Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Seattle Maritime Academy: A New Facility and a Bright Future for the Maritime Workforce


The new Seattle Maritime Academy building has earned LEED Silver Certification and includes a "green roof" with soil and plants that reduce noise and contribute to improved air quality, as well as providing operational and maintenance cost savings from increased roof life, reduced energy use and stormwater management. Artwork courtesy of Schreiber Starling Whitehead Architects.

With the demand for mariners increasing as the pool of qualified candidates decreases, there has never been a better time to be looking for a job in the maritime industry. Meanwhile the need for training requires more modern and efficient training facilities and the staff to run them.

To this end, the Washington State Legislature allocated $20 million to design and build a new Seattle Maritime Academy (SMA) building as a hands-on professional/technical maritime center for training and education. The new building, to be dedicated early next month, covers 24,000 square feet on two floors, and includes classrooms, labs, a library, faculty and student lounges, administrative offices and an executive conference room.

Built on the school's property adjacent to the original building, the new building offers students the latest and most advanced simulation equipment in the field, and the school expects to double its attendance, now that it has the added classrooms and labs to accommodate more students.

Along with the new facility, SMA has a new director, Sarah Scherer, to take the helm.

Sarah Scherer's experience includes positions in navigation, research and management with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as training, safety and operations positions with commercial maritime companies. Scherer has a bachelor's degree in Marine Sciences from Texas A&M University at Galveston, and a Master of Arts in Applied Behavioral Science in Coaching and Consulting in Organizations from Bastyr University.

Her goals for the Academy are ambitious, but clear.

"There are already six state maritime academies," she says. "We don't need another four-year program." Instead, Seattle Maritime Academy offers a one-year program, including an at-sea internship, and produces mariners ready to go to sea and earn money.

"One year, and a tuition of $7,000 to $9,000, and a graduate is ready to start earning $40,000 to $60,000 a year," Scherer says. She aims to develop confident, competent mid-level mariners from the academy's deck and engineering programs.

The new building is an example of everything a maritime training facility should be. The school's current, 5,500-square-foot space was becoming cramped and dated. With more than four times the space, the new building allows for more students, more workspace, and future expansion.

Four lecture spaces, or classrooms, offer flexible seating for up to 100 students, including 19 large, chart-size work surfaces. Each room has white boards and large video monitors, visible from anywhere in the space. The former facility houses the electrical lab and static equipment, including diesel engines, for students to dismantle and put back together, which will remain in their present location. The new building boasts seven lab spaces including an engine room simulator, a bridge simulator, an 18-station simulation computer lab, a hydraulics and refrigeration lab, and a diesel lab with full machine shop with specially designed ventilation that will allow for students to work on and run the deisel engines inside the building. The new facility also boasts a student computer lab with 20 computers. The increase in capacity allows the school to increase enrollment in the two certificate programs to 22 students each as per USCG standards.

The small classroom size allows students to work together as a team throughout the three classroom quarters. Academy faculty are all active or retired merchant mariners, with years of experience and sea time, and offer real life expertise and anecdotes to enhance the curriculum. They prepare students via classroom instruction, experiential learning, critical on-water training, and professional development.

Seattle Maritime Academy offers a Marine Engineering Technology Program (Engineering) as well as a Marine Deck Technology Program (Deck) to train prospective mariners. Many of the Academy's students have no previous experience in the maritime industry, and the program will be the first exposure they will have to the industry.


The Marine Engine Technology Certificate Program prepares students to enter the industry as engineers, operating and maintaining a vessel's mechanical systems. This includes the engine, boilers, generators, pumps, and other machinery.

Emphasis is placed on the theory, design, operation and maintenance of marine propulsion plants and associated equipment.

The sea component requires the student to go to sea once a week during the second and third quarter aboard SMA's training vessels.

Students successfully completing the Marine Engineering Technology program meet US Coast Guard requirements and are eligible to upgrade to Qualified Member of the Engine Room Department (QMED) ratings, including electrician, oiler, pumpman/machinist mate, refrigerating engineer and junior engineer.

The new facility provides classrooms and labs where students can disassemble and reassemble engines and HVAC equipment, while a diesel engine lab offers running diesel engines in cradles that can be rolled around the space allowing students to perform diagnostic tests.

The at-sea internship qualifies the graduate for an STCW "ratings forming part of an engine-room watch" endorsement. After three months additional sea service, students are eligible for the Lifeboatman endorsement.

The Engineering program also attracts a few veteran mariners every year, some with undergraduate degrees in the engineering fields. For students with experience in the electrical or refrigeration fields, SMA's program reinforces those skills and provides the formal training required for a career as a marine engineer.


The Marine Deck Technology Certificate Program offers training to students interested in navigation and deck operations. Successful graduates meet USCG requirements and are eligible to upgrade to Able Seaman-Special. This allows them to work in the industry as a mid-rate unlicensed mariner.

