Thursday, July 30, 2009

Are Hawsepipers a Dying Breed?

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

Full article by Mr. John Sitka III, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy, and Captain Cathleen Burns Mauro, Director of Deck Education and Training, Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy, available at

In the not-so-distant past, the route of the hawsepiper was fairly simple: accumulate the sea time, submit your documentation to the Coast Guard, pass the license exam, and you have your new third mate or third assistant engineer license.

The New Route to Your License
The progression path to a maritime license now includes taking training courses and completing onboard assessments to demonstrate competency in particular tasks. While it is a laudable effort, has the significant time requirement and cost of completing this formal education exacerbated a shortage of qualified mariners? Are hawsepipers a dying breed?

While the traditional hawsepipe may appear to be dying a slow death, a new opportunity is evolving. For mariners who aspire to break into the industry, there are basically three options:

· You can attend a state maritime school such as New York Maritime, Massachusetts Maritime, Maine Maritime, California Maritime, Great Lakes Maritime Academy, Texas Maritime Academy, or the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. These schools all offer stellar programs for obtaining an entry-level license, either third mate or third assistant engineer, and you simultaneously earn a four-year college degree.

· Entry-level officers may also obtain their license via union schools, which serve great numbers. However, their priority is to support their members and companies who support them.

· They can also attend a private school, such as Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy. Mid-Atlantic offers the AB to mate classroom training program over an 18-week period.

A Look at a Private Maritime Academy
Under the old licensing system, the cornerstone of most successful private schools was test preparation. The complexity of USCG examinations (with some modules requiring a passing grade of 90%) drove mariners to seek out a place where reference materials, space, and guidance were readily available. Another advantage to having a smaller training facility is the personal attention and encouragement instructors can provide to their students.

Traditionally, smaller private schools may have been viewed as a quick and easy way to obtain a U.S. Coast Guard license. In contrast, today’s newer, more stringent regulations on mariners in the industry have brought about more rigorous regulations for the schools who train them.

All courses must be submitted to the U.S. Coast Guard for approval, and the schools are subject to random Coast Guard auditing. Large, established maritime colleges are subject to the same accountability as small private institutions, so the “playing field” is level. The ultimate goal is a quality education.

Private training facilities have a place in the career advancement and certification of mariners at all levels, and no matter the size of the organization, each type of training facility has a place in the training of the merchant marine. Any school—whether a state university, union affiliate, or private organization—ultimately has the same goal: to provide the best possible training to mariners in order to strengthen the maritime industry as a whole.

About the authors:
Mr. John Sitka III retired from the Navy as a chief quartermaster and while on active duty accomplished able seaman through unlimited 2nd mate. After retirement he operated various ships in the Gulf of Mexico and in 1995 was hired by Maersk Line Limited for work on government vessels. In 1999 he earned his unlimited master’s license, and in 2005 he took over the Tidewater School of Navigation as chief instructor. He currently serves as vice president of academic affairs at Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy.

Captain Cathleen Burns Mauro is a graduate of the State University of N.Y. Maritime College and holds a B.S. in meteorology. After graduation, Captain Mauro sailed with American Maritime Officers over a 10-year period, serving primarily on Military Sealift Command contract vessels. Before coming ashore she spent two years as master of the USNS Capable. In 2006 she joined the instructional staff at the Tidewater School of Navigation, and now serves as director of deck education and training at Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy.

For more information:
Mid-Atlantic Maritime Academy
5705 Thurston Ave.
Virginia Beach, VA 23455
(757) 464-6008

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

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