Washington state maritime labor headed for a retirement cliff

Recently reprinted in the Virginian Pilot. Interesting numbers.

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Good share. I could say the same down here in Texas/ Louisiana, many of the older Captains are staring retirement down in the next few years and I don’t believe we are prepared to handle it. I think the recession freaked out alot of older mariners so they are working a bit longer just to make sure. Makes you think the pay will go up, but that won’t do anything to solve the experience the industry will lose nor the shortage it will face. One thing will never change, working out on the water is not for everyone and I think if you just went on the street and asked the average person if they could work a schedule 21 on 21 off, at least 85-90% of them would say no. The next decade will be very interesting, and hopefully fruitful for us mariners out on the water.

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when the WSF management gets their collective heads out of their collective asses and tells the unions to shove their half century old newhire rules to a place where the sun don’t shine, then good highly experienced and unlimited tonnage licensed mariners will flock to them but as long as they expect every new hire to play their FUCKING games of not being permanent, working on call and mainly working in an unlicensed capacity for up to two years will keep the real professionals sitting on the sidelines. I am one of those who says nyet to their BULLSHIT!

I hope someone at the WSF reads these posts because I am sick to death of their refusal to change a system which is clearly antiquated and has created this situation they find themselves in today. You people are not gods and your jobs are not god sent so stop acting as if they are!


Do you not believe in seniority?

WSF is mismanaged by some really clueless people.

They have a shortage of Masters, but they expect new hire unlimited masters to start out as AB on-call, and clean toilets and park cars for two years? No wonder they have a shortage.

I remember 25 years ago when WSF opened an application period there would be a line of people half a mile long outside the office waiting to apply. I guess working for WSF is no longer cool. Wages certainly have not kept up with rising housing costs in Seattle. Plus, it’s much less bullshit to get hired into a real job at Microsoft, Amazon, or Google.

Anyone would really have to want the WSF job to be on call for occasional work for two years. I don’t want it.


Saw some guys laid off from Crowley (Choest takeover) drawing charts for WSF at the Seattle REC. I’ve talked to some of the mates there and one got into the wheelhouse after 3 years. That was the fastest I’d heard of. They might fast track you if you get the pilotage done quickly. Maybe.

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Hiring and fast-tracking unlimited masters to the wheelhouse from another sector would be a mistake in my view. It screws over the guys working their way up.

Via the good ole boy network my company has hired a couple box boat captains. They didn’t know the first thing about RO/RO. Not only that but they never made an effort to learn, for example my opposite, 30 years on box boats and 4 years on ro/ro didn’t know to shift ballast to maintain ramp clearance, just stuck to the office and wheelhouse, never came on deck. Not even that good in the wheelhouse which is why they needed a job in the first place.

I agree with this. I couldn’t effectively jump onto another type of ship without at least sailing Chief Mate for several years. How else are you going to have answers for the Mate when something comes up specific to that kind of cargo or vessel without first doing the job?

Not only that but they never made an effort to learn, for example my opposite

So you guys are on good terms professionally. :grimacing:

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As a hawepiper that’s how I kept working these years, finding the hard to work for captains, they always need a C/M, nobody wanted to work with them. So I have developed good skills dealing with this type. A relief situation is just like dealing with some pompous PSC prick, just keep your cool for an hour or two till they leave.


Indeed. Always offer Coffee, Tea, or water at the start of the inspection as well.

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You can I think in some cases, a lot of expertise is lost but in many cases the C/M can take care of business, getting help elsewhere if needed. It can become an issue with a new chief mate however.

first, I have never said a licensed master go straight into a master’s position on the ferries, what I have said is that a licensed officer including masters be hired as trainees to earn their pilotage on Puget Sound and once the pilotage is obtained be offered a position as an officer

second, we are talking about driving a vessel from one side of Puget Sound to another. An already experienced officer should be able to do this right out of the box. what would a mate do on a ferry that requires years of working up through the system?

third, officers who are hired to be trainees to earn their pilotage have already spent years of working their way up on other vessels in other places. Deckhands hired by the WSF with no previous experience have not done this so to say they are being unfairly held back is not germane and not unfair to them. It is this way of thinking by both the WSF and the unions that has created the mess the system currently faces.

I say, if you need licensed people for the WSF vessels just get them into the system as fast and as easily as possible within the USCG regulations. I have been told that if I came to them with all my pilotage already completed, based on union rules I still would have to be a temp deckhand for 6months before I could move into the wheelhouse. This is with over thirty years of driving vessels pretty much everywhere and being on call throughout that period.

The WSF needs to very quickly implement a program to start doing this. Hell, pay a trainee the same as an AB until they get their pilotage completed but get their pilotage as fast as possible and get them onto the bridges of the ferries so build this pool of new people to replace all these retirees about to push the system off a cliff. We have been seeing these reports now for going on three years and if the system refuses to make any changes to their newhire rules then they deserve to go over it and crash in flames. How much you wanna bet they’ll start shovelling money at these people about to retire to keep them going and still not do a damned thing to reform this mess/

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Hell, I’d rather not jump in as Chief Mate either if I could sail 2nd for a little bit to see where I’m lacking before being tossed into trial by fire as CM. Contrary to the office’s beliefs, not all ships are the same and crew are not one size fits all.

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If WSF has ABs with licenses, pilotage, and seniority, then they don’t have a shortage of mariners in the pipeline, and by all means they should move them up ahead of new hires.

But I doubt that they have many ABs with licenses and pilotage. Most ABs are never going to become officers.

The only licensed officers WSF is going to find that will be willing to be on call OS or ABs for 6 months, are either kids fresh out of school with nothing to do, guys who don’t want to sail and are looking for a day job, and guys that aren’t any good, or some combination of the foregoing.

I suspect that a WSF pay is not high enough either. No enough to live reasonably in Seattle, and not enough compared to going to sea.

Any organization that creates unrealistic barriers to entry, has a “you should be so grateful for the opportunity to lick my boots” attitude, and then complains about a lack of staff, gets no sympathy from me.


The article doesn’t say that WSF system alone has a problem, it says there is a problem that in general mariners are getting older and there are fewer entry level people to replace retirees. It’s not just captains, it’s mates, oilers and ABs as well.

Hiring captains from outside wouldn’t solve the problem, in my view not promoting mates from within will make things worse.

The obvious solution is to raise wages and improve working conditions.

As the cost of living skyrockets and tax base grows in areas like the PNW this will have to be the solution for the future. Everything I’ve read here about the WSF system sounds like it is top heavy with the people ashore taking the lions share of the money while expecting the worker bees to fall in line and shut up. That will have to change

This is WSF system from the article.

Why not start getting rid of the captains (average 59) asap by giving them early retirement and promoting the mates to captain while hiring replacing with new mates. The average age of mates needs to get pushed back down to 48 or below.

That sounds sensible.
MARAD must have similar stats for deep sea ships. I can’t research those right now, if they exist, but I expect that the influx of academy grads would contribute in painting a rosier picture in that sector.