Achievement: Master Any Gross Tons

Here’s my entry for the Daily Posts’ Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement challenge.

Master Unlimited license from the US Coast Guard

Master Unlimited license from the US Coast Guard

It might not seem like such a big deal just from looking at it (the old style was much more impressive), but it took me over 30 years of steadily working towards my goal to get one. I admit, it’s not usually THAT hard to get. It doesn’t take most people that long to get one (if it did, they wouldn’t be able to run all the ships we have running around the world).

This license shows the world that I am capable of running ANY ship, anywhere in the world (or at least that’s what it did mean before they started up with the new rules, there are some few restrictions now).

I know the usual path is for a person to go to one of our maritime universities. You can go to one of those schools and come out in 4 years with a bachelors degree AND a maritime license.

If you have the means to go to a 4 year university like that, you will come out with a 3rd mate license (or 3rd assistant engineer) and then you only need a year of sea time to get a 2nd mates license. One more year of sea time and you can get your Chief Mates license (along with a test). One year sailing as Chief Mate and you can get your Unlimited Masters license. So, you can become an Unlimited Master in only about 10 years, or even less if you’re lucky with finding the right kind of work.

That is the way MOST people get their license. I was not able to do it that way. First of all, I couldn’t afford to go to school for 4 years. I had to work. You can’t work offshore AND go to school. It’s really hard to be in 2 places at the same time!

Some people are able to go to Kings Point, the US Merchant Marine Academy. If you can get into that school, its FREE! I did try, but I was too fat to pass their physical. Then I tried to get in the Navy. Same problem- too fat.

So, I went to a 2 year program instead. I moved to Texas to go to the Ocean Marine Technology program at Brazosport College. It was a 2 year program that when you finished you would get an Associates Degree in Ocean Marine Technology AND both an AB (able body seaman) and a QMED (qualified member of the engine department).

It took me 5 years to finish, (and to my regret I never tested for the QMED so I can’t work in the engine department any more).

When I got out, I started working in the offshore oil field. I worked my way up from ordinary seaman, to able body seaman, to 1000 ton mate, to 1600 ton captain.

I started the OMT program in 1978. I was able to work my way up to 1600 ton master by 1986. It was NOT easy. I had a couple of strikes against me from the start. One, I was female and things were VERY hard for women trying to work offshore in those days. Two, I was fat. The job description is ABLE BODY seaman. Most people did (and some still do) discriminate against me for both of those reasons.

When I got my 1600 ton masters license from the Coast Guard, they gave me an unlimited 2nd mates license along with it. Like an IDIOT I gave it back to them! I had not asked for that license, simply because I didn’t feel completely confident in my ability to do that job. I didn’t want to be thrown into a situation where I might screw up and hurt somebody.

The Coast Guard officer who had just given me my license was shocked at my decision. Apparently no one else had ever given back their license they had earned before. But I was told that I could come back and get it at any time, whenever I wanted it.

BIG MISTAKE! The USCG changed the rules re: licensing without telling me (or anybody else). That was against their own rules, they are required to publicize it any time they want to change the rules, to prevent just exactly what happened to me!

When I did feel confident of my skills to run the bridge of a large ship, I went back to the USCG to ask for the 2nd mates license I should have already had. They informed me then that they had changed the rules and I could not have it. I would have to stop sailing as master/mate and go back down the ladder to sailing as AB in order to get a THIRD mates license!

WTF??!! I would have to go 2 steps down the ladder to earn again what I was already owed! I would have to work for a minimum of 3 years as AB to get that license back! So, I sucked it up and went and found a job as an AB on a ship large enough that it would count towards getting back that 2nd mates license I had already earned.

I was lucky to get a job with SeaRiver on their tankers. I spent a few years running up the West Coast to Alaska. I really enjoyed the job and they helped me get my third mates license. The only problem with them was, they told me they would NEVER promote me to third mate due to the fact that I was an “alcoholic”.

WTF??!! Yeah, I had a DWI, way back in 1982. When I asked for a promotion it was 1998 or so. Yeah, they consider you PERMANENTLY an alcoholic if you’ve EVER had any problem with it. WOW!

Considering their experience with the Exxon Valdez and the fact that they threw Captain Hazlewood under the bus to get the focus off of their company POLICY (which REALLY caused the accident), I can totally understand their reasoning. So I just quit. People told me I should have sued them over that, but it really wasn’t worth arguing with them about it to me (and I would have had to win millions since for sure I would have been black-balled).

For some reason, I decided to listen to my grandmother and go back to school. I had a bunch of money saved up. It was gone in 2 years. I had to go back to work. I took a job with Coastal Tankships as 3rd mate. I asked them in the interview if they had any problems with me being ‘an alcoholic” due to my long ago arrest for DWI. They laughed and basically welcomed me on board. 🙂

I had a great time working for Coastal as 3rd mate. I had some really great ABs that helped me learn how to be a good Third mate. I would have stayed there forever. But Coastal sold out to El Paso and they scrapped all their ships. 🙁

I had seen the writing on the wall since the buy-out and had already applied to Oceaneering. It took them over 6 months to actually hire me. It worked out well, since it gave me the time I needed to study and pass my Second mate exam. Talk about STRESS!

I passed the tests and got my Second mates license in January 2002. On February 1, 2002 the STCW 95 amendments went into effect. Whew! In by the skin of my teeth!! I had been hearing rumors of this huge change in the rules, but nobody had any real knowledge of what was going on. Even the USCG, who would be in charge of enforcing these new rules had NO idea when I asked them about it in November 2001 when I was applying to take the Second mates exam.

The problem (again) was that they didn’t notify anyone of what the rules were or how they would affect us. It is a rule that they HAVE to do that. They didn’t. So, I got ROYALLY SCREWED (again)!

I should have been able to simply get my 1 years sea time as second mate and then sit for my Chief Mates license. Since they changed the rules (again), I would now be forced to (re)take a dozen classes (each of which cost a minimum of $1000).

So, yes, I TRIED to protest. I wrote to everyone from the local USCG office to the President. No one was willing to consider my arguments (the fact that they did not follow their own rules, the fact that I had ALREADY taken each and every one of the required classes). All I got from any of them was that the USCG thought the rules were the rules and had to be followed (never mind the fact that THEY broke the rules)!

In the meantime, while I was trying to protest, I started taking the courses whenever I had both the time and the money together. It took me over 7 years and $50,000 (not counting the lost income I should have already been earning) to complete the courses so that I could apply to test for my Chief mates license!

I FINALLY got it and then had to get a minimum of 6 months sea time sailing AS CHIEF MATE. It was really hard to find a position as chief mate and so I did just get the bare minimum. I was able to use a full year sea time as Second mate to fulfill the requirements for Master.

I got my Masters unlimited license in December 2011. I was SO happy. I could hardly wait to get outside the building and shout YEAH! FINALLY GOT IT!!

If you click on the link, you can see what these license USED to look like.

printcert.pdf

8 thoughts on “Achievement: Master Any Gross Tons

  1. The long and winding road. Always cool to see the various paths people have taken to get where they are in life. Hopefully, others will come across this and learn from the errors we made. The biggest mistake in my life was to quit sailing in ’97 as an AB green. Finally came back 11/2011 thanks to a loophole for RFPNW. 1 year sea time between ’86-’88, which I was in the Navy so qualified. Makes no sense, but those were their rules fortunately. Don’t think I would have returned without it. Anyhow, congrats on achieving your dreams.

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