of the Work:
The movement of huge amounts of cargo, as well as passengers, in
and out of U.S. waters and sometimes over the oceans depends on
workers in water transportation occupations, also known as merchant
mariners. They operate and maintain civilian-owned deep-sea merchant
ships, tugboats, towboats, ferries, barges, offshore supply vessels,
cruise ships, and other waterborne craft on the oceans, the Great
Lakes, rivers, canals, and other waterways, as well as in harbors.
(Workers who operate watercraft used in commercial fishing are described
in the section on fishers and fishing vessel operators.)
mates, and pilots of water vessels operating on domestic waterways
or on U.S. flagged deep sea ships command or supervise the operations
of these ships and water vessels. Captains or masters are in overall
command of the operation of a vessel, and they supervise the work
of all other officers and crew. Together with their department heads,
captains ensure that proper procedures and safety practices are
followed, check to make sure that machinery and equipment are in
good working order, and oversee the loading and discharging of cargo
or passengers. They also maintain logs and other records tracking
the ships' movements, efforts at controlling pollution, and cargo
and passengers carried.
officers or mates direct the routine operation of the vessel for
the captain during the shifts when they are on watch. On smaller
vessels, there may be only one mate (called a pilot on some inland
towing vessels), who alternates watches with the captain. The mate
would assume command of the ship if the captain became incapacitated.
When more than one mate is necessary aboard a ship, they typically
are designated chief mate or first mate, second mate, third mate,
etc. Mates also supervise and coordinate activities of the crew
aboard the ship.
and mates determine the course and speed of the vessel, maneuvering
to avoid hazards and continuously monitoring the vessel's position
with charts and navigational aids. Captains and mates oversee crew
members who steer the vessel, determine its location, operate engines,
communicate with other vessels, perform maintenance, handle lines,
and operate equipment on the vessel. They inspect the cargo holds
during loading to ensure that the load is stowed according to specifications
and regulations. Captains and mates also supervise crew members
engaged in maintenance and the primary upkeep of the vessel.
guide ships in and out of harbors, through straits, and on rivers
and other confined waterways where a familiarity with local water
depths, winds, tides, currents, and hazards such as reefs and shoals
are of prime importance. Pilots on river and canal vessels usually
are regular crew members, like mates. Harbor pilots are generally
independent contractors who accompany vessels while they enter or
leave port. Harbor pilots may pilot many ships in a single day.
engineers operate, maintain, and repair propulsion engines, boilers,
generators, pumps, and other machinery. Merchant marine vessels
usually have four engineering officers: A chief engineer and a first,
second, and third assistant engineer. Assistant engineers stand
periodic watches, overseeing the safe operation of engines and machinery.
oilers and more experienced qualified members of the engine department,
or QMEDs, assist the engineers to maintain the vessel in proper
running order in the engine spaces below decks. These workers lubricate
gears, shafts, bearings, and other moving parts of engines and motors;
read pressure and temperature gauges; record data; and sometimes
assist with repairs and adjust machinery.
or deckhands operate the vessel and its deck equipment under the
direction of the ship's officers and keep the nonengineering areas
in good condition. They stand watch, looking out for other vessels
and obstructions in the ship's path, as well as for navigational
aids such as buoys and lighthouses. They also steer the ship, measure
water depth in shallow water, and maintain and operate deck equipment
such as lifeboats, anchors, and cargo-handling gear. When docking
or departing, they handle lines. They also perform routine maintenance
chores, such as repairing lines, chipping rust, and painting and
cleaning decks or other areas. On vessels handling liquid cargo,
mariners designated as pumpmen hook up hoses, operate pumps, and
clean tanks; on tugboats or tow vessels, they tie barges together
into tow units, inspect them periodically, and disconnect them when
the destination is reached. Experienced sailors are designated able
seamen on oceangoing vessels, but may be called simply deckhands
on inland waters; larger vessels usually have a boatswain, or head
deep-sea merchant ship has a captain, three deck officers or mates,
a chief engineer and three assistant engineers, plus six or more
seamen, such as able seamen, oilers, QMEDs, and a cook. The size
and service of the ship determine the number of crew members for
a particular voyage. Small vessels operating in harbors, on rivers,
or along the coast may have a crew comprising only a captain and
one deckhand. On smaller vessels the cooking responsibilities usually
fall under the deckhands' duties.
coastal ships, the crew may include a captain, a mate or pilot,
an engineer, and seven or eight seamen. Unlicensed positions on
a large ship may include a full-time cook, an electrician, and machinery
mechanics. Some ships may have special unlicensed positions for
entry-level apprentice trainees.
operators operate small, motor-driven boats that carry six or fewer
passengers. They may operate fishing charters, serve as liaisons
between ships or between ship and shore, or perform area patrol.
Water transportation workers' schedules vary based upon the type
of ship and length of voyage. While on the water, crews are normally
on duty for half of the day, 7 days a week.
mariners on survey and long distance cargo vessels can spend extended
periods at sea. Most deep-sea mariners are hired for one or more
voyages that last for several months; there is no job security after
that. The length of time between voyages varies depending on job
availability and personal preference.
on supply vessels transport workers, supplies (water, drilling mud,
fuel, and food), and equipment to oil and gas drilling platforms
mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. Their voyages can last a few hours
to a couple of weeks. As oil and gas exploration pushes into deeper
waters, these trips take more time.
on tugs and barges operate on the rivers, lakes, inland waterways,
and along the coast. Most tugs have two crews and operate constantly.
The crews will alternate, each working for 2-3 weeks and then taking
2-3 weeks off.
of those employed on Great Lakes ships work 60 days and have 30
days off, but do not work in the winter when the lakes are frozen.
Others work steadily for a week or a month and then have an extended
period off. Those on smaller vessels, such as tugs, supply boats
and Great Lakes ships, are normally assigned to one vessel and have
on ferries transporting commuters work on weekdays in the morning
and evening. Other ferries make frequent trips lasting a few hours.
Ferries servicing vacation destinations often operate on seasonal
schedules. Workers in harbors generally have year-round work. Work
in harbors and on ferries is highly sought after because workers
return home every day.
holding water transportation jobs work in all kinds of weather,
except when frozen waters make travel impossible. Although merchant
mariners try to avoid severe storms while at sea, working in damp
and cold conditions often is inevitable. While it is uncommon for
vessels to suffer disasters such as fire, explosion, or sinking,
workers face the possibility that they may have to abandon their
craft on short notice if it collides with another vessel or runs
aground. They also risk injury or death from falling overboard and
hazards associated with working with machinery, heavy loads, and
dangerous cargo. However, modern safety management procedures, advanced
emergency communications, and effective international rescue systems
have greatly improved mariner safety.
companies are working to improve the living conditions on vessels
to reduce employee turnover. Most of the Nation's newest vessels
are air conditioned, soundproofed to reduce machinery noise, and
equipped with comfortable living quarters. Some companies have added
improved entertainment systems and hired full-time cooks. These
amenities lessen the difficulty of spending long periods away from
home. Advances in communications, particularly e-mail, better link
mariners to their families. Nevertheless, some mariners dislike
the long periods away from home and the confinement aboard ship
and consequently leave the occupation.