Take the time to check your papers


 had been home for about two weeks on vacation, having recently completed a 90-day tour as a second mate on a car carrier running between the U.S. West Coast and the Orient. Frankly, my mind wasn’t on work, but enjoying the time with my wife and our “four-legged” kids. 

As the days progressed, though, I began to think more about my planned upgrade to chief mate. Having completed everything else, all that was needed before testing was to verify that I had the 360 days of required sea time. 

So, one morning after breakfast I brought out my professional file and set it on the table, taking out all my copies of form CG-718A (Certificate of Discharge) from the ships I had sailed on since getting my second’s license. 

Tallying up my sea service I got a shocking realization – it was four days short. 

Adding up the sea time again twice, just to make sure, the reality of the shortcoming hit me. With my remaining vacation days added to the next three month work tour the company had scheduled for me, my upgrade to chief mate wouldn’t happen until the following year – not in six-eight weeks as I had planned.

Brooding about that unhappy prospect, as fate would have it, the phone rang. It was Bill Zazzo, who at the time was chief engineer on an inspected 208-foot oil spill response ship berthed in Puget Sound, one of a fleet of similar vessels positioned throughout the country. 

I told him my plight, and he replied, “You’re in luck, Kelly. My ship needs a relief mate. We’ll be moored for five days in Everett, will get underway for three days going to and from the Maritime Festival in Seattle, then wrap things up with two days at the dock in Everett. That should give you the time you need.” 

He could tell by my lackluster response I was skeptical. 

“I’ll tell the skipper that you’ll call back tomorrow,” he admonished “in the meantime quit your complaining and check out 46 CFR 10.232 (Part E).”

46 CFR 10.232 (Part E) is the section of the Code of Federal Regulations that deals specifically with sea time obtained on vessels that do not get underway, or get underway occasionally for short voyages, and applies specifically to those working in the deck department or engine room. 

So, in accordance with the ship’s Certificate of Inspection, sailing as a mate would get me one day of unlimited tonnage sea service for every three days we were at the dock, and equal time while underway. I called back the following morning. 

Luckily, the job was still open. At the end of the trip I paid-off the vessel with a little more than the four days of sea time needed for my upgrade, and before returning for my next work tour with my regular employer, had my chief mate license in hand. 

I never forgot how Bill helped me, and even after he was named Director of the Seattle Maritime Academy, we remained friends for many years.

The regulation gives merchant mariners the opportunity to obtain sea time, as a regular crew member or a relief, on hundreds of Coast Guard-inspected, U.S.-flag vessels operating around the country. These include not only oil spill response ships, but also tour boats, whale-watching vessels, and “dinner” boats, among many others. 

Chris, an able-seaman (special) I sailed with on a tanker, also had a 100-ton inland master’s license. 

When in need of some extra money due to his expanding family, he used his license to take people on a tour boat around New York harbor during the busy summer months. 

That not only gave him the money his situation required while allowing him to be at home with the family when his new baby arrived, but he also gained sea time for his next upgrade.

46 CFR 10.232 (Part E) also provides other opportunities for merchant mariners, like Capt. Ray, master of the 55-foot, 51-ton inspected passenger ferry Hat Express. 

Retired from his previous job, the ferry captain’s position is a perfect fit for him at this stage of his life, making around six roundtrips a week between the mainland and Gedney Island, a small community about four miles offshore in Puget Sound.

He enjoys being paid as a professional mariner while earning the sea service needed to keep his license current, with plenty of time to follow his other interests.

With the five days a week (or more) schedule that most people have, plus getting only two weeks of vacation a year if they’re lucky, not many industries offer the opportunities for well-paid short-term work that merchant mariners can enjoy and, in my opinion, the U.S. Coast Guard deserves our praise for making that possibility a reality. 

So whether you need to or just want to try something different or parttime with no risk jobwise, don’t be afraid to take advantage of the benefits 46 CFR 10.232 (Part E) has to offer. You never know where they could lead.

Till next time, I wish you all smooth sailin.’

Capt. Kelly Sweeney holds the license of master (oceans, any gross tons) and has held a master of towing vessels (oceans) license, as well. He has sailed on more than 40 commercial vessels and lives on an island near Seattle. He can be contacted by email at captsweeney@outlook.com