A to Z: Mariner

I’ve been a mariner pretty much my entire life. I’ve worked as a professional mariner since I was a cadet during high school in 1977. I love being out on the water, there’s just nothing like it.

I used to love working out there too. 🙂

Things have changed. A lot.

I’ve been laid off since last September. This is the worst downturn in the maritime industry I’ve ever seen. I was lucky enough to keep working through the 80s and earlier in 2000’s. This time, I got hit with everybody else and hurting hard. 😦

Mariners are simply people who work on the water (on boats). Fishermen, sailors, ferrymen, marine crew on cruise ships, tankers, container ships, drillships, etc. There are a lot of different sectors in the maritime world. Many more when you consider all the shoreside support.

I am a licensed merchant mariner. I have earned a Master Mariners license. I worked my way “up the hawsepipe” after spending a lot of years at sea, studying on my own and taking some USCG required courses before I was allowed to sit for their exam.

I started out commercial fishing. First with my father on his boat, later with some of the other guys around town who knew me. My first ‘real’ job was on the party fishing boats down the street.

I never planned to do this for a living. I was going to be a doctor, or more probably a veterinarian. When I got shipped off to school as a cadet on a couple of traditional sailing vessels in high school, my entire worldview changed and I decided I wanted to be a ship captain. Sail around the world and get paid for it- YEAH!

So I moved to Texas to go to school for my AB and oiler (QMED) endorsements. That way I could work and earn money to go towards my license. I started working in the offshore oilfield. In school, I was able to work on the party boats on the weekends, but in summer for our required projects, we were assigned various supply boats.

I worked for about 4 years on various crew boats, standby boats, production boats, supply boats, etc. I finally got finished with school and found a job I liked and that worked out very well. I started at Kilgore Marine on their vessel the K Marine 1 as an ordinary seaman (even tho I had my AB ticket). I worked my way up to AB, mate and finally master on their supply boats.

supply boats

supply boats

When I earned my 1600 ton masters license at the USCG, they also gave me an unlimited second mates license. Fool that I was, I gave it back. I didn’t ask for it and I didn’t feel ready for it. More than once, I had been stuck in a rating higher than I was hired to do. One time I was hired on as ordinary seaman (not even AB), and wound up taking over as captain! Yes, I did have the same license as the ‘captain’ on there that the company hired.

Before, I had always felt that I could handle it, whatever it was. Now, I wasn’t so sure. I just didn’t want to get stuck again in a position by chance, and because I wasn’t ready for it I could cause some serious damage. I probably should have just accepted the license. I’ve been kicking myself ever since for that mistake. It’s cost me a decades of time and a LOT of money!

Because I gave them back the license, even tho they told me that I could just ask for it “at any time” and they would give it to me, I had to start back over again as a deckhand in order to get my third mates license (not the seconds I had already earned)!

So much for trusting the US government to follow their own rules!

So, I quit sailing as an officer for Kilgore and went to work for SeaRiver (ex-Exxon) as an AB on their tankers. It took me almost 10 years to earn my third mates license and when I asked for a promotion I was told I could never sail in any position of authority with them. Soooo….

I had to quit working there and found a job as third mate for Coastal Tankships. I worked for them for a couple of years til they sold out to El Paso and scrapped all of their ships. I got to take the Coastal New York to China (and spent a couple of weeks in Hong Kong afterwards).

Seeing the writing on the wall at Coastal, I had applied to Oceaneering and luckily their application process finished up just before my unemployment benefits ran out. I went to work as third mate/DPO. I was soon promoted to second mate/SDPO.

I really enjoyed my time there. I had a good ship, a good crew, and we were doing interesting work. We spent all of our time outside the US, so I wasn’t prepared for the culture shock when we brought the ship to the Gulf of Mexico in 2008.

I couldn’t take it. I HAD to get out of there! OMG what had happened?

For as long as ships have been sailing the seas, the captain has always been the one in charge. He is the ultimate authority on any ship. Now it seems he still has the legal responsibility, but he doesn’t have much actual authority. It seems the lawyers and bean counters ashore have taken that from the captain.

I’ve seen it over and over where the office people decide what, when and how something is going to happen on board. Captain’s not even allowed to chose their own crews anymore!

OK, yes, the captain can always stand up and exert his authority. For instance, tell the office that he’s going to delay sailing until his crew is properly rested. How many can continue to do that when their job is on the line? Not many. After all, it costs a lot of money for every hour that ship is not underway…

IMHO, being a mariner has certain meanings. Things like knowing your ship, understanding the weather, being able to work with your crewmates for months on end, able to survive in your own little world out there-on your own. Independence, freedom, a sense of pride and a job well done.

I think a lot of what it means to be a mariner is being slowly stripped away from us. I think we’ve already lost a lot of what it meant to go to sea, I don’t like that at all. 😦

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