A career at sea was the best form of education that I had ever received. It was better than my K-12 experience, better than my university experience and better than any opportunities that I had ever had to improve my emotional intelligence (EI). It exceeded my learning at home, in church, through bootcamp or any other structured environment – I truly believe that going to sea made me the man that I am today. And when it is all said and done, I really am comfortable and proud of the man that I am as a result of my sea-going career.
I left Arkansas States University in 1988 as a failed student athlete who had forgotten that I was in college for an education. The embarrassment of being asked to leave on academic probation was the beginning of a series of embarrassments that over the next nine months would lead me to a rehabilitation center in Sarasota, Florida at the age of 21 for alcohol addiction. A significant part of my recovery plan was to go to sea. The sea had hosted my grandfather, my father, some of my brothers and my mother’s family were major generational players in the New Bedford whaling industry. My choices were limited.
And to sea I went. My Merchant Marine career started as an Ordinary Seaman on the LNG Carrier Lake Charles in 1989. At that time most people were deathly afraid of LNG ; misperceptions about shipping natural gas were at an all-time high and most mariners were scared to sail on these ships. The reality is that these ships were the highliners of the seas; they were technologically advanced, they were safe and they were monstrous, and they were where I fell in love with going to sea!
I decided early on in my maritime career that I wanted to become a navigational officer and possibly a pilot. To do that, I needed to find the pathway towards credentialling, or licensing as we call it in the United States. The fact that college had not been a great experience for me required me to become a hawsepiper. But, what is a hawsepiper? A hawsepiper is a mariner who starts at the bottom of the anchor chain or “ranks” and climbs up through the hawspipe (the pipe that the anchor chain is lifted up through when hauling or setting), I.e. climbing up through the hawsepipe.
Hawsepiping is essentially the pathway towards a license or credential through working and gaining sea-time experience (days at sea) that is required for the different levels of credentialling or proficiency. Once enough sea-time is acquired, a mariner can then take classes approved by an Administration such as the US Coast Guards National Maritime Center, pass an examination and then submit an application with all certificates of training, physical and drug test results, and documented sea time to the Coast Guard. If all is in order an applicant may receive his or her credential or license.
Hawsepiping requires a much more expansive protocol of courses, assessments, sea time and examinations today than it did when I was going to sea. I hawsepiped for my AB (Able Seafarer Deck or Able-Bodied Seaman) “ticket” or credential. I then became a Bos’n and then eventually sat for my Unlimited Tonnage Third Mates License and Limited Tonnage Masters License exams at the Coast Guard Regional Exam Center. It took me five years to acquire enough sea-time to sit for my Third Mates license.
Today, with the implementation of international training regulations, in order to acquire a Third Mates License or Officer in Charge of a Navigational Watch certification a mariner must follow one of two paths: a four year Maritime Academy experience that results in a Bachelors Degree and the ability to sit for the Third Mate License exam or by hawsepiping, which requires 1080 days of sea service, sitting for the USCG exams and the completion of an extensive series of courses: STCW Basic Training, Radar Observer Unlimited, Proficiency in Survival Craft (Lifeboatman) Course, Bridge Resource Management, Celestial ad Oceans Navigation, Medical Care Provider, Search and Rescue, Terrestrial Navigation, Electronic Navigation, Watchkeeping, Basic Cargo Handling and Stowage, Basic Shiphandling, Basic Stability and Ship Construction, Basic Meteorology, Visual Signaling, Advanced Firefighting, Leadership and Teamworking, GMDSS, Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA) and ECDIS. The full set of requirements are found on the following link: https://www.northeastmaritime.com/uscg-career-path/3rd-mate-unlimited-career-path/ .
That being said, it takes an awfully long time under either of those pathways. These traditional programs are long and cumbersome and frankly exceed the standards prescribed by the International Convention on the Standards of Training and Certification for Watchkeepers and Seafarers (STCW), 1978, as amended. A four-year maritime college or five years at sea seemed daunting and expensive.
With that in mind I decided to tackle the design of a new degree program delivered through what would become the first private maritime college in the United States. It would be streamlined program delivered through a two-year associate degree program qualifying graduates for a Master (Captain) less than 100 GRT, near coastal license (and Mate less than 200 GRT, near coastal license), Officer in Charge of a Navigational Watch less than 500 gross tons, near coastal STCW certificate of competency and an Able-Bodied Seaman/Able Seafarer-Deck Certificate of Proficiency. This program basically cuts fifty percent (50%) of the time required for a mariner as traditionally required to accumulate the required sea time for the licenses/certificates and expedites a student’s ability to advance into the industry at a competitive salary.
The Associate in Applied Science in Nautical Science degree program at Northeast Maritime Institute (NMI) provides students with 77 credits of nautical science and general education courses to prepare them for a career at sea, whether in a near coastal, smaller tonnage sector of the industry or on unlimited tonnage vessels in ocean-going trade routes. The program is dually approved by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education for the issuance of a degree as well as by the U.S. Coast Guard and Commonwealth of Dominica Maritime Administration for both sea-time and required training to qualify graduates for professional licenses and certificates of competency. The program is designed with a focus on hands-on learning and experiences so students can put into practice the theory they learn in the classroom in our full-bridge simulators, marlinspike lab, seamanship lab, lifeboat lab and our fleet of vessels. We are committed to ensuring our students are prepared to step on board a vessel and ready to perform.
Two mandatory summer externship semesters place students on commercially trading vessels in one of a variety of sectors of the industry where they gain immeasurable industry experience, practical training, professional supervision, sea-time and the chance to network in the industry. Students complete course work for credit and complete required STCW practical signoffs required for their license and certificate of competence.
The curriculum is designed and delivered in a cohesive and scaffolded manner where basic nautical science concepts learned in the first semester are built upon in follow-on semesters culminating in advanced courses and the required licensing exams in the fourth semester. For example, an introductory Nautical Science course is delivered in semester one, with semester two including the Introduction to Shiphandling course where students continue to expand their seamanship and shiphandling knowledge with the opportunity to develop their shiphandling skills in the simulator. Semester 3 includes Terrestrial Navigation, where students learn to plot and create voyage plans in addition to the understanding and use of Radar and ARPA. In the culminating semester, students are required to take that previous knowledge and experience back into the simulator for an Advanced Shiphandling Course, a Bridge Resource Management course (which requires voyage planning, shiphandling skills, navigation rules, Radar and ARPA applications and communications) and an Ocean Voyaging and Vessel Management course, where advanced navigation is learned and applied and students are required to plan all aspects of a vessel’s voyage from departure to arrival, with consideration of all operational, navigational, safety and management aspects of the voyage.
NMI is dedicated to creating graduates who not only have the technical skills and knowledge to perform in the industry, but who are hard-working, ethical and committed to operating safely at all times to ensure the safety of their crew, their vessel and the environment.
Our graduates are working across all sectors of the industry and earning competitive salaries that far outweigh the cost of their two-year education. NMI is committed to the success of our students and graduates, providing U.S. Coast Guard license application submission assistance at no cost for current students and alumni. We maintain an active job board on our social media platforms and send out regular notifications to our large pool of alumni about job openings across the industry.
While Northeast Maritime Institute provides maritime education, training and certification through both the hawspiping route and a degree program, we are very proud of the fact that our mariners are known in the industry as solid mariners who exceed expectations when they work in the field. Knowing that our students and graduates are extremely well sought after by some of the premier shipping companies in the United States is what makes all of us who work at NMI the most proud.