As the need for newly-trained mariners to replace an aging workforce increases, training facilities are expanding their curricula and upgrading their equipment to attract prospective mariners.
Flagship Maritime, located in Tacoma, Washington, has been run by Captain Skip Anderson and his wife, Jan, a marine photographer, for the past seven years. Captain Anderson's experience includes a 24-year naval career and several years racing sailboats competitively all over the world.
Starting out small, Flagship has grown to a 2,600 square foot state-of-the art training facility. "We primarily teach US Coast Guard entry level courses," says Capt. Anderson. "I am most gratified to help the former recreational boater transition into a commercial license because there is such a big leap to be made."
According to Capt. Anderson, Flagship is the only state-licensed maritime vocational training school in the Seattle area that offers an Operator of Un-Inspected Passenger Vessels program. The course is broken down into four sections: Charting, Navigation General, Rules of the Road and Deck General. Students intending to go further can take the Upgrade to Master 100 Tons (Inland and Near Coastal), and students from either course come away with a certificate of completion that goes into their credential package. Flagship also provides complete credentialing services. "Because we are licensed by the state as a private vocational school, we also have access to financial assistance such as VA and L&I benefits."
The Able Seaman course is held four times a year at Flagship, in collaboration with Compass Courses. "This course is a huge benefit to the younger guys who might not have all the sea experience necessary to earn a captain's license," says Capt. Anderson. "The Washington State ferry system is looking for Able Seamen all the time. In fact, they've had to cancel some runs because they don't have enough qualified people."
Flagship is approaching 1,000 graduates and has just passed its 100th class. Capt. Anderson says enrollment has continued to grow despite the downturn in the economy. "People may be fearful for their jobs, or they've already lost their jobs, and they want to explore something else they can do well and enjoy. Alternatively, they're transitioning out of the military and are wondering what to do next in their lives."
"Oddly, there is currently no direct connection between relevant service aboard Coast Guard or Navy ships and earning a Coast Guard license, explains Capt. Anderson. "Our service-seasoned mariners should be able to more readily transition into the commercial work, for example, the merchant marine, a marine service unit with a law enforcement agency or a municipal fire department. They have the skills, and yet many such jobs remain unfilled. We're working to close that gap."
Flagship's Ethics and Moral Reasoning for the Mariner module is an unusual departure from typical mariner training programs but is another passion for Capt. Anderson. He says it's not enough to know the rules of the road, how to navigate and handle lines on deck. The captain or master of the vessel simply has to know how to make good decisions.
"Every year, qualified captains run their ships aground, have collisions with other vessels, or lose lives," he points out. "The Coast Guard can't test for that decision capacity because it's all so subjective. We address it directly in a very challenging dialogue with our students. It's not enough to just pass exams – what we do on the water as licensed mariners is far too important to leave it at that."
The Seattle Maritime Academy's (SMA) engineer training program continues to be a hot ticket item. The Academy is one of the only schools on the Pacific Coast offering a junior engineer program, and the QMED (Qualified Member of an Engineering Department) has also seen very brisk enrollment. "We've received calls from industry asking for more access to our students, so everyone who is in these programs right now is clearly going to have several jobs offers at the end of their schooling," says Carl O. Ellis, Assistant Dean.
SMA decided to put their deck program on hold for a year as industry interest has waned due to the government's 2013 budget sequestration. However, in the meantime, the Academy's new training ship Bold will help the school provide "in-house" deck internships. "That's another reason we purchased a school ship this size as some vessels don't have the bunks and the berthing space to do this," says Ellis.
Purchased by the Academy this past summer, Bold is a former navy T-AGOS electronic surveillance vessel that most recently had been owned and used by the EPA for research. It has two labs and is equipped with oceanographic equipment such as a large A-frame and winches. The EPA is also expected to partner with SMA on various projects. "We want to be sure that when a student makes the commitment to come here and study, that they can go on and have a great career."
Earlier this year, the US Coast Guard approved Clatsop Community College Maritime Science Program's Training Ship Program (TSP). The Astoria, Oregon-based teaching institution is now the only community college in the US that is authorized to provide 360 days of sea service credit to those training and testing towards an endorsement as Able Seaman Special and Operator of Un-Inspected Passenger Vessels (Near Coastal or Inland Waters). The move helps increase job opportunities and good income potential for graduates as the credential is gained by completing the Associate of Applied Science/Vessel Operations degree as well as the AB-Special and OUPV courses.
After two years in existence, the Maritime Institute of Technology & Graduate Studies- Pacific Maritime Institute (MITAGS-PMI) Navigational Skills Assessment Program (NSAP) has suddenly picked up a lot of speed.
The ultimate goal of the NSAP is to reduce opportunities for incidents by addressing mariner competency and technology. In just a 40-minute session, companies can assess where skill gaps might be occurring with their personnel and then take immediate action to train personnel accordingly.