The program offers the student eight months sea service credit toward an Able Seaman-special endorsement. Graduates satisfy both the written and practical examination requirements for both the Able Seaman and Lifeboatman endorsements. The Marine Deck Technology Certificate Program also qualifies each graduate for an STCW "ratings forming part of a navigation watch" endorsement. By interning for three months, students with no previous sea service are eligible for Able Seaman-Special at graduation in 1 year.

Both the Engineering and Deck programs are approved by the US Coast Guard, including the curricula, the instructors and the facilities, and every course final is comprised of questions from the Coast Guards' test bank. Because of this, graduates are not required to test at the Coast Guard's Regional Exam Center.

The Deck program combines practical shipboard experience and courses in nautical science with additional courses in computation, communication and human relations. Emphasis is placed on the theory, design, operation and maintenance of deck equipment and applied navigation skills. A classroom with special chart-size desks aids in the coursework with full-size paper charts. The full-size bridge simulator, which offers radar, ECDIS and radio training, provides real-time navigation and communications drills. An adjacent room allows for analysis and review of the bridge session.

The sea component requires the student to go to sea once a week during the second and third quarters aboard the college's training vessel. The academic program is followed by a 90-day at-sea internship on a commercial vessel during the summer quarter.

The academy has several training vessels, each providing a different capability. The best known of these is the E.L. Bartlett, a 177-foot former Alaska State ferry that offers a modern engine room with Fairbanks Morse, Cummins and GM engines, navigation equipment and lifesaving equipment. The 82-foot T/V Maritime Instructor, formerly the Coast Guard cutter Point Divide, offers at-sea training, and is USCG certified for up to 48 passengers. Several other vessels are also available for training, including lifeboats, and a barge. Director Scherer is says the Academy is hoping to "right-size" the fleet, to keep vessels operating efficiently and letting go of those that no longer fit the curriculum.

Both maritime programs conclude with a mandatory 60- to 90-day at-sea internship aboard a commercial vessel. Many of the companies providing intern opportunities go on to hire SMA graduates. One such company is the Washington State Ferry system, which faces a looming shortage of mariners as 65 percent of its captains prepare to retire in the next decade. The state system sees a real benefit from SMA's program, offering internships to Seattle Maritime students in both deck and engineering positions, and employing the school's graduates.

Some of the companies that have offered internships, and subsequently hired SMA graduates, include Polar Tankers, Crowley Marine, Foss Maritime Company, Military Sealift Command and NOAA. While a job on the water isn't guaranteed, a well-trained Deck or Engineering candidate stands a pretty good chance of placement. Vince O'Halloran, Branch agent for the Sailors' Union of the Pacific, says he often places SMA interns on the Jones-act carriers manned by his union. "SMA is a great resource," he says. "Their graduates come in well-trained and ready to work."

Along with the career-track programs, SMA will be offering professional development courses for those wishing to hone their skills, including simulator exercises including leadership, communications, and skills building classes in vessel handling, radar, ECDIS and engineering, and hands-on skill building classes in marine diesels, electricity, hydraulics, and refrigeration. The school also will begin to offer recreational boating classes in small diesel engines, electricity, basic navigation, knot tying, small boat handling (mixed and just women), and transiting the Hiram Chittenden locks for women and couples.

Continuing education programs include boating, fisheries, marine affairs, marine engineering, marine safety, navigation and seamanship, and the Academy even offers a 3-module course designed for mariners to build the knowledge and skills required to qualify for a fishing vessel marine engineers license. The modules include general electrical and refrigeration systems, marine diesel engines and auxiliary boilers, safety and emergency equipment and lifesaving devices.

Three 55-hour modules meet for two weeks, and the USCG-approved course can be taken in lieu of passing the Coast Guard exam licensing requirement.

Prospective students hoping to enroll in either the Deck or Engineering program need to meet pre-algebra and applied composition criteria, either by providing original college transcripts or by taking a placement test. A Transportation Worker's Identification Credential (TWIC) card and Merchant Mariner's Credential are also a must, as is a US Passport.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Central College, Seattle Maritime Academy.

From 2011 to 2015, the SMA program had a 95 to 100 percent retention rate, and the employment rate for graduates rose from 66 percent in 2010 to 74 percent in 2014, the last year data were available. Sarah Scherer notes that the new facility will allow her to double the number of students per year, and she is working closely within the maritime industry to promote the value of the Academy's graduates, while also making an effort to promote the benefits of a maritime career to a variety of likely students, from high school seniors to second-career older students.

"Not everyone is interested in a four-year college program," Scherer says. "Seattle Maritime Academy offers an alternative for students that want to learn the basics, get a job and start their careers at sea."


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