Thursday, May 8, 2008

Chief Mate/Master Management Program

Finally completed the 12 weeks of courses required to sit for the Chief Mate/Master license exam. I’m glad that it is done yet disappointed with what I got out of it.

I’m one of the fortunate ones. My employer, the Army Corps of Engineers, paid all tuition, room, meals, and travel related to the training. They also provided time off with pay to complete the courses. The price for selling my soul is a three year agreement to stay employed by the government. MMP offshore members have everything paid for also but must go on their own time. Other students paid for the training out of their own pocket or their companies paid. Almost all were there on their own time. None had as good a deal as those of us from the Corps.

The courses that were worth the money and time were the two weeks of Advanced Shiphandling which takes place on the simulator. Behind that was Advanced Meteorology, which I felt was relevant and useful. The other nine weeks were a complete waste of time.

Coming into the training, I had very high expectations. I heard rumors that these courses were aimed at experienced deck officers and that there would be new, advanced material to learn. I heard studying would be required and certificates would not be handouts as in other STCW training. I was wrong.

The material covered is old news for anyone that went to a maritime academy. Most exams were taken form the Coast Guard pool and have been seen on previous exams. After four and a half weeks, I finally came to the realization that I was there for the certificates, not to become a better mariner. It got to the point that a student in the ECDIS class didn’t bother to finish the written exam but turned it in as soon as he knew he had a 70% passing grade. Passing was all that mattered.

There is a phenomenon that is often seen in organizations but was perfected on a large scale at MITAGS. I call it the tower of blame, where there are lots of faults but no solutions with regards to the irrelevance of the courses. In this case it started with the instructor blaming the material provided by the school required to be covered in the course. Then the school said the courses could not be improved upon because they were Coast Guard approved and the Coast Guard approved the course because it covered the topics required by the IMO. DNV then audits the courses to ensure the material is covered as outlined in the course. It amazed me that so many organizations with intelligent people could come up with such crap.

One way the Coast Guard and the schools could make the courses worth the money and time is to allow the module covered be the equivalent of taking the test module at the Coast Guard exam center. In the way flashing light can be taken at an approved school and the certificate exempts you from having to take the flashing light test at the Coast Guard, completion of Advanced Stability should exempt you from the stability module of the Chief Mate exam.

The real benefit of the new course requirement is that it will thin the heard. Those not truly dedicated to going to sea will go shore side after a couple of years and those dedicated to sailing will find a way to get through the courses and advance their licenses’. While the obstacles become greater to maintain and upgrade Merchant Marine licenses, it is worth the effort. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere but on the water.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Tribute to Captain Al Brown, Professor Maine Maritime Academy


I wanted to apologize to the readers for my LONG absence. I have been in graduate school when not working. I plan on having a good career ashore one day- it is a long hard road- but the payoff will be great.

Next and most importantly:
I should have written this a while ago. I heard through the grapevine from friends that a Captain that taught at Maine Maritime had passed away. Anyone who was in the Nautical Science/ Marine Transportation program for the past decade or two would remember Captain Al Brown. I was very sad to hear of Capt. Brown's death. He was the reason that I am a safe mariner- his words were always on my mind. This man was the best teacher in the nautical field I have ever run across.

Captain Brown was tough. I mean tear your hair out- tough. I remember being a sophomore and having to memorize the rules of the road. Not just the rule- but each section word for word. I remember how shocked I was that this man could recite this book cover to cover without cracking it open. I was always very impressed with his dedication to the art of the sea and to his students. he truly cared about our safety.

Captain Brown will be fondly remembered by many alumni from Maine Maritime- and those who attended post- grad training at the academy. He was always willing to take extra time to help if you didn't 'get it' or just needed to talk to someone. He always had a good sense of humor-- And I will never forget my freshman year cruise when we pulled back into Castine. Captain Brown sauntered down the gangway and jumped in a limosine. Not only was he a great teacher- but the man had style and class.

My best wishes to the family and friends he has left behind. Al Brown will be missed by many.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Job Postings on Maritimelinks Blog

Hey all,

Soon you will notice that the old website is going away- and all will be done here now. I liked the web page- but it didn't make much sense anymore. I can do everything here on this page and it is much less complicated than jumping around from here to there.

I am hoping that you will stick with us and keep coming around. We will still offer some services for those businesses who are interested. I can still run advertisements. My favorite thing here is the job postings- because we all like to see new job listings.

I have reduced my price to $10 for a 30 day job advertisement- so please- any interested companies- give it a shot. Our job page is powered by Simplyhired - a national job website. Not only will your ad appear on my page- but also on the national pages! Not a bad deal.

