Recent news article claim steps in obtaining agreements in placing maritime academy school students aboard merchant ships for accomplishing sea time requirements (Cadet Shipping). A step that appears to solve a problem. Getting places to stash the boys and girls seems like a good idea, but what does it actually achieve and at what cost?
License requirements requires sea time that allegedly acquaints one with the performance of seaman type works and shipboard practices. A candidate for a license should be a competent mariner (Deck or Engine qualified). The latest version of the Merchant Marine Officer’s Handbook, 5th edition, implies a newly licensed officer should “hit the deck running.” A perusal of the American Merchant Seaman’s Manual, 6th edition, list twenty three or more chapters of basic material a competent mariner should be “knowledgeable ” or at least aware of.
Taking the sample examination questions from the USCG Proceedings, Spring 2008, both deck and engine I was hard pressed to locate answers or information that would provide acceptable answers. The same applied to the two previous issues. Therefore, either the examinations are based on data that is not readily available or there is a gross deficiency in training manuals; in any case what does one study at sea, examination prep- sheets?
Of greatest concern is the lack of awareness by bureaucrats that putting kids to sea does not make them seaman. How many ship’s officers are qualified teachers , practiced instructors, good parents? The wrong experience can set a pattern that can be perpetuated for years. Cramming for an examination does not produce competency.
It is time to examine the school of the ship and resolve the requirements for education, knowledge, skill and leadership and invest our maritime training funds in those that will properly crew, operate and command the sophisticated giants of the seas in the future. Not all will be effective and efficient masters or chief engineers, but everyone licensed or documented should be competent. The expeditious path of “pumping out” licensed people to fill vacant slots is accomplishing only one purpose, increasing accidents. -JGD
John Denham is a retired USN Captain, Licensed unlimited Master and Pilot, maritime academy teacher,and author with extensive experience as a marine consultant. He is also author of The Assistant and DD 891.