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IamA civilian ship Deck Officer currently employed by the U.S. Navy's Military Sealift Command and I'll be navigating across the globe AMA!

Jan 8th 2017 by TexasMaritime • 50 Questions • 2914 Points

Edit: I'll be back between my work breaks at like 9:30 pm central time. I answer the majority of my questions so don't worry if you think you're "too late" to ask a question. I will see it in a few hours.

I am currently a Third Officer employed by USN's MSC. MSC ships are primarily manned by Civilian Mariners (CIVMARs) and we sail wherever the U.S. Naval warships go. Our main purpose is to resupply U.S. and Allied vessels with fuel, ammuniton, food, and other stores. I graduated from Texas A&M Maritime Academy, one of six state academies across the United States with a degree in Marine Transportation and 3rd Mate license in hand. My primary responsibility is the safe navigation of the vessel at sea, as well as the security and safety of the vessel when in port.

We have been trained in many areas including terrestial/celestial/electronic navigation, varying seamanship, first aid, basic and advanced shipboard firefighting, firearms qualification, damage control, lifeboat and rescue boat command, deck maintenance, shipboard stability, dry and wet cargo operations, etc.

Some proof

Q:

Have you ever radioed a command to the deck in order for your vessel to be turned two degrees to port in order to get the sun out of your eyes while eating a bagel?

A:

I remember that story... but I'm the person who would recieve that call and then order my helmsman to move 30,000 tons of ship


Q:

I believe 30k tonnes would be a Destroyer. Carriers range up to 90k tons. Also, in case a normal post in this thread wouldn't make it... Thank you very much, especially during the long underways. I'm a sailor on a Destroyer that was stuck in the Persian Gulf for about 60 days straight. Unreps, mail, gifts from home... I didn't care about the hard work manually tugging a rugged steel cable across the water on rolling ships, because I knew we were getting something, and that kept our morale up when the deck was hot enough to instantly vaporize any water that fell on it. Your job makes ours easier, and is crucial, to the ship and the crew. Honestly, sincerely and respectfully, thank you for helping me make it through the deployment!

A:

Arleigj Burkes only displace like 8,000 tons fully loaded. They're very light for their 500+ feet of length.


Q:

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

A:

I'm legitimately getting paid a large amount of money to see the world. The view out of my "office" window is constantly changing with new ports or just endless ocean. I have always loved seeing Naval vessels (and yet never considered joining the Navy out of HS). Now I resupply them while at sea, or dock next to them in port.

I will sometimes go out onto the bridge wing at night and just stare at the starry sky, before running back inside to look at the radar for traffic. My job is just so freaking cool.


Q:

Yeah, and every sailor that works more than you and gets paid shit in the military hates you

A:

It's pretty true.


Q:

How dose getting paid more than all the enlisted Seamen make you feel?

A:

I feel somewhat bad because I know many work their assessment off for low pay (although good benefits) This is me


Q:

Right on man.

What is your feeling toward civilian yachtsmen? I like to sail and liveaboard and circumnavigation is in my future. How do you like amateurs vs. a pro such as yourself?

A:

Edit: Get radar reflectors and AIS too! Makes my job a lot less stressful.

What's funny to me is I never even grew up around boats. I had no family or friends with boats. I didn't grow up near water. I still don't own one and its never been a hobby. I have no idea on how to operate sails on a sailboat.

I've rear about people that navigate the globe in small vessels and I just think to myself, no way in hell I'm doing that. (Faculty and students from my school were even featured on the show "I shouldn't be alive" for when their sailboat capsized during a long distance race) It looks awesome but not for me. I find it especially important for small boaters to get good boating and safety education. I've personally seen and heard many, many stories/instances of untrained boaters going out, hindering ship navigation, getting lost, requiring rescue, etc. Before you can be rescued by others, you need to know how you can best rescue/assist yourself (Reminds me a recent summer - My ship was heading down a narrow channel and a couple was tandem kayaking in the middle of the channel. Same ship channel, we were needing to execute a large course change to move from the Houston Ship Channel to Galveston and an oblivious boater was directly in the middle of the turn. )

I don't like the pro label, haha. I'm fairly new to actually working and getting paid in my career, and I'm sure there are many boaters with excellent skills in navigation/weather/seamanship, that could teach me many tips I've never learned from just the shipboard aspects.


Q:

USS Deadass or USS Hennessey?

A:

USNS Deadass


Q:

Have you ever peed off the side of the boat?

A:

My Safety and Lifeboat instructor from freshman year threw a statistic at us. I'm not sure as to the validity of it, but he said 60% of men overboard were found with their zipper down, referring to them peeing when they fell over. So no. Edit: I believe his statistic was only referring to those found dead.


Q:

How about pier side?

A:

I'm just a toilet user.


Q:

How many of your colleagues are in healthy, stable relationships?