The program uses simulation, evaluator feedback and comprehensive reports that cover the assessment of individuals in many areas of knowledge, including communications, bridge management, situational awareness, following policies and procedures, rules of the road, watchkeeping, etc., but what is particularly important is the information-gathering done on individuals.
"We're asking them how long they've had a license, how long they've been in the industry, where they have received their training, nationality, what certificates they have, what level they're at with computer proficiency, etc.," says Director Gregg Trunnell from the Seattle-based training institution.
The data gathered then reveals, in graphical format, if there are issues, for instance, with over-reliance on electronic charts. Not only is the skill gap identified in this process, but trends can be broken down by demographics, for example, certain age groups may be at higher risk for over-reliance – and it can be denoted if computer efficiency is directly correlated to that over-reliance.
"We've assessed more than 1,000 mariners now in two years," says Trunnell. "And now we're moving this overseas. Shell Oil is now looking at using this program for their high-risk operators so this is exciting as it's becoming a new standard assessment tool for the industry."
Trunnell reports companies like Crowley, Dunlap, Foss, Alaska Tanker Company, Shell Oil and Moran Towing have sent employees through the program as well as other international marine companies which currently include Roymar Ship Management and Sloman Neptun. Companies that run through the NSAP will receive an industry compilation report every year for five years. This will allow them to benchmark their results with industry as well as receive valuable industry data. All data is void of specific company or mariner information.
In the area of simulation training, MITAGS-PMI is seeing a lot more interest as more companies are using it as a tool to decrease risk. In particular, more pilotage authorities are using simulation to assist them in helping choose quality candidates.
The Southeast Alaska Pilots Association, the Puget Sound Pilots, Columbia River Pilots and San Francisco Bar Pilots are utilizing simulation to assist them in choosing quality applicants. "Utilizing a Simulation to assist in the selection of Pilot applicants is an excellent 'objective' way to bring quality applicants into the Pilot Associations. They have to show that they are really high-qualified individuals," says Trunnell.
On the Workboat Academy front, with 80 students already in the system for 2014, Trunnell says the increasing numbers are proving students in the Academy's programs have excellent retention and competence. "We've become recognized as producing high-quality mariners," he says. "We have 100 percent employment of our graduates and can currently boast more than 90 percent retention."
Two new courses at Q3 Marine Training Solutions in Anacortes, Washington are bringing a whole new area of knowledge to mariners and those such as forestry scientists who commute to and from work via helicopter or plane.
The one-day Helicopter Underwater Egress Training (HUET) course first teaches theory to helicopter passengers on how to survive catastrophic ditching in a cold-water environment. Then the class goes into the water in the facility's training pool where students sit in a mock-up of a helicopter that is then capsized. They learn the type of door release mechanisms, how to open the hatch, how to work with aviation life rafts and pull themselves out of the helicopter and then swim to safety. Q3 is currently training predominantly offshore oil workers and is the only training institution doing this type of training on the US west coast. Plans are in place to expand to other industries.
The second development (and key to Q3's northwest aviation activity) is that Q3 has also invested in a highly innovative trainer that will simulate the different movements that a plane experiences (end-over-end, nose over tail) when it falls into water. The new trainer is expected to be in place by year's end or the first quarter of 2014.
Lifeboat training for mariners has been a long-time passion at Q3, especially since the IMO's new lifeboat hook regulations were introduced. In January this year, amendments relating to SOLAS III/1 regarding on-load lifeboats have mandated non-compliant hooks must be changed on all ships between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2019.
Q3 uses only on-load compliant hooks and modern enclosed lifeboats in their training programs, yet as Captain Pat Boyle, Director of Training and Certification explains, mariners continue to be trained on the old systems. "It seems to me if there are requirements for the ships to have these new, safer hooks, then training institutions should be required to use these same hooks for training. If they don't, then what is the message we're sending to mariners?"
"The way we train and the equipment we have for proficiency in survival craft is consistent with what a mariner would see on a ship. However, training is only one part what should be the top three standards for lifeboat safety, specifically 1) modern equipment, 2) proper training and 3) proper maintenance. If one of these elements is missing, then we're putting mariners at risk."
The problem is, Capt. Boyle says, "Unfortunately many people seem to turn a blind eye to this very high risk problem. Since a hook is a piece of equipment that's only used if the ship sinks, many mariners aren't too concerned about it. There is so much emphasis put on other areas of maritime training like navigation and security, which are extremely important but very little is being done about the operation of lifeboats, and as a result, people continue to die every year."
For the past several months, Q3 has been delivering proficiency in lifeboat training to management personnel from the Carnival Group-owned Holland America and Seabourn cruise line. These companies have recognized that after the Costa Concordia disaster during marine emergencies it makes sense to have personnel other than mariners assist in ship abandonment procedures.
"Cruise ship management personnel such as event managers, chefs, hospitality managers and shore excursion personnel can number in the hundreds and could be very capable when trained," says Graeme Wilson, Q3's CEO. "We have trained many people for Holland America Line/Seabourn and have been very impressed with the caliber of personnel and their attentiveness and desire to learn and contribute to being part of this initiative."