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There are plenty of reasons to consider a career in the Maritime Industry. The work can be challenging and unconventional compared to more traditional jobs, but it can also be far more exciting. Getting paid to travel all over the world is a dream come true for many people.
If you’re interested in a professional career as a mariner, there are several ways you can get the skillset you need to enter the industry. For mariners who are already working, there are also ways to further your education, so you can stay sharp and advance your career.
In this guide, we’ll discuss the main schooling options to consider, first for mariner hopefuls and then for mariners looking to further their seafarer education and advance their careers.

Merchant Marine Academy

If you’re looking to start a career as a mariner, one option to consider is the United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA). A degree isn’t a requirement for entry-level mariners, but if you want to be an officer, the USMMA is a good option to consider. The Merchant Marine Academy, located in Kings Point, New York, is a federal service academy. However, it is not to be confused with the U.S. Naval Academy or the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where all students are on active duty.
Merchant Marine Academy students are not active members of the U.S. military. Instead, USMMA prepares students to work as mariners in various capacities. The USMMA gives students the opportunity to earn a bachelor of science degree and Merchant Marine Officer and Coast Guard licenses. Every student spends time at sea, either on a commercial or military vessel, as part of their training.
So, how is the USMMA a federal service academy? Students receive training that equips them to serve as commissioned officers in the Armed Forces. Though graduates may choose to focus long-term on entering the commercial maritime workforce, they are obligated to either serve five years on active duty as part of any branch of the U.S. military or to work for five years in the maritime industry and serve in the reserve unit of any branch of the military for eight years.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the USMMA

What are the pros and cons to consider if you’re thinking of attending the Merchant Marine Academy? There are some valuable advantages to this schooling option. Students graduate with several qualifications that open up multiple options for a graduate’s professional career. Another pro is that USMMA students pay very little for their education since tuition, room and board and more are covered by the Federal Government. The time spent at sea is another advantage, since it gives students vital hands-on experience.
What are the disadvantages of choosing this schooling option? For one, applying to the Merchant Marine Academy is a lengthy, complicated process. The school is extremely selective, with an acceptance rate of around 15 percent. You must also keep in mind the commitment to serve either as an active duty member of the military or in the reserves. This isn’t necessarily a disadvantage, but it might be for some who would rather focus solely on the commercial maritime industry. Finally, this program takes a long time to complete in comparison to apprenticeship programs.
In summation, the USMMA is a great option if you’re interested in combining a college education with training for military service and for becoming a Merchant Marine Officer. Being accepted into the USMMA alone is no easy feat, and after graduation, you’ll be seen by the industry as a highly-qualified individual.

College Programs

The Merchant Marine Academy isn’t the only way you can get a college education that prepares you for a maritime career. There are many educational institutions across the U.S. that offer maritime courses and degree programs.
Some of the nation’s best maritime colleges include:
  • California Maritime Academy
  • Florida Institute of Technology
  • Maine Maritime Academy
  • Maritime College – State University of New York (SUNY)
  • Massachusetts Maritime Academy
  • The University of New Orleans – Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering Department
  • Texas A&M – University of Galveston
  • Webb Institute of Engineering

Students attending any of these institutions will not have a military service obligation as they would when attending a federal service academy.

A secondary maritime education allows students to obtain a bachelor’s degree while also gaining the skill set they need to begin a career in the maritime industry. Some institutions have departments or individual programs focused on maritime knowledge and skills, while other institutions are wholly focused on the maritime industry.

Advantages and Disadvantages of College Programs

There are some advantages to attending a college with a maritime program. For one, if you are interested in becoming a mariner, but you would also like a more general education, this is a good way to earn a degree you may be able to apply to other career fields while learning more about seafaring. These types of college programs are a good option for students who are unsure of whether they want to pursue a maritime career or who may want to work as a mariner and then move into a different job.

If a student is passionate about becoming a mariner, however, going through a four-year degree program can cause an unnecessary delay to the start of their career. Apprenticeship programs, which we’ll look at next, are a more expedited option to jump-starting your seafaring career. The traditional college route can also be expensive compared to other options.

So, a college program is a good option if you want a degree to fall back on while learning more about the maritime industry. However, if you’re confident in your decision to become a mariner, there are more cost-effective and quicker ways to gain the skills you need to start your career.

On-the-Job Training and Apprenticeship

Woman securing a line

While a more traditional college education is an option to consider, it’s certainly not the only way to become a mariner. Some individuals may prefer to start working right away and undergo training as they go. This style of learning allows you to apply what you’re learning immediately and to immerse yourself in the world of seafaring, so you can be confident in your chosen career path.

The Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS) offers a Maritime Apprenticeship Program (MAP) for students who want on-the-job training. The program is designed to take 28 months, with a total of 26 weeks dedicated to classroom training and 360 calendar days dedicated to hands-on experience at sea. As students work through their shore-based training, they’ll immediately have the chance to apply their newfound knowledge in a real-life environment. MITAGS works to match apprentices with reputable companies who will provide the students’ service training.

