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The following article is from the gCaptain archives but the information is very much still pertinent today!
Aboard almost every US flag ship is one seaman who forgoes the late night poker tournaments, racquetball games and is rarely seen watching movies in the crew lounge. He is sometimes called the Fourth Mate due to his propensity for hanging around the chart room and awkward handling of the ship’s sextant. His is the most difficult job aboard ship as it comprises three tasks 1) working a normal eight hour day of watchkeeping 2) working overtime to pay for books and school 3) studying during every spare minute. All of this effort is focused on getting a Third Officer’s license and one day becoming licensed to Captain the world’s largest ships.
This path to the ranks of Merchant Marine officer is a time honored tradition and brands the successful with the title Hawepiper. As many know the hawespipe is the small tunnel through which the anchor chain passes through the ship’s hull. Becoming a ships officer by self study rather than attending a maritime academy is said to be just as difficult as climbing up the anchor chain and through the hawsepipe. And this route is not getting easier! As if to mirror the increasingly large hawsepipes aboard new record breaking ships, new regulations that include additional course work and security checks have made this path has become more difficult in recent years.
Lucky for those attempting the task a new book is out by a person who has accomplished the journey. Written by Leonard Lambert, The New Hawsepipe, helps to guide unlicensed mariners throughout the process of becoming United States Coast Guard licensed officers. Today we get the chance to ask Leonard a few questions.
We see you are one of the first to climb the hawsepipe under the new regulations. What was your motivation for setting this goal?
The motivation was sort of a snowball effect. I did not start out very passionate…or motivated when I found out what I actually had to do to get my license. I walked into the Coast Guard R.E.C. in Seattle on January 31st 2002 to apply for my 3rd mate unlimited license. I was met with throngs of mariners in a line that extended out the door, down the hall and outside the building. I thought there was a rock concert or something; very weird. Returning to my plan, I decided to come back the following day, and make sure that I was the first in line.
On February 1st, 2002, I strolled into the same R.E.C. and found the place completely empty. “This is more like it,” I said to myself as I was the first to sign in at the counter. They called my name, and I was face to face with a representative from the R.E.C.; I slid my application over and simply said, “I would like to upgrade to 3rd mate unlimited, oceans.” All I saw was his look of horror.
“You should have been here yesterday!” The rep gasped.
“I was here yesterday!” I said, defensively. “There were so many people, I just left and came back today. Why? What’s going on?”
I listened as the representative stumbled along the entirely new program called “STCW ‘95” and the long list of classes I had to take, assessments, letters and certificates. The list went on and on.
My upgrade started out as confusion and frustration, and slowly turned into dedicated goals and motivation. The more I realized nobody knew what to do, the more I was driven to find out what to do. The new STCW ’95 training subjects were familiar to me due to my job as a navigator in the Coast Guard. I felt like I understood what the Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organization were trying to accomplish, and my experience as a merchant seaman helped to bridge a gap between the schools offering the courses by explaining how the new policies should be interpreted, and the students now trying to get the courses completed by setting clear expectations for them to follow, step by step.
The more I accomplished, the more motivated I became. The more motivated I became, the more I helped students and teachers meet their goals. The more students and teachers I spoke with, the more I realized the need for a guidebook. Although I was one of the first to get my license in Seattle, helping others sift through the regulations, find ways to cut the cost of education, help schedule, streamline and ultimately succeed will always be top on my priority list. The New Hawsepipe has already helped many mariners realize their potential and empower them with information they never had before.
What did you enjoy most about the experience?
I enjoyed personal success in this niche that I stumbled upon, the new upgrading regulations of STCW ‘95. But, the journey has been one of sheer collaboration with hard working students, instructors and Coast Guard personnel. People like Andy Crawford at Crawford Nautical School in Seattle, WA. His dedication to teaching, willingness to accommodate mariner’s schedule for study time, and the explanation of subject matter so students could understand is remarkable. Or Megan Lambert (Alford) from MTC License Training (Seattle Maritime Academy) who could interpret NMC policy letters, NVIC’s and CFR’s better than anybody. She could translate this information so students had a clear understanding of what they needed to do. Coast Guard evaluators like Norleen Schumer (since retired and is now a facilitator) who had an early and firm grasp of what mariners needed and could explain this is a concise manner that left the mariner with exactly what to bring to the Coast Guard to get approved. Coast Guard Sector Officer’s like BMC Jennifer Hogge, who steadfastly ran a tight R.E.C. in Alameda, CA. (now at NMC).
