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Captains, mates, and pilots supervise the operations of ships and water vessels on United States waterways. Captains are the overall command and supervise the work of the officers and crew. Deck officers, or mates, direct the routine operation of the vessel. Captains and mates are responsible for determining course and speed, maneuvering, and monitoring position with charts and aids. Pilots are responsible for guiding vessels through harbors, straits, rivers, and other confined waterways.
Ship engineers are responsible for operating, maintaining, and repairing propulsion engines, boilers, generators, pumps, and other machinery. Marine oilers assist the engineers by lubricating gears, shafts, bearings, and other moving parts.
Sailors or deckhands keep the vessel's non-engineering areas in working order under the supervision of the officers. They stand watch, steer, measure water depth, clean decks, and handle lines. More experienced sailors as known as able seamen.
The schedule of a water transportation worker can vary greatly and depends largely on the type of ship and length of voyage. Workers on supply vessels may be at sea for a few hours to a couple of weeks. Deep sea mariners are usually hired for one voyage which may last for several months. Workers on tug boats and barges may work for two to three weeks and then have two to three weeks off. Workers on commuter ferries work more regular schedules and return home every night.
Merchant mariners must work in all kinds of weather, often for long periods of time in cramped quarters. They must have good vision and color perception, be in good physical condition, and have good balance on wet surfaces and in rough water.
The United States Coast Guard regulates entry, training, and experience requirements for many water transportation occupations. Mariners on board most ships must obtain a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) and a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC). Entry level workers begin as ordinary seamen or deckhands, and advance with training and experience. They must accumulate thousands of hours as a deckhand or attend one of seven merchant marine academies in the US which offer a four year program.
Employment in water transportation occupations is expected to grow faster than the national average, and will be best for those looking to work in the shipping industry. Please visit the Maritime Administration at www.marad.dot.gov for more information a merchant marine careers. The United States Coast Guard National Maritime Center also has information about merchant marine careers, training, and licensing requirements.
About Water Transportation