The apprenticeship also meets the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) needed for apprentices to receive their Able Seafarer-Deck and OICNW credentials, so they can sail internationally. Depending on the cargo-carrying capacity of the vessels the apprentice works on during their at-sea training, and the route these vessels are travelling, they are also eligible for either a Third Mate Unlimited tonnage license, Mate of 500/1600 GRT vessels, or Unlimited Inland Mate. For centuries, apprenticeships have been a well-respected means of learning a trade, and that continues to be the case for the maritime industry.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Apprenticeships

There are some great advantages to choosing an apprenticeship or another type of on-the-job training over a traditional college approach. For one, you can complete an apprenticeship program in a fraction of the time it would take to complete a degree program through a college or university. An apprenticeship is also a very cost-effective schooling option. While some maritime college programs include an at-sea component, an apprenticeship is the best way to integrate on-the-job experience with classroom training.

So, are there any reasons not to choose an apprenticeship? An apprenticeship may not be the right choice for someone if they want to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree in addition to becoming qualified as a mariner. Because an apprenticeship involves so much time at sea, it is physically demanding. If a student would rather ease into a maritime career, an apprenticeship will feel like more of a hit-the-ground-running approach.

An apprenticeship is an ideal option for anyone who wants to get a jumpstart on their maritime career without taking the extra time to obtain a bachelor’s degree. With combined shore-based and at-sea training, you’ll have the opportunity to apply what you’ve learned right away and will complete the program with the licensure and confidence to take on all sorts of responsibilities.

Graduate Studies

Maritime training doesn’t stop with the initial courses you need to achieve a certain certification or start working on a ship. Of course, a seafarer’s learning experience never stops, as new experiences at sea will reinforce and broaden your training.
However, if you want to take steps forward in your career, you can continue your formal maritime education through graduate studies. Just as there are graduate programs for other fields, there are also graduate programs available to mariners through the Maritime Institute of Technology and Graduate Studies (MITAGS).

One fleet education program is the AB to Mate Program. To be eligible for the program, you must have at least 1080 days of experience at sea. The program builds on your existing knowledge to help you become a Mate with an STCW Officer In Charge of a Navigation Watch (OICNW) and a USCG Third Mate Oceans or Near Coastal License. If there is a certain endorsement you would also like to obtain, such as a Medical Person In Charge (Med-PIC), you can take optional courses that will help you achieve those, as well.

If you are already a Second or Third Mate who would like to qualify for a Chief Officer or Chief Mate management position, you should consider the Mate to Master Program, an STCW-2010 training program that can help you advance in your maritime career. Because the program is geared toward officers who are already experienced, you won’t have to waste time covering information you already know. Instead, the program provides a solid stepping stone to an upgraded position.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Graduate Studies

So, why should you consider maritime graduate studies when you’re already working in the maritime industry? In short, because it will help you advance in your career. The Bureau of Labor Statistics approximates the annual income for mates and pilots of water vessels ranges from $35,000 to over $144,000. This alone can motivate able seafarers to progress to mate and mates to progress to management roles. Graduate studies can also help you stay sharp and keep your career exciting.
What about the disadvantages of graduate studies? There really aren’t any disadvantages to obtaining new levels of licensure and experience, but some mariners may not want to invest the time and finances into obtaining these new abilities. Furthermore, some mariners may enjoy their current position and wouldn’t feel well-suited to a higher-level position, making graduate studies unnecessary.
Overall, graduate studies are a great option to consider for any mariner who wants to move up the ranks and take on new responsibilities in their career. Graduate programs from MITAGS can help you gain whatever certifications you need to meet your career goals.

Courses for Keeping Up-To-Date

In addition to the educational programs we’ve looked at, there are also individual courses mariners can take to keep up with international training standards. If you have an STCW certification, you will need to renew it after five years. If you have completed at least a year of sea service during that time, then you won’t need to do any extra testing for your renewal.
However, there are a few scenarios where you will need to take classes to renew your STCW license. If you are a licensed officer who hasn’t met the 360 days of sea service requirement, you must take a Basic Training Refresher and an Advanced Fire-Fighting Refresher, as well as a Lifeboatman Refresher. Mariners who have never had an Advanced Fire-Fighting course won’t need to take an Advanced Fire-Fighting Revalidation/Refresher.
If you need to take courses to maintain your licensure, you can do so through MITAGS. We even offer online courses to provide a convenient way for mariners to stay sharp.

Start or Advance Your Maritime Career With MITAGS

Whether through the Merchant Marine Academy, other college programs or an apprenticeship, you can begin a new, exciting career in the maritime industry. The MITAGS Maritime Apprenticeship Program is the best way to jump-start your career if you’re ready to start learning the ropes right away. For mariners looking to advance their careers, ongoing training programs from MITAGS can help you get there.
To learn more about your schooling options and what you should do to begin or progress in your maritime career, contact a school advisor today.