These are just a few of the people throughout the country that made huge contributions to the hawsepiper. I enjoyed sharing a common goal, being listened to and also listening to great insight, forming a path, a system, in which the hawsepipe would stay open. If it wasn’t for them, I would have given up a long time ago.
What was the single most difficult leg of the process?
The most difficult leg of this process was convincing senior officers to help me. It created an unnecessary battle between myself and the senior officers. They are the authority, so why should they listen to you? This was also the case with some school managers that did not quite have a complete grasp of the regulations yet. For example, some schools had courses that would satisfy the classroom curriculum, but not the practical assessments associated with that particular subject. When I asked how the course was approved, and if it indeed included the assessments, the answer was a short, curt reply like “Who do you think you are?” I sighed, and went ahead and looked at the Coast Guard approval Website to find out what the school was exactly approved to do and would then inform the school of its own approval. This usually did not win me any bonus points and the subsequent class would be “full” (I’m sorry, you’ll have to try back later).
The importance of motivation rings true in these situations. There were rare times when I was rejected everywhere I turned, and really thought about giving up. In those times it was abundantly clear that nobody cared if I got my license, but me.
To shed a brighter light on this subject, there has been immense improvement in this category. Senior officers afloat toady have usually heard through the grapevine of the new requirements hawsepipers must go through, or have already signed off assessments from an earlier candidate. Schools and administrators are also very knowledgeable about the course curriculum, Coast Guard approval details for each class and what the mariner must do on their own. MITAGS (Baltimore, MD) has a weekly meeting before starting all maritime classes to inform students of the latest changes to policy from the federal register and the National Maritime Center so mariners can stay up to date for the future. Programs like these are extremely helpful and have made the largest hurdle I faced, the attitude that students don’t know anything and nobody will help, obsolete.
How does the process compare for someone with Coast Guard or Navy vs someone new to the profession?
Outstanding question! Coast Guard and Navy personnel have the largest advantage of entering into the merchant marines but I would extend that opportunity to all branches of service. The National Maritime Center has a safety manual which has every job that can be accredited towards a license or MMD from all branches. If you serve in the military, you never know when you might end up on a ship, and that time can count. Some of the advantages military personnel enjoy can be the sea time gained while working on a ship. Depending how long and the job description, some veterans can qualify for officers licenses. The opportunity for training is another big key. Whether active or reserve, STCW ’95 training can be taken as continuing education while still active. This training doubles as job related if on a ship, and a merchant officer license requirement. For example, when I was in the Coast Guard, we had to take bridge resource management (BRM) as a training requirement onboard our vessel. This class came with a certificate that satisfied the STCW ’95 requirements for that subject. Meaning I could take that certificate and turn it in with my application to the Coast Guard for my license and it will satisfy the BRM requirement. Military personnel can take advantage of vast educational and training resources while still active and set themselves up for a smooth transition into the merchant marines. The key is to plan ahead before being discharged from active military service. I have dedicated an entire chapter in my book for the military specifically, because it has such high fidelity to the merchant marines.
For civilians just starting out in the merchant marines, it takes planning, dedication and money to get going. It is a job which will have a steep learning curve. Learning to work on a ship from the ground up can lead to traveling anywhere in the world, and get paid to do it. For civilians starting out there are some wonderful programs that will guide students the entire way, and usually land them in a well paying job afterwards. A program like Pacific Maritime Institute’s “Workboat Academy” is a matrix of classroom training and internships at sea. This program qualifies individuals for licenses, MMD’s and endorsements. Seattle Maritime Academy (Seattle Central Community College) has a similar program for unlicensed engineers and deckhands. Seafarer’s Int’l Union has an unlicensed apprentice program in Piney Point, MD. All these programs can be taken advantage of for new mariners. I have a specific section in my book for new mariners that details all options. They can set up a clear path to a great job onboard a merchant ship, so there advantages both for the military and civilians.
