Let’s face it, when it comes to the prospect of a lifelong career on the high seas, most merchant mariners just don’t have what it takes. In fact, my informal analysis of graduates from one maritime academy’s alumni directory revealed that less than 10% of graduates from 1975 to 1995 are still actively sailing on their licenses.
For merchant marine engineers, the transition to shore side employment can be relatively straightforward; after all, engineering in general is a discipline equally (if not more) in demand on shore and afloat. In contrast, deck officers and crew are often faced with tougher challenges as their skill sets don’t always appear to translate over into shore side positions.
Regardless of which of these two crafts you practice, if you’re one of the aforementioned “90-percenters” the following tips and suggestions will help ensure you secure the most rewarding and fulfilling shore side opportunity when your day comes to trade in your sea bag for a more “traditional” occupation.
Identify Your Strengths:
In regards to your career as a merchant mariner, you need to identify your current strengths. What comes naturally to you that might be more difficult for others? Perhaps you’ve recognized that you have a great ability to connect with people of different backgrounds, maybe you’re talented at writing job safety analyses, or maybe you’re the “go to” guy when it comes to managing complex projects. Make a list of the various things you’re good at and never underestimate the value your merchant marine skills can have in a variety of shore side roles (for some reason deck officers do really well as personal financial planners).
People go to sea for a variety of different reasons. Some are lured by the adventure of sailing the high seas, other are attracted to the above average pay and vacation time. If you’re on the fence about pursuing shore side employment, make a list of the advantages of both shore side employment and the life you’ve come to know as a merchant mariner. Speak to other people you know who have already made the transition to shore side work and ask them their opinion on the advantages and disadvantages they’ve experienced. I’ve spoken with many people who have taken “shore side” jobs with the sole purpose of spending “more time with the family”. The reality was they were away from their kids more working in an office and being home every night, than they were when they were shipping out and had 6 months off a year.
Identify Your Passions:
The next step is to identify an industry or profession you might be interesting in pursuing. The more you learn about a particular industry or profession, the better you’ll be able to identify rewarding job opportunities.
Get Relevant Experience:
One of the best ways to gain experience and skills for a prospective shore side job is to volunteer or get an internship. When I first started shipping out 12 years ago, I got an internship with the Maine International Trade Center on my time off to get experience and exposure to the “business world”. Although the experience was brief, it gave me tremendous insight into the challenges faced by Maine Businesses in regards to tapping into foreign markets. You don’t necessarily need to be a student to get an internship with various companies during your off time; you just need to be willing to swallow your pride and work for free (or very little).
One of the best (and underutilized) opportunities for professional mariners (providing they have access to internet on board), is online education and certification programs. In some cases, companies will even pay for continuing education classes so long as the class is seen as adding value to your current position. This is especially handy for deck officers and crew who desire a degree or certification in a more marketable field (there just are not too many shore side jobs for Dynamic Positioning Operators or ship captains on land).
Once you’ve honed in on one or two prospective shore side career paths, you need to network with as many people you can within the industry and focus your energy on those individuals who seem willing to help and/or mentor you. You never know when an opportunity may come your way!
Consider Self Employment:
One of the most popular routes I’ve seen former shipmates take is to start your own business. Perhaps you’re now an expert in managing projects (perhaps through a ship yard period while on board a ship), or maybe you’ve decide you could do a better job consulting on various maritime issues better than the consultants you’ve seen used by your current employer. “Testing the waters” during your 1 to 3 month vacation time is a great “low risk” test to see if you have what it takes to make it on your own as a business owner. You probably won’t make any money your first few months, but you might be able to get an idea for the demand of the particular product or service you decide to market. Plus, you’re at a significant advantage over someone pulling down a 9-5 because you don’t have to worry about your regular job while you’re trying to get your business off the ground (at least for a month or two). Just be sure you get the proper TurboTax software when you start making a profit.
The reasons for leaving the mariner’s profession are as numerous as the reason we decided to sail in the first place. Regardless of where you’re at in your career, hopefully these suggestions have given you some insight into the possibilities that are out there. As I’ve already said, never underestimate the skills and experiences you possess as a merchant mariner, you never know when a challenging and rewarding opportunity may come your way.