A:

Out of my ships deck department, all the older deck officers are actually. As the guy below me said, some crew may have several ladies. But it works for them and it's not my business.


Q:

Is 42 too late to join MSC? I'm current with MMC OS with inland OUPV endorsement, TWIC, and passport. I've completed the MSC application but still have many questions.

A:

MSC has literally had people as old as 80 still working for them on ships. So, apply within the next 38 years and you're still good.


Q:

For a newb os, what kind of deployments could I expect? Would I start out chipping paint?

A:

MSC schedule is minimum 4 months on the ship before you can go on your extended leave. You also accrue 2 days of shore leave per month. I've never used shore leave since I just go off the vessel after my 8-12 hour work day. Perhaps one day I'll take an entire day off. Yep, lots of chipping paint and deck work. Lots of working in the blistering sun or cold.


Q:

Are you able to get relieved on time? The guys I knew sailing with MSC as deck officers spent 10 months a year shipping due to a lack of reliefs? Good way to upgrade fast, but too much sea time for me.

A:

There are so many third mates waiting for ships right now. When I was in the 'pool' recently, there were 20 other third mates waiting for a ship too. It would make no sense if I was relieved more than a few days late (barring a last minute unexpected voyage as happened recently due to typhoon and unexpected UNREP)


Q:

I think you'll see that change once the oil industry comes back.

A:

Definitely


Q:

That's good for you guys. That wasn't the case in 03-04 when I got out of school. How long do you guys wait in the "pool". Is there a seniority process or is based on time since you last worked?

A:

I waited about 2 weeks for my first ship. And I suppose it's a bit of both. Once you get to know CIVMARS, they can help you get on a ship faster


Q:

One of the many backronyms for MSC is Mostly Senior Citizens. I'm 33, and I'm one of the youngest people in my ship's unlicensed deck department.

A:

Yeah, the people at the training center were telling us the average age is like 50-55.


Q:

Did you go on your freshman cruise on the Training Ship Golden Bear? (california maritime academy's ship) because if so there's a good chance I was on it with you. (i'm a cma engineer)

A:

Sailed SUNY freshman cruise. Awful awful


Q:

ah yes. i've heard stories. did you start at suny?

A:

Started at Texas but our ship only holds 50 cadets whereas SUNY holds like 500


Q:

I worked the Empire State VI after Hurricane Sandy (unlicensed engine watch), and she's a fine ship, at least while on the pier. How is she underway?

A:

I slept in a 156 man Cargo hold that had black mold. I had sinus congestion and a sore throat for a solid 45 days. The training was laughable. Bedside alarms going off at every hour as the ship runs 24/7. Disrespectful cadets being noisy, food was bland.


Q:

I am going to a job fair Thursday for military and ex-military, and I noticed Military Sealift Command was one of the employers that will be there.

Should I consider it for a career?

Would it even be possible as a National Guardsman who needs to go to drill every month in Florida?

A:

I don't think it'd work as a National Guardsmen but I would consider visiting the MSC booth anyways. 40% of MSC is ex military and they cater to a lot of former military skillsets. It is a federal job and they provide federal employee benefits and retirement. 5% matching in their Thrift Savings Plan, pretty good pay (keep in mind, I make about double of what my base pay is with overtime and everything, and the same holds true for several other deck department positions. An ordinary seaman with base pay $28,000 is likely to bring in 50k a year. A Third Officer with base pay of $60,000 is likely to bring in $120k or so.


Q:

On behalf of my fellow Navy and Marine veterans (active, reserve, separated, and retired), I salute you. If it wasn't for you we would have had quite some difficulty keeping stores, fuel, mail, and other various services. Thank you for your service to the military!

Do you stay attached to a specific fleet during deployments, or a particular region?

A:

Yeah, I'm currently deployed with Seventh Fleet with the U.S. Navy. I'm aboard a T-AO, part of the Combat Logistics Force.

Edit: Don't blame me for melted ice cream!


Q:

Coming from a maritime family, I appreciate the work you and all merchant marines do for the world.

How did you get into MSC?

What other options did you have for employment once you graduated?

A:

I applied for MSC after they visited my school with recruiters. I passed their physical and security clearance checks. I completed 3 additional months of training at their facilities before they put me aboard a ship.

Other post graduation employment that is possible: Apply to tanker companies like Shell or ConocoPhillip. Join a union and pay dues in order to work aboard unionized ships. Other people join harbor tug or pushboat companies. USCG tried to recruit graduates from my program to be officers in their Marine Safety Division, but I don't know anyone who joined that program. That program doesn't advance their license, and they get paid a lot less.


Q:

I was accepted to my country's merchant marine officer school out of high school but I ended up not taking the place - our navy trains officers alongside the civilian students for some components of their training, and I decided I could never be happy in that environment because,. Just for me personally, I'd have felt in some way 'inferior' to the military guys.