Are the new regulations producing better officers?
Well, I believe they are supposed to. The current required training now is exponential in comparison to the training required before STCW ’95, but the problem I see is the global standard for this training. In some countries, merchant officers are looked as equals to doctors, lawyers, architects, and other “white collar” professions, whereas in the U.S., merchant officers are usually associated in with longshoreman, truck drivers, and other “blue collar” professions. In other countries, merchant mariners are viewed as unskilled labor. As a leader in global shipping, the U.S. must set more of a professional example onboard our vessels and this starts with our officers; more importantly, the training. I want to clarify that there is equal respect for these professions, as no one should be judged on how they make a living. All these professions make up our economy, but it is merely how society views it. I, personally, am very proud to be a merchant sailor and hold the profession itself to a very high standard. The U.S. training gained now is a very good basic start, but like I said before, it pales in comparison to other countries. The job of an officer is still learned on a ship and not in a classroom. The tools gained by STCW ’95 for hawsepipers better prepares them for the actual job scope of a shipboard officer, though I would still like to see more ownership taken both by the trainers and the trainees.
Are companies and unions being supportive of those wishing to take this path?
That depends on the individual company or union. In this business, there are no two vessels or companies alike. That is a double edge sword in my opinion. It means mariners are free to work on a full spectrum of ships from size, scope, job specialty, and location, but the down side is the working conditions and benefits differ just as greatly. I have sat between two students, one which worked for a non-union tanker company that had to pay his own travel, room, board, books and 25% tuition. On the other side of me was a union student that worked for an offshore drill rig that had everything paid for, plus he was still earning his daily wage while at school. I, being a union student, sat between them and was taking the classes, room and board, free of charge but was not being paid a daily wage. Some students have no help at all and have to pay out of pocket for everything, so it just depends. It took a while for unions and companies to get their head completely around the amount of time and money this program actually costs. The important thing is to set the correct expectation with your company or union on exactly what is required. For mariners to realize any educational support there is usually a requirement set out by the company or union that the mariner must fulfill. Companies and unions want a return on their investment from the mariner. Therefore, the mariner must make a commitment to the company or union in order to get the training they want. I encourage everyone to look where they are currently working to find out what is available. Any organization that will help them is an asset and worth looking into. When I needed sea time to get my unlimited license, I knew I had to take this long list of classes. I was looking for a “work” trade: school financing for AB work. The union I chose did not have the glamorous, high paying jobs I wanted, but I did not care, because they offered something more important to me: paid training. I worked for that union and received most of my training through their school. If a mariner is serious about upgrading, then that should be their first priority.
That is a small example, but it takes motivation by the mariner to encourage the company or union support. Organizations need feedback on what is working and what is not. The new hawsepipers that are on the “front lines” and anything they feel the company or union needs to change will come from them. If a haswepiper shows they are serious about upgrading, it is in the company or union’s best interest to provide support. That is how companies or unions retain good mariners on your vessels, by supporting them.
What regulatory changes would you like to see added or subtracted?
The major regulatory change I would like to see added is leadership training. This has fallen to the wayside in a workplace that desperately needs it. We work in one of the oldest professions where there is still a formal title in this day and age called, “Master” and “Chief”. When I was working shoreside for a spell, right after I graduated college and tried to fit into a suit and tie, I went to work for a wireless company as an outside sales rep. The job was intense, but what I was most surprised about was the amount of executive leadership training available to all employees. I was astounded at the amount of money spent on training, but it made sense with the expectations set on the employees. I would like to see more leadership training for licensed officers to conduct themselves in a manner which exudes professionalism and demands respect.
I would also like to see the same regulations for both deck and engine officers. Deck officers require much more specialized training to qualify for certain jobs, especially government vessels. There should really be no difference when it comes to the operation of the vessel. If a deck officer needs special training, so should an engine officer.
