the time to reply, Sail!. Your information was quite helpful. I realize that taking my dog with me isn’t ideal, but I’ve had him for ~8 years – I guess I feel obligated to look after him at this point. I have another question: Is a 3.4 gpa competitive? I’ve dug high and low for GLMA admission statistics without luck. Again, thanks for your reply and I now owe you a beer!

Huh… I assumed it would be fairly competitive given the promising career prospects graduating from a maritime academy provides. Perhaps many people can’t stomach the rotational schedule/time away from home?

Thank you for taking the time to reply, Sail!. Your information was quite helpful. I realize that taking my dog with me isn’t ideal, but I’ve had him for ~8 years – I guess I feel obligated to look after him at this point. I have another question: Is a 3.4 gpa competitive? I’ve dug high and low for GLMA admission statistics without luck. Again, thanks for your reply and I now owe you a beer!

There are some very enthusiastic dog owners in TC, where there’s a will there’s a way. At 8 years I wouldn’t want to leave him behind either. Feel free to send me a pm about anything anytime. I’ll take the beer prize if you show up in TC, haha! Oh and P.S we do get a fair amount of Alaskans over here, believe it or not.

[QUOTE=lm1883;152474]Check your pulse. Do you have one? Congratulations your in![/QUOTE]

^Hahaha. Yea, as long as you don’t have a series of drug and alcohol charges you’ll be fine. Especially since you’re already finishing up a degree already.

This industry, and GLMA in particular for that matter seem to be fairly self-selecting. As long as you are enthusiastic about attending when you visit, you’re in. Barring any convictions of course. Just started my second semester on the deck side. Should be out of here right after license testing in Jan 2018. Loving it so far. All of the GLMA instructors are great, experienced, and helpful (NMC instructors on the other hand are a mixed bag). As stated above, there’s really no regiment BS, just uniforms and no facial hair. Come on down, don’t bother with the other academies!