Thursday, June 11, 2009

Earn up to Six Figures, With No College Degree—careers in the tugboat, towboat, and barge industry

by Ms. Krista Reddington, former Government Affairs Associate
The American Waterways Operators

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine.

No Degree Necessary
The maritime field enables those who do not have a college degree to engage in a skilled and rewarding profession with an unrivaled chance to learn a unique trade. The industry is an exciting alternative to a 9-to-5 job.

Jobs in the maritime industry provide a secure and stable career path for those who are ready to be a part of the maritime family. These positions present the opportunity to make a good living with family wages and great benefits.

Deckhand or ordinary seaman. The entry-level position on a towing vessel is called a “deckhand” on inland towboats, an “ordinary seaman” on coastal tugboats. These crewmembers prepare barges for loading and unloading cargo, build tows, and perform basic vessel maintenance and housekeeping duties on coastal tugboats.

Experienced ordinary seamen on coastal tugboats graduate to “able-bodied seamen.” On most towing vessels except those operating on rivers, deckhands require a Coast Guard-issued Merchant Mariner’s Document, or MMD.

According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, able seamen and ordinary seamen earn a median salary of $34,390 per year; wages top out at $51,890 (2008 statistics).

Cook. The cook buys and prepares food for the crew. Some cooks also work on deck between meal preparations, in which case they may be called cook/deckhands. Cooks on towing vessels (with the exception of those working on rivers) require a Merchant Mariner’s Document.

According to 2007 Dept. of Labor statistics, the Inland Water Transportation industry is among the five highest-paying industries for cooks, who earn an average (mean) salary of $29,340.

Tankermen. These mariners work on towing vessels that move liquid cargo in tank barges, and are specially trained for the environmentally sensitive job of transferring oil or chemical cargoes between barges and tanks on shore. Tankermen require a Merchant Mariner’s Document with a tankerman endorsement, which entails training and experience in handling liquid cargoes.

These water transportation support workers earn an average of $47,140 annually (Dept. of Labor 2008 statistic).

Engineer. The engineer is in charge of the operation and maintenance of the boat’s engines and machinery and the barge cargo pumps. A deck engineer is an engineer who also performs deckhand duties. Engineers are trained, experienced personnel who may or may not be required to hold a Coast Guard-issued license, depending on the size and location of the vessels on which they work.

According to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, engineers earn an average of $60,690 per year; wages top out at $102,850 (2008 statistics).

Masters, mates, and pilots. The crewmember who drives a towing vessel is the “master” (or “captain”), and his or her second-in-command is known as a “mate” on coastal tugboats or a “pilot” on inland towboats. Unlike the independent contractors who typically guide larger vessels in and out of coastal ports, this type of pilot is a crewmember. The master and mate or pilot alternate shifts navigating the vessel. The master is the manager of the vessel, responsible not only for operating the boat safely and efficiently, but for managing the crew as well.

Masters, mates, and pilots earn an average of $61,960 per year; wages top out at $108,120 (2008 Dept. of Labor statistics).

About the author:
Ms. Krista Reddington is a former government affairs associate for The American Waterways Operators. AWO is the national trade association representing the owners and operators of tugboats, towboats, and barges serving the waterborne commerce of the United States.

For more information:
Merchant Mariner Document information available at:

The American Waterways Operators
801 North Quincy Street, Suite 200
Arlington, VA 22203
(703) 841-9300
Fax: (703) 841-0389
AWO jobs portal:

Full article and 124-page “Focus on the Mariner” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at Subscribe online at

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