Even after 20 years and more than 15,000 students, the importance of what professional mariners take away from their studies at the Gloucester, Va.-based Chesapeake Marine Training Institute isn’t lost on Captain Guy Sorensen.
“We know that, through much of our training, we are saving lives and property at sea,” said Sorensen. “That in itself carries a lot of responsibility, and is extremely rewarding.”
Sorensen, honored to be celebrating the school’s 20th anniversary, founded Chesapeake Marine Training Institute (CMTI) in 1992 with a mission to deliver competitive, high quality products and superior marine related instruction and services to professional mariners.
Sorensen enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard after high school. He came up through the ranks, moving to Chief Petty Officer, Chief Warrant Officer, and received a direct commission to Lieutenant as a Surface Operations Specialist. He retired as a Lieutenant Commander after 30 years of service.
His duty stations gave him experience in every type of water – from the East Coast Atlantic Ocean, to the North Pacific Ocean, the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and to all five of the Great Lakes. Sorensen served as the commanding officer at Coast Guard Station Annapolis in Maryland before retiring out of Coast Guard Training Center Yorktown in Virginia.
Sorensen holds a Coast Guard license as Master, Any Gross Tons on Inland and Great Lakes waters, Master 1600 Gross Tons on off shore waters and Able Seaman Unlimited.
It was while in Yorktown that Sorensen saw the need for dedicated, professional marine training.
“It seemed that most training programs available to mariners seeking a Coast Guard license were only teaching the answers to a bunch of test questions and not educating the mariner with important skills and knowledge,” Sorensen said. “There had to be a better way.”
In 1992, Sorensen advertised and held CMTI’s first class, a Captain’s Course for mariners seeking their Coast Guard Licenses up to 100 Gross Tons.
“That first class had four students in it,” Sorensen said. “All four of them completed our training and passed the Coast Guard examinations on their first attempt at the Regional Exam Center in Baltimore, which was almost unheard of back then.”
The second class had eight students, with nearly all of them referred by the first four.
Today, CMTI trains roughly 1,000 students per year in more than 30 Coast Guard approved courses that offer on-site testing at the school.
That on-site testing component is an important aspect of CMTI, Sorensen said.
In the early days of CMTI, Sorensen’s students would travel to CMTI to take the courses, but still have to test for their certifications at a Coast Guard facility. CMTI was among the first training centers to gain approval to administer the tests themselves – saving time and money for the mariners.
In 2002, Marine Log magazine called CMTI one of the top maritime educational, recruitment and training resources in the nation. Its instructors are seasoned mariners, holding a current USCG License as Master with a minimum of five years at sea experience. CMTI also has Licensed Consultants trained by the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center as Mariner Credentialing Agents. These experts are on hand to help each mariner through their licensing application process, Sorensen said.
CMTI originally started out in leased office and classroom space and rapidly grew into its current modern training facility that occupies more than 8,000 square feet. CMTI features seven classrooms, state of the art RADAR simulators and more than 12,000 square feet of outside training area that provides a variety of hands-on training.
CMTI’s students have come as far as Africa and as near as Gloucester County. CMTI instructors have trained, among other students, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, the North Carolina and Virginia Department of Transportation Ferry System, U.S. Army, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Virginia, Maryland and Sandy Hook Pilots Association, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and numerous major towing companies throughout the mid-Atlantic as well as recreational boaters seeking their Captain’s licenses.
Sorensen said he has been asked over the years why ‘Chesapeake’ is in the name of the company when the mariners he serves come from all over and the school is located in Gloucester County.
“A chosen name for a business is important, and I chose ‘Chesapeake’ for a reason.” Sorensen said. “The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary, a semi-confined body of water connected to the ocean. It’s there that freshwater from the land and saltwater from the ocean meet. It’s in this spirit of water mixes of the mighty Chesapeake that CMTI was founded – to become a premier training provider for the mariners who sail upon the fresh, brackish and salt waters of the world.”
The future for CMTI is bright. It includes adjusting to changes in professional mariner training and adding in lifeboats to the enhance training program – two, 28-foot lifeboats.
“We’ve stayed focused on our core mission and values,” said Sorensen. “We’ll continue to seek the Coast Guard approved courses and serve the professional and recreational mariner.”