Marooned by the U.S. Coast Guard

To  Capt. Kelly Sweeney,
 I appreciate your recent article about the CG  and mariner’s documents. (PM #111)
It is likely you have many accounts like mine, but i thought you may still read my case, a typical stew of mariner’s frustration.   I write my brief mainly to get it off my chest while i look for another profession.
 Thanks for taking the needed soundings and ringing the bell.    RPH
       by Richard P. Hayman       March 2008
I have been a mariner for 25 years in various ways, but my career has now come to a halt due to the USCG lack of recognition of sea time to upgrade my license.
I have been told that there is no way may I sit for an Ocean Certification and there is no point in my pursuing further professional training.   I am stumped in my appeals to the system, as the New York REC will not even answer my letters nor return phone calls.
My career is up through the hawse pipe.   After regular college and some shore work, I began working around the world for 9 years 1981-1989 in ship operations on chartered cruise vessels for Lindblad Travel, aboard the Explorer (the recently stricken ship off Antarctica), and various small ships of Chinese, Russian, Chilean and other registries.   
I worked 1994-2000 in China as Director of Operations for Victoria Cruises on the Yangzi River in charge of 10 river liners with crew of some 2000, a joint venture with the China State Shipping Co..  
In the meantime, I sat for exam and was issued a USCG 100 ton master near coastal license even while my work had me on various ships in management of foreign flag ships.
I returned to stay home in the US and worked as captain of various sail vessels and have tried to upgrade my license with added training at Kings Point GMATS and SUNY Maritime.    But the Coast Guard will not credit any of my foreign flag sea time and thus keeps my license small and local.    My mentor at the Maritime College told me ‘not to bother’ with any more training as it would never be allowed to be applied.  What other profession has this recommendation?
In recent years have also worked as a maritime historian lecturer aboard major cruise lines – Cunard, Regent, Seabourn – to numerous seas and ports all over the world, allowing me a comprehensive view of their operations.    This sea time is also dismissed by the CG examiner.   I would apply for full time position on these American owned lines, except that they hire no Americans on the deck or in operations.   It was suggested to me that I emigrate to Norway or the UK if I wanted to be considered.
When I was offered a job last year as captain of the Amistad schooner on its trans-Atlantic voyage, I appealed to the CG for an Ocean Certification.    Denied permission to sit for the exam, I had to forego the opportunity to much consternation as my multinational and multilingual experience is just what the Amistad educational organization was seeking.  
I am in a bind as are many other mariners:  no sea time, no upgrade : no upgrade no opportunity for position to earn sea time.   That I have extensive international experience counts for nothing ‘States side”.     The offhand advice from the REC official was to get a local tug AB or mate job that may eventually go offshore, then up the tonnage eventually.  That may fit the bureaucratic model, but at my point in life, ready for a more senior responsibility, this is not feasible or a good use of my experience.
This system is so dis-incentivising that I wonder why anyone would pursue the mariner profession.   I always thought the accumulation of experience was valued in the maritime.  But now I have told my teenage sons not to even consider the career, as there are so few good sea positions, even with an academy degree, and an excess of regulation that strangles initiative and innovation.    Better get a desk job with the CG and push papers for a steady paycheck and pension, unlike what is offered most mere sailors.   As once commented a MARAD administrator,  “This is an industry that denies and devours its young.”
If these conditions continue for another decade, it seems inevitable that the inland and coastal maritime will be so strapped for competent mariners, it will be forced to open to foreign flag and immigrant permit personnel, just as most of the deep sea work has already been given away for decades.   Venerable Councils and Unions?  How about paddlewheels and mizzen spankers?   Get ready to welcome the Phillipine Navy to your local dock!    
Replace the USCG license management of mariners with a more nimble and encouraging industry organization.     An industry funded and directed organization could also provide coordination of educational opportunities, apprenticeships and scholarships.  If the US maritime needs personnel to function, get the wet cold blanket of an unresponsive government bureaucracy off the back of those who are ready willing and able bodied to get the jobs done.    Leave the Coast Guard to its essential security, inspection and navigation functions.
My personal plans are now to retire to shore work, as it is unlikely there will be any flexibility in licensing or the ever tightening security constraints and liability risks for mariners.   Homeland Insecurity Rules!    I will enjoy the water in my later years from my canoe rather than beg a system that is proudly unyielding in its favors to mariners.  
Best wishes to those who can make headway against the wind and tides!

By Professional Mariner Staff