The Maritime Industry
The U.S. Marine Transportation System consists of waterways, ports, and the connectors that move cargo and people to and from the water. Over 74 percent of international trade is moved by ship. Waterborne cargo and associated activities contribute more than $649 billion annually in personal wage and salary income and local consumption expenditures, sustaining an estimated 13.3 million direct and indirect maritime and port-related jobs.
Many of the available careers for U.S. citizens are as merchant mariners aboard U.S. registered vessels; passenger boats operating within a harbor to towboats on the mighty Mississippi to mega cargo ships sailing the high seas. These are generally family-waged jobs with good benefits.
A career as a merchant mariner typically belongs to one of the following shipboard departments:
- Deck — navigation, cargo handling, and management
- Engineering — propulsion, maintenance and management
- Steward/hotel — food services, sanitation, and accommodations
Some vessels will also have a “Supply Department” which is typically a combination of the stewards department and those crew members that perform store-keeping duties. Additionally some vessels carry communications and/or medical personnel.
A maritime career can also lead you to work in a shore-based role or positioned in ports and terminals across the United States. Shore-based careers include ship management, freight forwarder, mariner insurer, sales and purchase broker, and marine engineering. Learn more about the various types of maritime careers here.
A veteran’s transition from the military to a maritime career can be a rewarding experience. The maritime industry provides family-waged careers and an opportunity to continue service to our nation. The domestic maritime industry performs a critical role for national and homeland security while providing nearly 500,000 American jobs for our economy.
If you are thinking of transitioning to a merchant mariner after military service, it is highly recommended that you begin accumulating a record of all your training while still in service, if you did not do so from the start of your military career. As part of the credentialing process, the following documents should be organized as part of a veteran’s military record and readily available to include in the licensing and credentialing application process.
- Copies of a DD-214, Report of Separation (if discharged)
- Records of any maritime-related courses taken which are not listed on the DD-214
- Summary of military record, including training, by executing a Request Pertaining to Military Records(SF-180). A paper copy of the form may be requested by contacting the closest VA Vet Center.
- Afloat experience through military service should be noted as “Sea Service Transcript” in Section II, subsection 2 of the SF-180
For Army, Navy and Coast Guard service members and veterans, the U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center will evaluate recruit training as meeting most of the requirements for Basic Safety Training. Some ratings in the Navy and Coast Guard are evaluated for further training and sea time for merchant marine service; the list of approved ratings is the USCG’s Marine Safety Manual, Volume II.
Military evaluations require the applicant to: provide a Transcript of Sea Service (TOSS), History of Assignments (HOA) and/or military tracking software printout to include all information required by 46 Code of Federal Regulations 10.225(b)(6): Discharges or other documentary evidence of service indicating the name, tonnage, and propulsion power of the vessels, dates of service, capacity in which the applicant served, and on what waters.
However, it is highly recommended that you consult your respective transition assistance program office as the Coast Guard, Navy, and Army have developed programs to advise about becoming a merchant mariner. Additionally, this web information does not replace the credential information provided directly by US Coast Guard. For additional information on the credential process, click here.
The U.S. Merchant Marine
The U.S. merchant marine consists of privately-owned, U.S. registered merchant ships and a variety of towing, offshore supply, and passenger vessels which provide waterborne transportation for passengers and cargoes moving in domestic and international commerce. Employment on these vessels is the responsibility of the owners and is handled by maritime labor organizations or through direct employment by the company.
While commercial vessels are not military vessels, there are some similarities. The head of the engineering department, for example, is called the Chief Engineer. Likewise, vessel masters – the Master is the person in command — are formally addressed as “Captain”.
The U.S. Government also owns a large fleet of vessels. These vessels are either continuously at sea serving as Naval Auxiliaries, research vessels, dredges, and ferries. These vessels are crewed by direct employment to the U.S. Government or through operating contracts administered through commercial operating companies. The Government also maintains a fleet of cargo ships that are regularly pierside with small retention crews employed. These vessels are activated and operated in times of National Emergency. When our military forces have to deploy overseas, over 90 percent of our military hardware travels by ship.
Merchant Mariners are generally divided into two categories: officers and ratings. These correspond with commissioned and enlisted status in the military.
There are special laws and regulations governing merchant seamen which are enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard. In addition to military service, veterans and active military may need some additional training to augment their military qualifications. More information on training sources can be found here.
