Thursday, July 2, 2009

A School Within a School—preparing high school students for employment in the merchant marine

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

Full article by Captain Ray Addicott (U.S. Navy, Ret.), Training Resources, Ltd. Inc., available at

“Shaun Pomerleau stood on the deck of the USNS Henry J. Kaiser, a Military Sealift Command underway replenishment tanker, traveling at 13 knots in the ocean off Coronado, Calif.

He braced his steel-toe-booted feet, lifted an M-14 rifle, pointed it at a nearby ship, and fired.

A cord from the gun sailed through the air, hitting a Navy cruiser 200 feet away. Crewmembers used the line to guide a hose from the tanker to the cruiser for refueling. Pomerleau is a student at Mar Vista High School, Imperial Beach, Calif., enrolled in one of San Diego County’s most unusual high school vocational courses—a maritime academy for unlicensed mariners within a high school. When he graduates from high school he will have a diploma in his left hand and a merchant marine document in his right.”
—Chris Moran, “Seaworthy Schooling,” San Diego Union-Tribune, July 28, 2007.

Training Resources, Ltd. Inc. is affiliated with the Sailors’ Union of the Pacific and is a provider of Coast Guard-approved training courses. In 2000, TRL began looking into the possibility of bringing maritime training programs to high school districts in the area to give students access to U.S. Coast Guard-certified training—at no cost—to prepare them for employment in the merchant marine.

They held several meetings with different school districts within San Diego County and found that most were not interested, as they felt that their primary goal was to prepare students for a college education. Finally, one school, Mar Vista High School, just south of San Diego in the small town of Imperial Beach, indicated it might have an interest.

An MMD, a Passport, and a Bank Account
Once the infrastructure was in place, officials began recruiting students. This entailed educating school career counselors and scheduling briefings for interested students and parents. The goal was to achieve a commitment from each student and his or her parents.

The maritime program has been a great success since established in 2002. The successful student graduates with a merchant marine document in hand, a passport, and a bank account. Thanks to the Military Sealift Command (MSC), during the summer many students sail as paid interns aboard MSC ships operating in Southern California and Hawaii.

In addition to the paycheck, they obtain valuable experience and the opportunity to satisfy sea time requirements and complete competencies for a rating forming part of a navigational/engineering watch. Students who excel in the program learn exactly what going to sea is like and become confident employees.

What’s in It for Me?
Graduates typically earn salaries comparable to college graduates. There have been many success stories from graduates working in the industry. In one case, a young lady recently graduated from the program who is now sailing as a merchant marine was able to buy a home for her single-parent mother and family.

A young man, abandoned by his family several years ago, successfully completed the program, and is achieving great success in the merchant marine, working toward his third assistant engineer’s license.

Benefits for Students, the Community, the Industry
The Mar Vista maritime training program is an example of what can be achieved to provide young, well-trained, confident men and women to the maritime industry. More than this, maritime training programs embedded in a school bring the school and the community awareness of the value of the industry to our country’s economy and security.

This training program can also prepare students for shoreside career options such as firefighting, emergency medical response, ship repair, and facility maintenance.

A Look Ahead
Programs such as Mar Vista can be replicated, but it takes time, cooperation, and funding. Educational budgets for schools in California, for example, are subject to budget cutbacks that put vocational training programs at risk.

What is needed is congressional awareness and support of successful grassroots programs, such as Mar Vista, that have the potential to meet the future needs of the maritime industry.

About the author:
Captain Addicott served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years. During that time he served in command of several ships, including USS Fox. He also served as commander for the Military Sealift Command-Pacific during Operation Desert Storm. Following his retirement, he held the position of California Maritime Academy’s director of continuing education. He co-founded Training Resources, Ltd. Inc. in 1998 with Cdr. Ray Gillip.

For more information:
Mar Vista High School
505 Elm Avenue
Imperial Beach, Calif. 91932
(619) 628-5700

Training Resources, Ltd. Inc.
1400 Grizzly Peak Blvd.
Berkeley, CA 94708
(510) 704-8978

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

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: