Many U.S. military veterans transition into the commercial maritime industry following their retirement from service. There are many careers in the commercial maritime industry that are well-suited to military veterans’ training and skills, and veterans often spend long careers as “merchant mariners” in both inshore and offshore waters.
Working as a merchant mariner carries risks. While many U.S. military veterans are no strangers to encountering risks on the job, those who transition into careers as merchant mariners must still heed these risks and protect themselves accordingly. Among other things, this means obtaining all necessary training and certifications, knowing how to identify risks on the job and on the water, and knowing how to avoid these risks when necessary.
Merchant Mariner Training and Certification Programs
Before going into a job as a merchant marine, most veterans will need to obtain job-specific training and certification. The United States is a party to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), which establishes the qualifications for merchant mariners who embark on international voyages. Veterans who are transitioning to careers as merchant mariners must complete STCW training in order to obtain their U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) licenses and other necessary qualifications. There are several maritime academies that offer accredited STCW programs, including:
- California Maritime Academy
- Great Lakes Maritime Academy (Michigan)
- Maine Maritime Academy
- Massachusetts Maritime Academy
- State University of New York (SUNY) Maritime College
- Texas Maritime Academy
- U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (New York)
Through STCW training, veterans can obtain two main types of qualifications in addition to USCG licensure. These are the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and the Merchant Marine Credential (MMC):
Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC)
The TWIC is required under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 for all merchant mariners who will have access to secure areas of U.S. vessels and maritime facilities. The TWIC program is jointly administered by the USCG and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and completion of the program results in the receipt of a TSA biometric credential.
The TWIC program is essential for both the safety of merchant mariners and the United States. As many veterans know all too well, domestic security threats are very real. Merchant mariners can face dangers while stationed onboard vessels or at maritime facilities that house sensitive information or technology, and the requirement for TWIC credentialing helps minimize the risks for all merchant mariners.
Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC)
The Merchant Marine Credential (MMC) is required for all merchant mariners who work onboard vessels of greater than 100 gross registered tons. As the American Maritime Partnership explains, “the MMC is an ‘All-in-One’ Credential that combines the merchant mariner’s document, qualifications, and endorsements, including all STCW Endorsement into a single credential that serves as the mariner’s qualification document, certificate of identification, and certificate of service.”
Similar to the TWIC, the MMC allows veterans who transition to the commercial maritime industry to work safely, and it helps to improve the safety of vessels in navigation overall. A team of skilled and highly-trained workers will have a better understanding of the risks they can face when they make mistakes and will have the capabilities they need to prevent, manage and resolve risks on the job.
In addition to the TWIC and MMC, many merchant mariners will need specialized credentials and endorsements as well. The following credentials and endorsements provide safety and other training for specific onboard occupations:
- Able Seaman (AB)
- Chief Engineer or Assistant Engineer
- First Class Pilot
- Designated Duty Engineer
- Master 100 Ton
- Master of Towing Vessels
- Master Unlimited Tonnage
- Qualified Member of the Engine Department (QMED)
- Third Mate
- Uninspected Passenger Vessel
Common Job-Related Risks for Merchant Mariners
On the water, things can go wrong very quickly, and help could be hours away. As a result, safety needs to be a priority for both maritime companies and their employees. Unfortunately, companies don’t always put their employees’ safety first. This means that workers face unnecessary risks, and preventable accidents happen far more often than they should. Some of the most common job-related risks veterans face while working as merchant mariners include:
- Adverse weather and sea conditions
- Dangerous ropes and lines
- Electrical hazards
- Engine room malfunctions
- Fires and explosions
- Inadequate vessel maintenance
- Overloaded ships, cranes, and cargo holds
- Spills and fallen objects
- Unsecured cargo
- Unsecured cranes and equipment
- Unskilled and reckless coworkers
Avoiding Risks on the Job and on the Water
As merchant mariners, what can veterans do to mitigate these risks—and protect themselves as well as those around them? Here are five key ways that veterans can help mitigate dangers on the water:
1. Obtain All Necessary Training and Certifications
Get the training you need to stay safe in your new career as a merchant mariner. Learn what you need to know in order to make informed decisions and avoid potentially dangerous mistakes.
2. If You See Something, Say Something
If you see something that makes you concerned for your safety or the safety of those around you, say something. It is always best to err on the side of caution while on a vessel in navigation.
3. Help Coworkers Who Present Safety Risks
Not everyone onboard a vessel will have the same skills and understanding of the risks they present to themselves and others. If you see a coworker making mistakes, let them know, and help out if you can.
4. Monitor the Weather and Sea Conditions
Weather and sea conditions can change quickly, and forecasts are not always reliable. If conditions become hazardous, workers may need to secure their equipment and take shelter inside of their vessel or facility.
5. Don’t Take Unnecessary Risks
You are no longer in the military; and, as a private citizen working in the commercial maritime industry, you are not expected to put your life on the line. If you feel that a job task presents unnecessary risks, you are well within your rights to speak up and raise your concerns.
Speak with a Jones Act Lawyer in Confidence
When merchant mariners get injured on the job, they can – and should – assert their legal rights under the Jones Act. If you need help seeking benefits after an on-the-job injury as a veteran and merchant mariner, we encourage you to call 800-468-4878 or contact us online for a free and confidential consultation.Share This