The U.S. Coast Guard credentials Merchant Marine Officers. The application process and information about the required fees can be found here.
After submission of the application and payment of required fees, the Coast Guard will evaluate the experience documented and advise on the eligibility of the applicant for officer endorsement(s).
While attending a maritime academy is not necessary to become a credentialed officer, there are six state or regional maritime academies and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in the United States. Graduates from these maritime academies will receive an unlimited Merchant Marine Officer credential with an accredited Bachelor’s degree.
The Maritime Administration also operates the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy located in Kings Point, NY. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is one of the five Service Academies of the United States and offers a fully accredited Bachelors Degree and graduates receive an unlimited officers credential. The Maritime Administration also supports the six state maritime academies through financial assistance and, most importantly, providing these schools their training ships. Students, or cadets, at these schools can receive financial assistance through the Student Incentive Payment Program, also administered by the Maritime Administration.
Rating members of a merchant vessel’s crew are either entry-level or skilled. Entry-level mariners do not need experience afloat. Skilled rating mariners must have a specified amount of sea-time as well as training. Further information is available at the National Maritime Center’s website.
Other Federal Agency Resources
Maritime Administration (MARAD), U.S. Department of Transportation, promotes the development and maintenance of an adequate, well-balanced United States merchant marine, sufficient to carry the Nation’s domestic waterborne commerce and a substantial portion of its waterborne foreign commerce, and capable of service as a naval and military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency.
The Maritime Administration does not directly hire merchant mariners nor license them but serves as a resource, providing information regarding career opportunities available to those interested in becoming merchant mariners. The Maritime Administration office that distributes information on seafaring employment and training is:
Office of Maritime Labor and Training
U.S. Maritime Administration (MAR 740)
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE Washington, DC 20590
Phone: (202) 493-0029
U.S. Coast Guard
As a world class credentialing program, the National Maritime Center staff of highly competent and devoted professionals ensures a safe, secure, economically viable and environmentally sound Marine Transportation System manned by fully qualified U.S. mariners. NMC is a headquarters unit under the United States Coast Guard who works under the auspices of the Department of Homeland Security.
National Maritime Center
100 Forbes Dr.
Martinsburg, WV 25404
Preferred method of contact is through the NMC online chatting system during operational hours. This forum can be found on the left side of the NMC webpage here.
Transportation Security Administration Resources: TWIC®
The Transportation Worker Identification Credential, also known as TWIC®, is a DHS security initiative required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. Jointly administered by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the TWIC® program requires transportation workers who need access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels to complete a TSA Security Threat Assessment. Upon successful adjudication of the assessment, TSA issues a biometric credential to the worker. In accordance with USCG security plans, facility and vessel owners or operators may grant TWIC® card holders access to secure areas. U.S. citizens and immigrants in certain immigration categories may apply for the credential. USCG mariner credentials may require applicants to obtain a TWIC® before submitting a credential application to the USCG.
Transportation Security Administration – Universal Enrollment Services
TSA security threat assessment enrollment services are administered by a provider, MorphoTrust USA (Safran). Universal Enroll provides convenient online and in-person enrollment capabilities, including a network of more than 350 enrollment centers located across the United States and in some U.S. Territories. Enrollment services include the capture of biometric data (photographs/fingerprints), biographic data, and identity documentation required to enroll and register for certain TSA security threat assessment programs, such as the Hazardous Materials Endorsement Threat Assessment Program, TWIC®, and TSA Pre✓® Application Program.
Military Funding Opportunities through Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) Progrms
Both the Department of the Navy and Department of the Army have programs in place through their respective Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL) Programs to allow Active Duty, Reserve, and Guard personnel to attain approved credentials at military expense. U.S. Coast Guard credentials to include the Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC) are available. Soldiers and Sailors are highly encouraged to pursue these credentials early in their career development as it enhances their knowledge and skills while they are still serving in uniform, and also facilitates their transition into the civilian maritime employment sector upon separation or retirement from the military.
Find out more details by searching for your military occupation code (Rating or MOS) in Navy COOL or Army COOL.
Opportunities with the U.S. Government
A number of federal agencies operate vessels, which require merchant mariners. These include Naval Auxiliaries operated by the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command, the Ready Reserve Force operated by the Maritime Administration, the survey and research vessels operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the domestic boats and dredges operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers; and inspection boats operated by Customs and Border Protection.