Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tugboat U.—tailoring a crew advancement program to working mariners

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

Full article by Mr. Kelly Curtin, Division Manager, Nautical Science Programs, Global Maritime and Transportation School, U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, available at

In April 2007, USMMA’s Global Maritime and Transportation School (GMATS) introduced a groundbreaking crew advancement program designed to address the needs of deckhands who work in the near-coastal towing and offshore industries.

It’s a practical alternative to the traditional apprentice mate/steersman advancement route to the wheelhouse. It also eliminates many crewing headaches for tug operators and substantially reduces the lifestyle disruption for merchant mariners who need training to obtain or advance their licenses.

While some argue that the shortage of licensed personnel is due to lack of “new blood” entering the industry, John Torgersen, McAllister Towing’s quality and safety director, had observed there was no shortage of entry-level deckhands. “People were interested in working in our industry, they just weren’t advancing towards licenses,” Torgersen said.

When deckhands were asked why they hadn’t upgraded, most said that they were working on it, but the process was confusing and that they often were unsure of the next step to take.

The Problem
The typical progression from deckhand to apprentice mate/steersman requires 18 months of sea time, which takes about three years. The candidate can then apply to take the requisite exam. With an additional six months of sea time and presentation of a completed towing officer assessment record, the apprentice mate then can seek to become a licensed mate (pilot) of towing vessels.

McAllister Towing also found that, in addition to sea time requirements, it had to send company deckhands through seven weeks of training classes. The cost to advance one deckhand to mate through the apprentice mate system was about $78,100.00. “Most of the costs associated with the process come from the year of sea time as an extra crew member,” said Torgersen. “This is a great deal of money, and more than ‘residential’ students pay for traditional two-year maritime college programs.”

A Solution
When McAllister contacted GMATS in the fall of 2005, it requested a program that would give full-time deckhands the opportunity to take required classes to advance to mate 500/1600 gross tons with a towing endorsement and provide academic credit toward an associate’s degree. GMATS recognized that the program’s impact on the deckhands’ personal lives and families had to be considered for the program to work.

While it was difficult for deckhands to be away from their families for extended periods of time, they appreciated having a program linked to an associate’s degree. GMATS worked with the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center (NMC) to develop a program consisting of full-day modules, designed to be taught in sequence over several weeks. This approach accommodated the deckhands’ regular work schedule and only minimally impacted their time off.

Since the program also prepares students for a 500/1600 gross ton license, it had to meet the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping requirements. By partnering with American Military University (AMU), USMMA’s Global Maritime and Transportation School ensured students could receive college credit for courses that may be applied towards an associate’s degree.

Tugboat U.
The first class started in the spring of 2007. McAllister Towing and Reinauer Transportation each sponsored 11 deckhands. New students begin classes every April in the crew advancement program, now affectionately called “Tugboat U.”

Charles Braun, a Reinauer deckhand, stated, “The program at GMATS has exceeded expectations in every way. I’ve been able to schedule classes around my work schedule, and find that I am in the classroom about twice a month, which is perfect, because we keep hectic schedules.”

Since it’s a Coast Guard-approved training program, this crew advancement program reduces the sea service requirement from three years to one in order to obtain the mate 500/1600 GT near-coastal license. To obtain the towing officer endorsement, deckhands must complete the towing officer assessment record book. In addition, the prospective mate must also complete four 13-week sea projects, each consisting of a navigational journal and watchstanding logs, and answer questions related to safety, navigation, and vessel operation.

When Tugboat U. students aren’t in the classroom or aboard a vessel, they can still complete coursework and prepare for the license exam. Using an Internet-based course program, students can contact instructors, other students, and also access reading and homework assignments. In addition, the students are provided with access to an online program that allows them to study and review sample Coast Guard multiple choice exam questions and solutions.

Drew Read, a McAllister deckhand currently in the program, stated, “My desire and expectation from the program is to achieve my 1600 GT mate near-coastal license. I feel GMATS has made a concerted effort to meet the needs of the current students.”

The Program
The approved crew advancement program consists of 17 classes, four 13-week sea projects, and submission of an endorsed training record book.

The program takes between 2 and 2.5 years to complete. If the student follows the conventional two-week work rotation, he/she would take two (8-hour) modules of class before each rotation.

Course Number---Title---Number of Hours
NS080---Basic Safety Training---40
NS090---Advanced Fire-Fighting---32
NS100---Nautical Science 1---40
NS110---Nautical Science 2---40
NS120---Shiphandling: Tugs and Towing 1---40
NS130---Terrestrial and Coastal Navigation 1---40
NS140---Terrestrial and Coastal Navigation 2---40
NS150---Navigational Law and Communications---40
NS160---RADAR/Collision Avoidance---40
NS180---Ship Construction, Stability, and Trim---40
NS190---ARPA (Automatic Radar Plotting Aid)---40
NS200---Cargo Handling and Stowage---40
NS210---Medical Care Provider---40
NS220---Electronic Navigation---40
NS230---Shiphandling: Tugs and Towing 2---40
NS240---Bridge Watch-Keeping and Ship Handling---56

Total hours---688
Total days---86
Average class days per month over a 24-month period---3.5

Anticipated Outcome
For participating companies the payoff can be significant. A mate with advanced working knowledge of shipboard equipment is a more professional, higher-skilled worker who ultimately reduces risk. Moreover, this will foster an employee/company relationship built on trust and loyalty.

GMATS and the NMC continue to make adjustments. Future plans call for similar engineering and chief mate to master mariner programs. Follow-on courses are in development for a 500/1600 GT mate to master license preparation course.

About the author:
Mr. Kelly Curtin serves as division manager for nautical science programs at GMATS, USMMA. Prior to this position he was an assistant professor of marine transportation at the State University of New York Maritime College and senior deck training officer aboard the training ship Empire State. Mr. Curtin holds a bachelor’s degree in business finance from the University of Southern California, a master’s in transportation management from the State University of New York Maritime College, and an unlimited master mariner license.

For more information:
Global Maritime and Transportation School
United States Merchant Marine Academy
Kings Point, NY
(516) 726-6130

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

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