That's laughable knowing what I know now as I went on to get a commission as an army officer, but it makes me wonder; do you have any regrets about going the civilian route? And what's your relationship like with your navy counterparts? Fair seas and all that :)

A:

Many in the Navy view us as having the easy life, and as a result, many I've spoken to are jealous as well. Our work is specialized as is the Navy's, we just have more freedom in our lifestyles and work. That being said, they need us to keep them on station, and we need plenty of Navy vessels to resupply in order for us to be employed.


Q:

Have you ever worked with your cousins from across the pond, the Royal Fleet Auxillary?

A:

I personally have not. My ship did do Royal Navy vessels thougu such as the Type 45 last year.


Q:

What's your favorite, best and worst port stories?

A:

Ohhh man.... I can't even say on here some of the stuff I've seen or heard others do.


Q:

This is Reddit, we're pretty sure you can.

A:

Somewhere, there is a MSC employee back in Norfolk likely reading this entire thread.


Q:

When you're on the 0-8 watch in port, and the gangway is trying to reach you over the radio, how often are you asleep?

A:

As if anyone on the 0-8 has ever fallen asleep..... O.o


Q:

What was your career path like? From where you began to what you are now? I am considering joining the Navy soon, getting the experience and feel of being on a ship, and then hopefully with a third mates license from the Navy either find employment on cargo ships, or go to school for Marine Transport. Would that be a viable way to get into a career like yours?

A:

I went to Texas A&M Maritime Academy for the 4 year Bachelor of Science Marine Transportation degree along with the Third Mate License option . Prior, I had no maritime background, no family in the industry, no boats, no kayaks, nothing. Throughout the college program, most state Maritime Academies have you complete 3 summer training cruises. Mine were 45 days, 94 days, 80 days long in addition to the fall and spring semesters. An hour and a half or so after walking the graduation stage, I was presented with my 3rd Officer License and ready to go.

Some people start as an ordinary seaman through either MSC or other maritime training centers and unions and then spend several years working their way up. Keep in mind, either option requires the mastery of the sake number of skills. Working your way up from an ordinary seaman can definitely be difficult though. I personally enjoyed college.


Q:

How soon after graduating did you become employed? And how often are you away?

A:

I was given a conditional job offer 3 months before I graduated. I got sent to MSC training 3 months after graduating haha. We are on the ship a minimum 4 months at a time with this company before we can take leave. We can take up to 2 months leave but part of that is unpaid. Some other commercial companies have rotations of 3 months work, 3 months home, or 2 on 2 off.


Q:

Man I'm in college flying airplames but there's just something about ships that's so alluring. You're tempting me!

A:

I want to fly as well. I'm going to get a private pilots license within the next few years.


Q:

which fine Texas coastal city would that be located in? I know you feel at least a tad guilty, but there are legit reasons why the Navy outsources your job and in turn doesn't blink when overpaying it. Two reasons stand out. a)A careerist won't travel the world without family accommodation. Clearly, that's less a concern for you b) the training cost for the Navy is expensive. They are compensating you for that program. Simple as that. Enjoy it and don't look back.

A:

Galveston. And I love my job.


Q:

Dude! Have you seen/sailed on the Elissa?

A:

I've never sailed on it but I've visited the Elissa and the seaport museum a few times


Q:

Patrick?

A:

No, I'm Spongebob


Q:

Oh, ok, I know a guy who does what you do and that is his name. He is the boyfriend of a colleague of mine and i thought that it would be cool to have found him doing an AMA

A:

Oh haha my bad


Q:

The DoD seems to have many logistics arms. DLA, and each branch. The complications of logistics has so many moving parts, sounds like you're smack right in the middle of resupply but with a primary mission of navigation?

A:

I am a Deck Officer, with the exact same Third Mate's license that's used on container ships, cruise ships, tankers, dry bulk ships, etc. So my primary responsibility is the safe navigation (and general safety) of the ship. MSC' Combat Logistics Force (just part of MSC's mission, they have other ships too) directly resupplies Navy vessels while the ships are underway and moving.


Q:

Is it difficult to get into the Merchant Marine academy? I am top 5% of my Highschool class and have a good SAT score, but I live in a Landlocked state and only know one person ever to get into one of the academies.

A:

Idk if my message sent. You can easily get into the state Maritime Academies. Perhaps even the US Merchant Marine Academy, although their administration is in a bit of chaos right now. Definitely look into the state academies and see which one interests you. I believe Texas Maritime still does not have out of state tuition required for out of state cadets.


Q:

I heard the USN has started teaching celestial navigation again in order to operate in environments where GPS is spoofed or jammed. Has anyone on your ship been through the school? Does your ship have the equipment to navigate by stars?

