Saturday, May 10, 2014

Feelin’ Classy

Well, I’ve been in class a lot lately, anyhow. Can we just call it good and let the title slide? Okay. Thanks.

Hawsepipin’ ain’t easy.

Kids, take it from me, if you think you want to be a sailor … get yourself to an academy. I’m not saying earning a degree and a Third Mate’s license in four years is easy, either, but it’s a damned sight more straightforward.

To give you an idea, MITAGS-PMI designed a “workboat academy” that gets you from a dead start to Mate 1600 tons Near Coastal (Mate 500 tons Oceans) in a regimented 32 weeks of classroom instruction and 52 weeks of shipboard training.

They have lots of smart people guiding you along the way, making sure you punch the right tickets and get the correct STCW endorsements.

It’s two years and about $32,000, though you’ll make a little bit back with a cadet stipend (see update in comments below) while you’re at sea.

Do it on your own, and you get paid (better) along the way, but you’ll have to figure-out which courses and exams you need, which endorsements are required and which ones the company you hope to work for wants … and you’ll have to try to schedule classes between hitches.

You’ll drive overnight to save on a hotel room, brown bag it when you can, and scrimp on things at home. You’ll easily still spend between $10,000 and $15,000 on training, unless you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that pays your way.

I’m not complaining. Compared to what I spent at college, and its payoff in the “real world,” it’s a heck of a deal.

Over the past three months I haven’t exactly been burning up the road – classes got cancelled, I bailed on some others when the kids were sick or the money got tight – but after the past two weeks in Louisiana I’ve knocked-out almost everything on the Coast Guard’s checklist for Master 500, and I’m ready to go back to work.

I should have approval to test from the Coast Guard by August, and if I hit the books hard can sit the exam by November.

There are quite a few approved schools out there, on all three coasts. I completed my Radar Observer, Basic and Advanced Firefighting and PSC/Lifeboatman courses at Fletcher Technical Community College’s Houma campus. I give it high marks for good instructors and equipment and the best prices around.

San Jacinto Community College in Pasadena (Houston), Texas, provided Vessel Security Officer, Bridge Resource Management and Basic Safety Training. You’ll find their courses listed under Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy on the Coast Guard’s website.

At the moment, San Jac merely gets the job done, but wait a year and you can take classes at their new, 56,000 square foot training facility on the Houston Ship Channel. They already have the best full bridge simulator set-up in the country.

Young Memorial Community College in Morgan City also offers cheap training, and one of only two approved online (you still have to test in person) AB courses in the country. That’s a real time saver when you’re working 28/14.

Dynamic positioning training is in high demand right now … in mid-April, the only place I could find an available seat before mid-July was at Houston Marine Training in Kenner (New Orleans). The curriculum and instruction are good, the DP simulator equipment not so much, but they’re supposed to get new systems this summer.

Houston (How-stan) Marine is now part of Falck-Alford, by the way, with all that implies.

Here’s a word to the wise … if you don’t yet hold an STCW certificate (i.e., 500-ton or better license), but you want to knock-out your DP induction course, take the time to send the Nautical Institute a request for approval to train. Because, at some schools anyway, you won’t get your certificate and logbook without that letter. (Shoot me an emal at crewboatchronicles (at) gmail if you’d like a copy of the form the NI requires).

Along the way so far, I’ve discovered that the very best part of all of these classes is meeting other mariners from a wide range of backgrounds and varying experience. I’ve been in class with maritime academy graduates, guys who work on tankers and guys who work on tugs.

I’ve met ABs and folks about to be ABs and mates in training and Chief Mates Unlimited and a whole lot of other guys like me.

It’s always cool to share sea stories, but even better is getting insight into the way different sectors of the industry do things and the scoop on how different companies treat their people.

The adventure continues.


  1. Nicely done! All that hardwork will really pay off for you. Classes at PMI are at least 30-50% more than anywhere else.

  2. just makes that degree from the School of Hard Knocks even more special.
    I don't know how some of you guys do it.

  3. Heyo! Just wanted to say great job, and a little about the PMI deal - depending on who you work for, your stipend could be an actual union wage as mine was working for Foss; I was a union O/S and broke even on tuition. It was brutal but now I have no debt from the workboat academy experience. Good luck with everything, getting it all done piecemeal is no easy way to do it. Respect!

    1. Hey Cap,

      Good info -- thanks. Congrats on your 1600-ton Master Oceans, btw. That's a great achievement. Check-out the t-shirt shop if you get a moment. There are a couple of "Girls Drive Boats, Too" shirts I put up there with you in mind. ;-) (shoot me an email for the inspiration discount ....).

  4. pmp Certification training in USA is very important for all professionals who are dealing in project management and want sure shot success in their projects , In India one of the best Project Management Certification Training Provider is Knowledgecert