STORIES FROM THE FIELD
Maritime jobs vary greatly. Here are a few examples:
Mike: Marine Engineer and Harbor Crane Mechanic
Maritime jobs aren't all on the water. Some are in the air.
On his first day of work, Mike found himself in a small elevator going up, up and more up. When it stopped, he was 100 feet above the ground. "I was so scared," he remembers. "But I told myself, well, this is your job!"
Mike is a mechanic for the huge orange harbor cranes you see on the Seattle waterfront. Keeping the cranes running at peak performance is a critical maritime job. "For every hour a crane is down, that's something like $100,000 lost," he says.
A typical shift involves fixing electrical, hydraulic and computer problems as well as performing diagnostics and preventive maintenance. As a journeyman in the machinist's union, Mike makes more than $41 an hour.
This is specialized work that takes a lot of training. Just a few days before he started work, Mike graduated with a degree in marine engineering technology from California Maritime Academy--which came with a Coast Guart third engineer's license and a mechanic's license. The four-year program included two months each summer on board a ship--either the school's ship, or an industry ship. In Mike's second year, he spent his summer on an ammunition ship in the Persian Gulf supporting the U.S. Navy.
Although you can make a lot of money at sea, Mike says, he prefers to be shore-based. "It's a great job," he says.
Montarno: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer
Seven months at sea aboard a Coast Guard cutter is a long time. Shifts are long--17 to 20 hour-days at times-- and there's a lot of work to do, especially when you're responsible for ship safety.
But the rewards are big. "I still get a rush when I see whales, or a polar bear in his natural environment," says Montarno, or Mo. "It's like, wow--no one else in the world gets to see this."
Then there was the Christmastime drug bust in Miami. A rescue of immigrants floating on a piece of styrofoam in the ocean. The hurricanes and storms. "Our job's pretty exciting," Mo says. "There's never a day when it's just mundane." Everywhere the U.S. has assets, the Coast Guard goes.
Mo is a Petty Officer Second Class aboard the U.S. Healy, which travels to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, and points north. Its mission is scientific--to transport researchers and scientists studying wildlife in the Arctic. Of course, the Healy also has its usual mission of search and rescue, law enforcement, marine enforcement, and icebreaking.
Mo is in charge of damage control on the Healy: systems for firefighting, flood control, sewage and all the other technical things that keep the ship floating and sustaining itself. He's a technician who fixes problems and also provides continual maintenance to prevent problems.
Mo is in his eighth year with the Coast Guard after joining when he was 17. He started as a seaman recruit with eight weeks of boot camp, then began moving up. As a petty officer 2nd class, his next step is up to first class-and from there, he has many options. He could go on to the "chief" levels and then become a chief warrant officer. He could go to college for marine biology, which the Coast Guard would pay for, and become an officer. Outside the service, he now has experience he could use as a firefighter or police officer. Mo is also pursuing his dream of playing professional soccer.
On board the Healy, Mo has plenty of opportunity to work out. There's a fitness room and track, and an entertainment room. Seven months at sea, without your cell phone, is a long time. But, says Mo, "time flies by, as long as you keep yourself busy. It amazes me how much work we do."
Christine: Mariner and Sailing Instructor
"You can tell a mariner in a crowd," says Christine. "They are totally unfazed by anything. Nothing shocks them."
After nine years of sailing on deep-draft vessels all over the world, Chrisine knows why. She now instructs new mariners at the Pacific Maritime Institute in Seattle. Although she's taking a break now, she says, "I don't think I'll ever really be done with sailing."
Her favorite part, she says, is the adventure. "Some of my best experiences were on container ships doing tramp work in and around Southeast Asia. Tramp work is when your ship picks up contracts from various companies who need assistance during a busy season. You never know where you’re going next until you’re already there."
There are also the financial perks, of course--mariners make excellent pay. The drawbacks? "The hardest part of this type of work is the cumulative physical exhaustion," says Christine. "Also, sometimes mariners aren’t all that well-adjusted to normal life."
To get to this point, Christine went to New York Maritime Academy. In four years, she had earned a practical B.A. in Marine Environmental Science as well as her third mate license. "I figured that if I didn’t like going to sea, it wouldn’t be a waste of time, because I’d still have a B.A.," she says. "And if you have field experience to go along with your degree—which everyone who graduates from a maritime academy will have—that’s a major advantage when job hunting.”
More and more women are working in the maritime industry, Christine says--"but we're still very much the minority. "A lot of how you’re treated depends on how you carry yourself. You have to prove yourself a little more when you’re new.”
Q & A with Gary Stauffer, Ph.D., 33-year fishery scientist (retired) and current president of the Youth Maritime Training Association
Q: “What is the best thing about working at sea?”
A: “There is usually a lot of adventure and travel in the maritime world—the wind in your face can feel very good compared to an office. Also, you have the benefit of a small, close-knit community. The pay and benefits are great for entry level jobs. If you go to an academy you'll probably run into your classmates many times throughout your career.”
Q: “What is life at sea like?”
A: “Life at sea is generally hard work twelve hours a day, seven days a week. Every couple of months you’re off for a couple months, depending on a variety of circumstances. Since you live with same group of people for so long you end up having two different families: your at-sea family and your at-home family.”
Q: “What is one of the benefits to choosing a maritime career?”
A: “For every job on land you can probably find maritime-related one somewhere, and vice versa. This means that if you eventually decide to leave this industry, you can probably apply your skills to a land-based job pretty easily.