I hope you will patronize my page by posting a job ad!

Oh- and Happy Thanksgiving (belated)
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Updated Post-Graduation Requirement for Kings Point

Graduates from the US Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point) are required to fulfill an obligation to the Navy and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) since the federal government pays for the education. Traditionally graduates from Kings Point have been able to work shoreside in support of the maritime industry (e.g. cargo planning, port engineer, ship broker, stevedore, port operations) to fulfill the MARAD obligation. I received this email and it appears that has changed. This may be one of the reasons Maine has higher enrollment.

"The current commitment for graduating midshipmen is sail (afloat) or serve on active duty for five years. The shoreside waiver, available up to 2007, has only been approved by MARAD for Shipyard positions and a few maritime related government positions (e.g. NAVSEA, MSC, etc.) You would only be able to hire those alumni who have completed their five year obligation or be willing to hire them and permit them to sail the necessary time to meet their obligations (128 days) similar to those who hire members of the National Guard. MARAD has now authorized "brown water" sailing jobs (tugs, ferries, offshore supply boats) and foreign flag vessels that have MOAs with MARAD (BG LNG, OSG and SeaRiver Maritime) to meet the obligation. Therefore, there are now more than enough afloat positions for the entire graduating class.

Pete Rackett '61
Executive VP
USMMA Alumni Foundation"

Friday, November 9, 2007

Pilot Loses His Bearings, San Fran a Nation Disaster

I am a huge supporter of my fellow mariners- and I know that a lot of mariners will not speak ill of their own kind - in lock step with those who wish to protect the industry, but when something as tragic as this latest accident happens I have to break ranks and speak my mind:

The San Fran Pilots Associations - and most pilot associations are fundamentally flawed. They fill their ranks with under qualified personnel and pay them more than they are worth. Yes- the exams and the apprenticeships are difficult- but I have noticed in my career that it is very difficult for unlimited tonnage mariners to get into these associations. After sailing for a number of years (I did my own pilotage in and out of ports) and observing/ listening to the pilots - I have seen a fair number of poor pilots. This does not mean that I think all the pilots are bad- there are some who are exceptional- but they don't weed out the bad ones.

I would say that 75% of the pilots I have met came from the tug/barge community and had less than 1600 ton licenses. I ran into one pilot who had a 100 ton license (Which amounts to nothing and has very lax standards). I have even run across two pilots who could not even swim. This is a license requirement- why would the Coast Guard or the Pilots Associations let this slide? The amount of nepotism and who-you-know politics in getting a pilots job is ridiculous.

Even the skilled unlimited tonnage officers that run the nations hopper dredge fleet and sail in close quarters are excluded from the pilots programs. Officers from these dredges would probably be the MOST qualified for the job because they know the harbors like the backs of their hands. The pilots reject time from dredge officers intentionally. Instead of hiring the master mariners that have dedicated their lives to the study of sailing and ship handling - the pilots associations hire tug boat skippers with little to no large vessel experience. I appreciate what the tug boaters do for us- and they play an enormous role in our economy. But the pilot associations should be required to hire the best of the best from the community of practice: Individuals with master mariners licenses - unlimited tonnage- any oceans.

I was lucky enough to speak my mind today on national radio- though I didn't get a lot of air time and didn't get to make my entire point. I had the opportunity to discuss the accident briefly on The Savage Nation. (The Savage Nation is a conservative talk show hosted by the great Dr. Michael Savage. Savage is my favorite radio personality because of his strong conservative values and razor sharp wit.) Anyways- I heard Savage talking about the accident - so I couldn't help myself- I had to call in. Savage, a civilian/ recreational boater himself has sailed under the bridge and brought up the question that is on my mind - "How could you possibly hit that bridge?" and he is correct- it shouldn't even be possible these days with all of the technology. RADAR, ARPA, GPS, LORAN, AIS- there is just no excuse for this accident. I have sailed through the bridge as well and I would think you would need to intentionally aim for it- just because there is so much water.

In my quick conversation I didn't get a chance to say everything I wanted to. I should have mentioned that the Coast Guard grossly under reported the spill and has caused even more damage by lack of response. Had the emergency response been more organized- this disaster could have been minimized. I think the responder crew on scene was surprised to see how big the spill was- since they were told it was 140 gallons (Turns out it is more like 58,000 gallons)

As mariners we need to take a hard look at the people that are making the big decisions in our industry and how our major organizations do business. I think that we (professional unlimited tonnage mariners) should start our own pilots associations and run the old guard out of town.

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