A:

Merchant Mariner schools never stopped teaching celestial. It's a requirement to get your 3rd Mate license as well. I took a semester long celestial navigation course, did 2 celestial projects on my summer cruises, and did more celestial in my senior year navigator class which prepared us for the coast guard exam. And yes. We have like 6 sextants on board for taking celestial shots.

Every deck officer working on ships has had to pass celestial navigation exams and requirements. Whether or not they remember it is a different story since it's not used much when your GPS says where you are instantly.


Q:

How long is the school for this at a Maritime Academy?

A:

4 year bachelor of science degree but it can be completed in 3. You graduate with a degree and third mates license (provided you meet all licensing requirements and pass the major test )


Q:

How did you know you wanted to grow up being a Marie Transportator?

A:

I joined the program after seeing the school ship, brochures, and ship simulator on a campus tour. So 2 months before I even started the program, I had no idea it even existed. Nor did I have a background in boating. I just thought the ship and simulator were so cool.


A:

Third Officer, the junior most member of the deck department officers. 3rd/2nd/Chief Officer/Captain.


Q:

Oh, wow. I'm mixing my shit up. I was thinking, as in, Captain, Ensign, ect.

A:

That's all military officers, we are civilians employed by the Navy.


Q:

Mariner in training here. I'm studying marine engineering which as you know is polar opposite of what y'all do with a deck license. Only about a year left until I get my license as a. 3 A/E. What are some things you wish you knew about the engine side? And also, what are some deck skills you think would be good for an engineer to know?

A:

It's funny because I know jack about car engines, let alone ship engines. We took a semester long Marine Engineering 101 course taught by the Chief Engineer so I have some idea of what operations are going on. My school also had us rotate through engine room watches (to see what engineers do on a daily basis) and that was helpful and interesting. Conversely they sent engineer cadets to the bridge to watch what we do. Get to the bridge and stand a couple 4 hour watches if possible. Learn the basics of the equipment we use, see how responsive the ship is to turning/maneuvering at a given amount of rudder angle or rpms.


Q:

Yeah I go to SUNY Maritime so I know exactly what you mean by engine and bridge observer watches. I think that Cel nav is extremely cool to learn but it sounds like a pain in the ass in all honesty. But I was reading previous comments and in all honesty you couldn't be more right about us having unreal jobs. We travel the world and see places people dream of before we're even 25, and we get paid white collar money to do blue collar work. Doesn't get much better!

A:

Celestial takes forever to do. There are computer programs that can compute your numbers for you now instead of having to dig through like 4 books but I haven't learned how to use the computer program yet.


Q:

What is your acceptable CPA with a vessel over 60ft without notifying anybody? And nice EEBD pic hahaha

A:

Depends on the night and standing orders. Often 2m CPA is pretty common. Sometimes there is so much fishing traffic that the captain is just like, "try and get a .5 mile CPA", or, "just don't hit them."


Q:

Am I missing something, or is the US military using you civilians as a cheaper replacement for military personnel?

A:

It's my understanding that we do wind up cheaper than military personnel. That being said, I make more than $9,000 every 28 days so I can't exactly be that cheap 0.0.


Q:

My cousin is in the merchant marine and after a decade the biggest thing he can say about it is: boredom. His stories are mostly about being stationed at port, without being allowed to leave the ship for months on end, rarely getting to travel and getting fat. Is this something that sounds common to you at all? Does the vessel you get assigned to or any other detail make a big difference on what your experience at sea is like?

A:

We get off the ship daily usually. I leave the ship all the time.


Q:

Are you an SSO?

A:

No, the Strategic Sealift Officer program never interested ke in school. Furthermore, I wouldn't have met the criteria at the time. I know many former SSO who got out of the program as soon as their 4 year/8year? reserve commitment ended. They say accruing time that counts towards retirement is difficult.


Q:

So first I was wondering what Mediterranean Shipping Company had to do with USN, but google helped.

Do you have to be a US citizen to apply?

Also; how's the grub?

A:

I believe MSC is all U.S. citizens. I'm thankful that I've been in port for so long recently because I eat at different restaurants every day to avoid the ship mess hall. Breakfast is fine though, I eat a daily omelet usually.


Q:

What's the background check like for MSC? Should guys with any kind of record give it a shot?

A:

Keep in mind the work is aboard U.S. Navy owned ships so there is very little wiggle room. Everyone here is a federal employee and are expected to be held to a certain level of standards.


Q:

Do you have family/asignificant other? If so, does it get hard being so far away from them/him/her?

A:

A girlfriend but fortunately she's in a master's program so she's pretty occupied during the day. It's difficult but at the same time, I'm financially independent. I save a lot of money by being on the ship. And I can splurge when I'm back home. Need to make up for months of missed dates and outings and events. We plan what events we will do when I'm back and it's great. We aren't dreamers, we are doers. If there is an activity we want to do, we will do it and not mind the money spent.