Thursday, January 24, 2008

When it comes to the point in a conversation when people ask me what I do for a living, I usually get blank stares when I tell them I am in the Merchant Marine. "What is that?" I am asked. Well here's what it is.

The Merchant Marine is the fleet of cargo carrying ships under a nation's flag. Basically in the United States, it is a fleet of about 350 ocean-going ships and a myriad of smaller vessels. If you have ever traveled on a ferry, you have been on a US flagged ship. My fellow mariners and I are the crews of those ships.

As a brief aside, the cruise ships that you see on TV are merchant ships, but if you catch the fine print, they are not US flagged ships. This means among other things, that you are not subject to US laws or protections while on board, and nearly every crew member is from another country and getting paid far less they you can imagine. All I can say is tip well because they certainly don't make much in straight wages.

For my part, I am licensed by the US Coast Guard as a Chief Mate (aka 1st mate) as well as a 1st Assistant Engineer of Steam and Motor (diesel) ships. I am licensed for unlimited tonnage, on any ocean, and any horsepower. I am what they call a "dualie" in the industry, which is fairly rare. Most mariners go with one department or another.

Currently, I am the Chief Mate on the MV MAJ BERNARD F FISHER. This is a container ship under contract with the US Navy. My job is to be a department head in the deck department. I am responsible for the maintainence of the deck as well as the cargo, and stability of the ship. I have about six unlicensed people working for me as well as two junior mates. I report directly to the Master (captain).

Life at sea is different. I work for about four months straight. That is to say, I work 12 hours each day, for 120 days or so. There are no weekends or days off, and sick days are frowned upon. On the flip side, when I leave my ship, there are no phone calls or emails to worry about, and every day is a weekend.

During my copious spare time, I tend to enjoy photography and a bit of amateur radio, with the former taking most of my time. I will be sharing some of my photography and thoughts on this blog during the relatively dull periods of my shore time. When I am at sea, I will be posting stories from distant shores. While there is an old adage that says the only difference between a fairy tale and a sea story is that a fairy tale begins "Once upon a time..." and a sea story begins "This ain't no @#$@#$..." I will attempt to make my stories as accurate as possible.

I do hope that you enjoy my blog, and I will try to post to it as often as time, internet connection, and exciting stories allow.


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