I would like to see any antiquated subject matter taken away. I feel our ships are changing drastically due to technology and computerized navigation. I do not mean discarding the art of celestial navigation because mariners just don’t “do it anymore”. I mean take the subjects which have no relevance out, and replace it with new relevant subject matter. For example, get rid of celestial back sites or lifeboat Flemming gear training and replace it with AIS training. A thorough review of all subjects is needed to make curriculum more applicable to modern day shipping.
Is the Hawsepipe still available to foreign mariners sailing on foreign flagged ships?
Unfortunately, this is a subject I have little experience with. I suspect that they do, because the requirements U.S. hawsepipers follow is derived from the International Maritime Organization. If the IMO’s mission is to standardize training throughout the world (hence the Standards in Training and Certification of Watchkeeping) then other countries should have the same program as we do for their own mariners. As more U.S. officers and crew sail on foreign flagged vessels (cruise ships, tankers) this standardized training, I believe, will become a larger subject because crews from different countries will work side by side. Again, I’m not positive on the programs, but I do believe they are in place and will differ from country to country.
What does the future look like for Hawsepipers?
The future for the hawsepiper is a two part answer. First, any mariner who completes the requirements for a merchant mariner’s license under the new STCW ’95 should be congratulated, as it is not an easy task. Because it is not an easy task, there are fewer people gaining licenses through the hawsepipe. Therefore, there are fewer U.S. licensed officers in the workforce and that means companies and unions must lift the wages and working conditions to meet the demand for qualified merchant marine officers. Right now, that is happening. To prove these points, I will give two examples: One: A close friend of mine has just completed all his classes and assessments from AB to 3rd mate unlimited oceans from a school in Seattle, WA. At the beginning of his program, the student body totaled 22 people. Upon graduation, 5 actually completed the program and can test for a mate’s license. There are not a lot of people completing the program. Two: In the Gulf of Mexico, wages and working conditions have gone up tremendously due to the lack of qualified officers under STCW ’95. What was once a uninspected supply boat industry has become a major employer of qualified STCW ’95 officers for dynamic positioning, unlimited class research and supply boats, rigs and platform officers. I just met a young 3rd mate at MITAGS that works on a rig in the gulf. His starting salary was 100K! That was unheard of 5 years ago. The opportunity is definitely out there.
The second part of the question about the future depends on our economy. Hawsepipers will only enjoy success as long as there are jobs to fill. If companies decide to get out of the shipping business, or re-flag their fleet, it has terrible consequences for mariners. Believe me; shipping companies ponder this on a daily basis. I worked for a tanker company that analyzed that question all the time, and we never knew if our jobs would be there tomorrow. The future is something every new and current mariner should be very aware of, and we should all do our part to ensure success aboard all merchant marine vessels.
Where can we find out more about The New Hawsepipe?
The book is available through my Website at www.thenewhawsepipe.com. I strongly suggest that readers visit the Website because it is a tool intended to be used in conjunction with the book. There is a continuous bulletin board (blog) for mariners, instructors and anyone with experience they feel other people need to be aware of. I try and keep my ear as close to the Coast Guard as possible to find any and all rumors or facts and then post them accordingly. This way, information never ceases and mariners can get the most up to date news that affects their career. I cannot rely solely on myself; the more folks that share ideas and experiences the better prepared mariners will be. Information and regulations will never stop being piled on top of mariners. It is all of our duty to keep aware of this. The best way to do that is have a forum in which to input this knowledge. A lot like gCaptain!!
The book can also be viewed and purchased at most major online bookstores (Amazon.com
, Barnes and Noble, etc.) and many local shops. Any people who have purchased my book, or are thinking about becoming a mariner, feel free to contact me with any questions or comments via my Website or my email. I am currently taking all the required classes for chief mate / master at MITAGS in Baltimore, MD. I will be doing more appearances at schools and union halls to answer any questions and promote the book. Any upcoming appearances will be on my Website.
Thanks Leonard for taking the to answer these questions. They are all very important to all mariners; especially new hawsepipers!
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