February 18, 2018

Part II: An Open Letter to the National Maritime Center or Why My Military Sea Service Should Count Towards a Merchant Mariner Credential

I recently applied for, fought like crazy (almost an entire year) and then, finally, received my Merchant Mariner Credential from the United States Coast Guard. What does that mean? It means I’m a licensed Captain, by the USCG, and can operate a vessel under 100 gross tons and get paid for it. And it means you must call me “Captain”, “Skipper” or “Sir” any time you’re on my boat. No exceptions.

Why was it such a battle? The USCG didn’t want to accept my military sea service on submarines (nearly 1,000 days at sea) as being applicable towards their OUPV (Operator of Un-inspected Passenger Vessel) Merchant Mariner Credential. The requirement from the USCG is 365 days at sea for their entry-level license.

I had to resubmit my application twice, make multiple phone calls and emails and dig up all sorts of supporting documentation. Towards the end of the process, in exasperation,  I wrote this letter to the lady I was working with at the National Maritime Center.

The reason I’m even writing about this is in hopes that what I’ve learned about crediting military sea service will helps others in similar situations. What follows is a letter I wrote to the National Maritime Center with regards to my experience and why, specifically, military sea service and experience affords a much better captain on the water than just someone who has built up days from his 17′ fishing boat.

If you have military sea service that you want to credit towards a Merchant Mariner Credential, read Part I and (coming soon) Part III, where I discuss some of the technical aspects of submitting your package and what you’ll need to do to credit military sea service.


I think the issue, from talking to her, is that they just don’t understand how the Navy works unless it’s a few specific rates that are common to their application process. She didn’t understand how I could be a Seaman and a Sonar Technician at the same time. I explained to her that in the Navy we do multiple jobs under one name depending on the situation. I’ve been a radio & satellite operator in the middle of the jungle in Uganda too, but that has no bearing on the license.

I was a Seaman first, then advanced to become a Sonar Technician Seamen, then Petty Officer and so on, up through the ranks.
What they were really looking for was something in writing that says I stood deck watches. Well, I really don’t have anything that says I’ve stood a watch on the bridge of a ship unless you KNOW what a Sonar Technician does and that’s what I tried to explain to her. It’s inherent with the knowledge of what a submarine Sonar Technician does, we help drive the boat (and a whole ton of other duties). Submarines have a three-dimensional navigational problem to work through and that’s where we (STS) come in.
The other thing that kills me, some guy off the street that owns a 17 foot fishing boat and goes fishing for a few years (maybe even lies about his sea service time), takes the exams, pays the fees and applies for an OUPV would get one, no problem. Just because he’s got enough time on his personal boat and they don’t question that. He has no practical application of knowledge on how to stand a proper watch. Or of proper communication procedures or the responsibilities of a watchstander and someone who is in charge of a great deal of people not to mention billions of dollars of government property. If I, as a submarine Sonar Technician Supervisor, failed to do my job while on watch, I would be fired along with the Officer of the Deck, the Navigator and others and, quite possibly, cause loss of lives.
Nearly all of my watch standing experience; I have answered DIRECTLY to the Officer of the Deck. No one else. I have supervised my own watch section whose responsibilities were safe navigation and contact avoidance. I made my recommendations and reports DIRECTLY to the OOD. That experience is worth far above an OUPV (Operator of Un-inspected Passenger Vessels) license, even if I wasn’t turning the rudder. In fact, I think that the experience I’ve gained from the military should put me above most OUPV and even Master 100 Ton applicants. In the military, the submarine Navy specifically, we demand a higher level of standards for watchstanding than most civilian mariners on the water.
Those ideals, those standards, those habits – they’re ingrained in my brain. Every time I get in my boat to get underway, I go through a mental checklist to make sure I’ll be safe on the water (we call that Operational Risk Management). When I’m approaching another vessel I actually determine who has right away and then abide by that (we both know that’s uncommon). I usually walk through what I’m thinking with other people on the boat so they’ll learn the Rules of the Road too (in the military, we pass on knowledge to those junior to us because they’ll be standing the watch one day).
I explain safety procedures and what to do if I fall overboard to new-comers aboard my boat. I file “voyage plans” with my wife if I’m going out by myself. I constantly look and think ahead to watch other vessels and see what they’re doing and where they’re going, well before a situation exists that puts my passengers, crew and boat in extremis (akin to a mantra that we, in the Navy live by: Ship, Shipmate, Self). I consult charts, tide tables, weather & wind reports and sailing guides before I leave.
I keep my cool about me when something untoward is about to happen. I learned to do that by dealing with stressful situations in the military and carrying large amounts of responsibility while ON WATCH aboard a nuclear powered submarine.
All of that I’ve learned from the Navy. I knew to do all of that before I even owned my boat. Aren’t those the type of habits the USCG is looking to verify with their licensing process? Yet they’re questioning the validity of my 10+ years of training that I’ve received from the United States Naval Submarine Force.
This is what makes it hard for me to swallow the pill that “you don’t have documented deck watch standing experience”! Do they want me to demonstrate helm orders? I have those memorized from hearing them every day for the THREE CONSECUTIVE YEARS I’ve spent at sea!
Part III: Documents and References Required to Submit Your Merchant Mariner Credential Using Military Sea Service (coming soon)

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