Starting again

I studied Mechanical engineering for a bachelors and masters degree and have been working in the automotive industry for the the past 20 years. I plan to return to school full time at the Great Lakes Maritime Academy and study in the deck officer program.

Does my previous experience and education carry any weight coming into this industry? Will it help employment chances? I’m also 45 years old, will my age make it difficult for me to break into the industry?

Any hints or feedback you can share would be appreciated! I’m excited to start a new adventure and get away from my 9-5 office job and start life on the water.


Your hands on will help you, not so sure about academicaly. but engineer is right up your alley. If deck is your choice, go for it. GLMA is a great school from what i’ve heard.

This part makes it a bad idea.

Yes, unless you go MM&P. But, a good proportion of deck officers are employed on coastal tankers which basically do direct hire with or without a union. And they won’t say it, but you’d be hardpressed to get hired as a 45 year old brand new 3rd Mate with out even experience on deck.

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Oakley23 is right on this one. Go with what you know. Busting knuckles sounds like the way to go. Pay is about the same, and transition to diesel will be much easier for you. Regardless of what the market is right now, good engineers get picked up first.

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I would guess that after 20 years as a mechanic he doesn’t want to go back to school to be a mechanic.

Not from what I’ve seen.

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Having a technical background is generally an asset, and therefore I’m sure you’d do fine academically. It will certainly help you personally when dealing with engineering issues on the ship as long as you’re not presumptuous and cocky about your prior education.

But as for carrying any weight and helping employment chances? Realistically not that much when you are applying for entry level jobs in an unrelated field.

As for your age, oddly enough the only GLMA grads I’ve worked with have been older. Technically we’re not supposed to consider the age of an applicant. Realistically I’m not saying it can’t happen. You should consider what you include in your resume.

That being said, everyone who graduates receives the same license, and is just as green a new 3rd Mate on their first ship. Statistically they are younger, which means when you graduate approaching 50 it’s likely your first supervisor will be around half your age. But here are plenty of older career 3rds out there who chose not to upgrade and keep on sailing just fine. It’s all about your mindset.

Thanks for the feedback. I appreciate your perspectives.

My decision to pursue this career is that I want to do something different which is aligned with my interest and passion. This is why I’ve chosen the deck office route and I’m certain that this is the right choice for me.

I have no issue with my supervisor being half my age, I am happy to learn from those that have more experience in the field than I do and that is certainly my mindset.

Thanks again for all your feedback!

To Phoenix,Probably not. I went to Nashville Auto Diesel college in the early 70’s, was good with my hands around machinery. That helped later on in life as I did decide to go wheelhouse. And I had a deep respect for my engineers and a decent understanding of what they were up against. My suggestion to go engine was due to job outlook and potential hiring in this rotten time. I get it for sure if that line of work does not appeal to the poster. Been there, and it’s damn hard work.

Just don’t do it on the deck side man. You’re going to kick yourself for doing this 4 years from now when you’ve spent 100k and 4 years of income on another degree when you already have a B.S. and M.S.? This is at least half a million of tuition and opportunity cost to get into a terrible employment market for 3rd Mates. 1000 new cadets graduating every year and lots more sitting around waiting.

you seem to have a ‘grass is greener’ mentality. Talk to some people that sail first. I would suspect most will say your 9-5 office job is a privilege, not something to run away from.

I can appreciate what you are saying but I am not doing this for the money. I’m well prepared for retirement and have enough in savings to cover my costs for the duration of school. As long as I am able to find a job in the industry after studying I will be happy with the decision.

I certainly don’t regret my 9-5 office job choice but you only get to live once and I would like to do something different for the second half of my working career. It’s not about money, it’s about living an interesting life and experiencing more of what this world offers. I’m lucky to have had the experiences I have had up to now and because of that if gives me the freedom to now move in a different direction.

My only concern is finding a job after going back to school. That is certainly a risk but one that I think I’m willing to take.

You’re more than qualified to teach at one of the academies. I suspect you’ll find a program designed to teach 18 year olds responsibility boring at best and annoying at worst.

That you are well prepared for retirement, kudos to you. Many are not. I will say, engine room at sea is nothing like working for a dealership. A bit more relaxed atmosphere, and unlike many of your customers, regular maintainence is encouraged. Quite a bit slower pace until you get in the shipyard. The engineers usually stay aboard and draw a check during that time, deck guys not so much. Good luck sir, I think you will be fine with whatever route you choose. Just think it through, as a former poster said, there will be heavy competition from the deck side.

Maybe get an entry level OS/Wiper and go with the SIU for a little bit. Unlicensed are in higher demand than junior officers at the moment. See if you like what you see before you commit to 4 years of education.


Not even close to 1000 new 3/Mates though. To add some more accurate color to that number:

  • MARAD puts the number of those graduating with licenses at around a thousand.

  • Based on their most recent data, of that group only 80% choose to sail on their license.

  • Importantly, historically (and presently) fewer than half of license grads are mates. (Mass ~40%, Cal about the same, Maine even fewer, for example)

  • Side note, for those who go to sea (7-800), over 20% (KP Grads) of them are initially required to sail US Flag only, if possible.

So your competition for new grad 3/M jobs (inclusive of KP) is much closer to 300-350, not 1,000. Still not an insignificant number, but no one knows what the hiring is going to look like in a few years when you would be graduating.

I would agree with @oakley23 only that the current near-term outlook for the industry isn’t rosy, but I would not discourage you from the path you are looking to take, so long as you keep doing as you are: asking questions to ensure you know what you are getting into.

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Your competition is all of the unemployed and underemployed 3rd mates, including those sailing as unlicensed who have finished in the years before you. Graduating as a 3/M makes it much harder to pivot in the market and get a shoreside position as well. I don’t think you need to school me on what its like to get a job as a 3/M, because i just did that recently.It wasnt pretty before Covid and oil crashed. and its terrible now. the academies are irresponsible taking students through the deck program when they know the employment prospects are subpar.

Look, I don’t envy the position you are in right now. And your opinion is certainly valuable because of that recency.

Since I started in this industry nothing you say has changed. New guys were always competing against the guys from prior years with licenses who took unlicensed jobs because they were all that was available. They’ve been saying for at least twenty years that it’s harder to pivot from Mate to shore. I agree with you 100% that the academy growth in the last few years has been irresponsible.

I just don’t agree that everyone should be pushed to be an engineer or nothing. We’re still going to need new mates. Yes, some will have to start down a peg, same with engineers. Where I’ve worked most of us made it a point to split new hires 50/50 with prior sea experience/green grads, even in the last downturn. It keeps things fresh. Certainly not everyone does that though.

If you graduated from a properly accredited B.S. ME program, with only 6 months of at sea engineroom experience you can take the USCG exam for 3rd engineer. You will be able to sail inland or on the Great Lakes as a 3rd. With more experience you can obtain the STCW endorsements.

Get a paying seagoing job as a wiper, work 180 days, and get your 3rd engineer license.

Alternatively, go to the AMO Union school for two years and get 3rd engineer with STCW.

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