What is the fastest route to 3rd mate unlimited?

Hello all,
I am interested in obtaining my 3rd Mate unlimited license. I would like to do so in the most efficient way.
I currently work as a teacher. Before that I was a firefighter/EMT for 7 years. I have a Bachelors and Masters degree. The two options I have seen so far are:

  • SUNY Graduate Program (3 years)
    -Texas A&M Graduate Program(3 Years)
    -GLMA (3 years) no masters
    -Mass (3 years) no masters

I believe Texas A&M would be cheaper for me, and is a bit closer to my home state. If all academics/experiences are the same I may go with Texas. I don’t particularly want a Masters degree, but everything I’ve seen has been 3 years regardless of the degree program and this way I would leave with a higher degree. I’m open to all suggestions and advice.

On a somewhat different note…

I am also curious about how family life works with the schedule. I am familiar with coworkers missing family holidays/ first steps/ball games being at the fire station, but I’m curious how you find family life in this industry. (Firefighter divorce rate is extremely high, which is why I’m curious)

Thanks in advance.

It takes the right kind of significant other. The last thing you want is a pissed off wife at home. For some this lifestyle is a no-go. Works for me and my wife because she’s pretty independent. At first it was sketchy but she adapted.

Its rough with the kids, especially when they are young. A good family unit at home to help pick up the slack is essential. We make up for what we missed when we get home.

If you have the means go to an academy. Hawsepiping is a tough nut to crack nowadays for an unlimited license.


This is probably the cheapest option and you can graduate with your Great Lakes Pilotage which could come in very handy when times are rough and jobs are hard to find.

I’m my experience the relationships that work the best with this schedule are the ones that start after you’re already working it. A lot of guys that come into this industry already married either quit the industry or lose their marriage. There’s a myriad of schedules available if you have a 3M Oceans license, so maybe she can’t deal with you working 4 month rotations but she can deal with you working 4 week rotations so you find the schedule that works for you guys.


…additionally at GLMA, there is minimal “quasi-navy” stuff; show up for class, be professional, get the license, and go to work. With the ocean license option (plus getting pilotage) finding a job should be pretty straightforward. Best case is getting cadet time in an ATB and completing the TOAR while at school…pretty much opens every option for a job.

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Thank you for sharing your insight. I’ve heard great, and awful, stories from sailors regarding marriage. We’ll see what life has in store for me!

I’ve seen that pilotage is very competitive. I think that would be an interesting pursuit (after gaining all the needed experience). Watching the ships off Mackinac is a core childhood memory, and I’d love to live and work from Michigan eventually. I look more in glma. Thanks!

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Are most of the 120-130k jobs I’ve heard about ocean 3rd mate jobs? Is there similar pay on the Great Lakes? I’d like to balance becoming a well rounded sailor with also making as much money as I can while I’m single without kids.

It’s good to know there are different contract options. Most firefighter wives joke at retirements that they’re not sure about having their husband home every day. So there are definitely women who can make it work.

If becoming a Great Lakes Pilot is my goal do you have any recommendations for jobs to take after graduation to become well suited for that role?

Remember that all mates on unlimited tonnage US flag Lake vessels are licensed pilots (unless there is a COI waiver). You’ll get plenty of river time!

COI = Certificate of Inspection, btw

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You’re thinking state pilots that take foreign cargo ships from the ocean to the dock. On the lakes every deck office has to have pilotage, which is why getting your lakes pilotage when you graduate is so beneficial. Most deck officers can’t take jobs on the lakes because they don’t have lakes pilotage. It’s easier to get Tankerman PIC and your towing endorsement in the industry than it is to get lakes pilotage so if you have to choose between what to get at school definitely get lakes pilotage.

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Not sure if its still possible, but I know some folks use to bang out the SUNY grad program in 2 years.

Wow, I’ll look into that thanks! Maybe you have to do the online masters on top of license component course work.

Ah, ok. That is what I was thinking. I can see how that would be useful.
Would getting out of another school a year early outweigh getting the pilotage license from GLMA in your opinion? (i.e SUNY in 2 v.s GLMA in 3, if that ends up being possible. I’m still figuring it out with the admissions folks)

I don’t have hard defined career goals, but I can see eventually ending up on the Lakes. Being guided through the test us definitely valuable in my eyes.

Ah, ok thanks. I was thinking about the State Pilotage, as Capt_Phoenix pointed out to me. That makes GLMA a lot more attractive knowing they guide you through that process.

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People banged out GLMA engine in 2.5, not sure you can get through deck though.

Relevant comment I saw on reddit today, all the comments were essentially saying the same thing under this one.

People make it “work” but outside of fishing and state pilots you rarely find 2nd generation mariners coming out of the academies, which says something about the effect on kids, in my opinion. I do not think its a great job for someone who wants a family, some will disagree with me, and they may not be wrong, we all have different truths.


I think her perspective is quite common, and perhaps even typical. The failure rate of mariner marriages is high.

I think your perspective is quite CMA, and probably typical of most, but not all other academies.

I have sailed with many CMA and MaineMA grads, but not so much the other academies.

Most CMA grads do not come from families with any maritime, or hands on skilled labor background. They don’t want to get their hands dirty. They don’t have prior boating experience or mechanical ability or heavy equipment experience.

MMA grads tend to come from fishing, farming, logging, construction, and hands on skilled working class families, some yachting and passenger boats too. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty. Many already have a lot of boat experience, and mechanical skills. They may know how to operate heavy equipment too.

In the Seattle area, it’s common for CMA grads to have fathers that are fishermen, tugboat captains, or pilots.

In Maine, fishermen fathers are very common. Many kids also have fathers and other relatives who are MMA alumni.

Most people living in big populous California have never heard of CMA. Everyone living in small rural Maine knows of MMA, and many have friends or family who are alums.

Separation is hard on any relationship. Some people adapt to it, but most do not.


A lot of failed sailor marriages would’ve very obviously failed anyway. Don’t kid yourself and say it was all of them but you can probably kick the number down a few points by avoiding obvious mistakes.

I can’t speak to the deck for certain but on the engine side the money is on container ships mostly. Blows the lakes away though you’ll have to factor in time sitting around the union hall.

Damn it, Tugsailor, why are you blabbing to the world about this? Why not tell everyone where your fishing hole is, and your hunting ground, too?!?! :wink:


I don’t disagree, which is why I said, you dont see 2nd generation mariners outside of fishing and state Pilots. Maybe the children of the tug boats are out there and I just missed them.

But what I was saying, you almost never hear someone out here or in an academy saying “oh my mom is a chief mate/captain on a tanker.” Oh “oh my kid is looking at a maritime academy” from someone sailing deep sea. Port captains, port engineers, sure.