It was during my last hitch that I decided I would not be coming back to shipping.
It was not because of bad experiences, because I had plenty of good ones, too. I wanted to get married, have a family and be able to go home every day. The decision was years in the making and not one I made lightly.
I disliked being away for long periods and then having to travel during downtime for training. Plus, the insecurity of the job itself made it difficult to achieve the goals I set for my life. It was time to come ashore.
Now, four years later, I have a satisfying career using skills I learned at sea. Making the transition, however, will vary for everyone based on their background and their individual situation. Here is how it worked for me, and what I learned along the way.
I graduated from California State University Maritime Academy in 2013 as a third mate. Even then, I wasn’t completely sure what my long-term plans were, or if I even wanted to make a career in the maritime industry. I attended Cal Maritime because of the high employment rate it boasted upon graduation. And going to sea was something I could see myself doing, at least for a little while. It was important to me that I got a degree, which helped a great deal down the road. I sailed for about three years, working on tugboats towing container barges for six-weeks-on/three-weeks-off rotations, four-month contracts on a bulker ship and a roll-on, roll-off ship (ro-ro) prior to making a career change.
The big picture to consider before coming shoreside is that most, if not all, of your training certificates will expire, and it would be expensive to renew them on their own. Should you choose to commit to coming ashore, you may get to a point where your trainings are about to expire, and you will need to make a difficult decision: stay the course and accept forfeiting your opportunity to return to sea or ship out again.
After returning to shore, I utilized every resource I could find, including online job posting sites, in search of a new job. These included Cal Maritime’s alumni website, which had a list of job openings that pertained to maritime industry shore side careers, and maritime publications. I also attended alumni events to see if anyone had any insights or at least suggestions. My job search took a long time, and it included many rejection emails and first interviews with no return calls.
After about four months, I was hired on at my first shoreside job as a construction project superintendent at a boatyard. I am grateful for that opportunity because if that company hadn’t taken a chance on me, I believe I would have been stuck at square one for a long time. I learned new skills, including project planning and project management, and I got to work as a superintendent on highly detailed jobs such as welding, sandblasting and painting, pipefitting and machinery. After about two years, I started looking for a position I could enjoy for the long term.
Fast forward a couple months, I had only had a couple interviews and was once again preparing for a long search. I was surprised when I received an email asking if I was interested in a position as a facilities manager at an aeronautics facility. The interview process went on for three visits, and after my third, I was offered the job, which I gladly accepted. I left the boatyard on good terms, grateful for the chance to have proven myself, but was excited for the new opportunity.
Here I am, four years later, at that facilities management job as a contractor for NASA Ames Research Center’s Fluid Mechanics Lab, where I continue to grow my jack-of-all-trades skillsets as not only a facility manager, but as a safety manager and quality manager. Just last year, I was promoted to the role of task manager, where I oversee a team of researchers and other contract staff. I have finally found a place where I feel like I fit, where I enjoy my work and the company of the people I work with, and feel fulfilled for the eight hours a day I’m at work. Best of all, I don’t worry about work once I leave for the day.
My advice to anyone considering this kind of change is to be open-minded in your job hunt. You never know who may be looking for someone with your skills (and you have a lot of them). You need a resume that you can post to online job boards, as well as LinkedIn. If you graduated from a maritime academy, use your school’s career resource center, or find an online resource to help with resume development and editing.
If you are looking for a specific job, tailor your resume to that job using key words from the posting. For example, I edited my resume for my facilities manager job to include topics such as maintenance, safety inspections, recordkeeping and handling audits with the USCG and OSHA. In the interview, I argued that taking care of a ship is like taking care of a facility, and that turned out to be a compelling point for the hiring panel. Most importantly, remember that you can do it, help is there for you if you need it — and, in the end, it’s all worth it.