In the spring and early summer of 1997 I sailed on the Great Lakes as a deck cadet on board the bulk ore and coal carrying ship “James R. Barker“. The following articles are pulled directly from the journal I maintained during my 60 days on board the vessel. Enjoy!
Every year between their sophomore and junior years, merchant marine officer students at Maine Maritime Academy are required to participate in a 60-90 day internship on board a commercial ship. This “cadet shipping” program exposes the students to how ships operate in the “real world” and reinforces lessons learned during the academic year as well as those learned on board the Academy’s own training ship the “T.V. State of Maine”.
When attending a maritime academy, students (or cadets as they are often called) have a choice between two distinct disciplines of “deck” or “engine”.
Deck Cadets: Deck cadets are students seeking to graduate the college as a United States Coast Guard licensed third mate. “Mates” are the officers on board commercial boats and ships responsible for safely navigating the ship, loading and unloading cargo, maintaining safety equipment, providing emergency training, and maintaining the overall condition of the vessel (cleaning, painting, etc.). In addition to their 3rd Mate License, deck cadets will also receive a bachelor of science degree (B.S.) in “Marine Transportation” or “Nautical Science” at graduation.
Engine Cadets: Engineering cadets are students seeking to graduate the college as a United States Coast Guard licensed third assistant engineer (3rd A/E). Engineers are the officers on board commercial boats and ships responsible for safely maintaining the integrity of the ship’s various machinery systems (main power, propulsion equipment, HVAC, auxiliary equipment, sewage, etc). In addition to their 3rd Assistant Engineer license, engine cadets will also receive a bachelor of science degree (B.S.) in “Marine Engineering” at graduation.
As the number of US shipping companies (and ships) has declined through the years, competition for the “best” cadet shipping opportunities (or “billets” as they are called in the industry) is very high. Students within each discipline (deck and engine) are ranked (typically by grade point average and disciplinary record) and then given the opportunity to select the various cadet shipping opportunities available with the highest ranked student going first.
While I wasn’t ranked last in my class I will divulge that there were not many opportunities left to choose from when it was finally my turn to pick a cadet shipping billet.
After speaking with a few upperclassmen about the opportunities available to me, I decided to accept a position as deck cadet on board the iron ore and coal carrying ship James R. Barker owned and operated by the Interlake Steamship Company. Although the contract would only pay me $12.16 per day (that is not a typo, per day!!!) I was intrigued by the prospect of working on a one thousand foot vessel through the narrow rivers and waterways connecting the Great Lakes. I thought it might also be a great opportunity to experience a part of the country I had never seen before.
And now the fun begins! Pour yourself a large cup of coffee and get settled in, I’m about to take you sailing on the Great Lakes!
I hope you enjoy this series of articles; please don’t hesitate to leave comments and ask questions in the form at the end of each page.
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photo credit: boatnerd