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Waterway and Maritime Transportation

Many types of workers are needed to sail ships and move cargo to international ports or ports on America's coast and inland waters. Keep reading to find out more about credentialing and training requirements, earnings and employment in waterway and maritime transportation.

Is Waterway and Maritime Transportation for Me?

Career Overview

Waterway and maritime transportation, also known as marine transportation, refers to the shipping of goods and transporting of people worldwide. In this field, you might sail and maintain sea-going vessels or those that travel inland passages like the Mississippi River or Great Lakes. Examples of the vessels you could work aboard include cruise ships, merchant ships and barges. As a waterway and maritime transportation professional, you may be employed in the shipping or tourism industry, by the government or in the military; shore positions include port managers.

Some waterway and maritime transportation jobs will keep you aboard ship and absent from home for extended periods. The maritime industry harbors potential dangers due to sailing in bad weather or handling machinery and freight.

Career Options

The top job on any ship belongs to the captain. As captain you'll control the vessel, oversee the crew and keep passengers and freight secure. Deck officers work directly under the captain and take charge in the captain's absence.

You could also become a pilot and maneuver vessels through difficult waterways. Sailors, also called seamen, perform most of the labor aboard vessels. Engineers, assisted by marine oilers, work on the engines and equipment that keep ships operating.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for captains, mates and pilots were expected to increase by 14% nationwide between 2012 and 2022, which is slightly faster than the national average of 11% for all job sectors. Openings for ship engineers were predicted to grow by 8%, with a 16% increase in employment expected for sailors and marine oilers during the same period.

As of May 2013, the median annual salary for captains and deck officers was $69,920. In the same year, ship engineers earned a median salary of $69,660, while sailors and marine oilers made $38,960 (www.bls.gov).

How Can I Work in Waterway and Maritime Transportation?

Education and Training Requirements

Educational requirements vary in the maritime industry. Officers and some other positions require a degree. Other workers, like sailors and marine oilers, learn the needed skills through on-the-job training. You'll typically need to earn a bachelor's degree from a merchant marine school to get hired as an engineer, officer or pilot. Some programs include the option of becoming a reserve officer in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Degree Options and Curriculum

Degree programs at maritime academies usually combine classroom learning with sailing aboard a ship. Undergraduate majors are designed to prepare you for a specific Merchant Marine Credential (MMC) from the U.S. Coast Guard and allow for specialized studies of marine transportation, vessel operations and technology or marine engineering. Core curriculum requirements typically include courses in business and industry-specific training in nautical science, navigation, shipping regulations and naval architecture. While other coursework can vary with the major, you may also study meteorology, economics and ocean shipping.

Alternative Training Options

Formal schooling at a maritime academy isn't the only path to a career in waterway and maritime transportation. Some aspiring mariners skip maritime school and instead qualify for captain and officer jobs by serving as a deckhand and meeting training and testing requirements.

Credentials and Licensing

To comply with security regulations, you'll need to obtain a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Nearly all positions in waterway and maritime transportation require a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC). Endorsements to the credential can be earned after meeting certain testing and work requirements and may lead to promotions. A state-issued license is necessary to work as a ship pilot; a license from the U.S. Coast Guard can qualify you to pilot in the Great Lakes.

Additional Waterway and Maritime Transportation Programs