Is a Life at Sea for You?

Last Updated by Melissa Reese on

For a long time the recruitment slogan of the United States Navy was to “Join the Navy, see the world.” While the slogan rings true for many who end up working for the Navy, many are dissuaded by the amount of time you are required to be at sea, away from friends and family.

There also requirements to joining the Navy not all will have, including being a U.S. citizen, being between the ages of 17-34, having a high school degree and being able to pass a medical exam.

For those uninterested in joining the military or unable to meet the requirements, there are alternatives.

Locally, two training facilities offer pathways to working on large, commercial maritime vessels and building a career at sea. The Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy (MAMA) offers an eight-week boot camp designed to place graduates in entry level positions aboard a ship. The Southeast Marine and Transportation (SMART) Center provides resources and training to access middle-skilled jobs within the maritime industry.

MAMA Mariner Boot Camp

The Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy is a professional training school for U.S. Merchant Seamen, entry level to the top of the chain of command. All courses are Coast Guard approved, and approved by IMO for international endorsements.

The MAMA Boot Camp includes:

  • An 8-week training program designed to prepare you for entry level positions aboard a ship
  • 4 weeks in classroom – classes in basic skills, classes for credential, classes in career readiness
  • Internship of up to 160 hours, at a maritime company to be determined to get a chance to put classroom skills to practice and add an industry related position to your work experience. This internship is unpaid and is considered the lab portion of training.

Cost of Program: $4,970, for those eligible there is funding available through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)

What Jobs Are Possible: Initial entry level positions available as you log hours at sea are ordinary seamen, cooks, hospitality positions on a cruise ship.

Work Environment: Many are initially placed doing support positions on domestic cruise ships. Room and board are included. From a short-term position of 6-months to a year many apply to work on another large vessel and work their way up.

Entry Level Pay: $1,200 - $1,500 a month

Education Required: Merchant Mariner Credential, STCW-95 (Standards of Training and Certification for Watchkeepers)

Job Outlook: Depending on an individual’s willingness to apply and work and the availability of work (based on distance from shore, seasons, etc.) there are many opportunities to advance. In the next 5-10 years, there will be an estimated 70,000 people leaving the industry, many at the entry level. 

The Southeast Marine and Transportation (SMART CENTER)

The SMART Center offers a list of training and resources to get connected to positions in the maritime industry. They also connect individuals to apprentice programs in the industry.

Many companies offer training if individuals do not have previous experience in the field or need to update your skills to meet job openings in the field.

What Jobs Are Possible:

  • Marine electricians
  • Welders
  • Offshore wind technicians
  • Nuclear test technicians
  • Modeling and simulation technicians
  • Marine design architects and engineers
  • Green technologies
  • Marine composites

Work Environment: People most suited for these positions enjoy working with their hands, working in outdoor or non-traditional environments and on teams and in situations where you must be able to solve problems creatively.

Entry Level Pay: Varies based on position. An entry level welder can make $55,000 a year entry level, whereas a nuclear technician’s median pay is $79,140 a year.

Education Required: Many positions will require at least a high school degree. On-the-job-training is available through apprenticeships and sponsored training.

High School students should take:

  • Algebra I and II
  • Geometry
  • Earth or Environmental Science
  • Physics
  • Tech Ed classes (manufacturing, engineering, technology, electronics, or computer applications)

Job Outlook: According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, overall employment of water transportation workers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026. Initiatives to expand the use of water transportation and federal laws and subsidies to ensure that there always will be a fleet of merchant ships with U.S. flags for national defense should increase the need for these workers.

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