Merchant Marines

Well, tired of the daily grind, I’ve decided to leave it all behind and join the merchant marines. A few problems however. First, I have no idea who these guys are. Secondly, I don’t know what they really do. Third, I don’t know if they still exist.

So who are they? The name conjures up images of cargo ships armed with cannon fending off pirates on the high seas or something. But what city is going to let some heavily armed merchant ship with no nationality into port? And if they have a nationality, why is some nation letting an armed vessel fly its flag, but not pledge allegiance to the national navy? And lastly, how does one join?

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

AFAIK, the merchant marine is basically just the non-military cargo ships. In wartime (I’m talking about a WW-II style war, not these little pissant things we’ve seen recently), they become attached to the military somehow and are used to ferry troops and supplies to the front.

The US has a marchant marine. You can join any time you want, but you won’t be involved in combat unless another major war breaks out.

peas on earth

The merchant marine actually exists as we speak… the civilian cargo-supply for the Dept. of Defense, they are U.S. seamen, operating a U.S. flagship, under DOD contract: MSC, or “Military Sealift Command”. Everything from PX privileges to pee tests.

But the expression usually includes all professional civilian sailors under their national flag: Greek merchant mariners, say, are those under Greek not, say, Liberian flag vessels.

The academy is at King’s Point, NY, on Long Island.

“Proverbs for Paranoids, 3: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”

  • T.Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow.

Oh, good grief! Check a dictionary! From Merriam-Webster:

The Merchant Marine Academy is a federal Service Academy which trains personnel not only as officers of the merchant ships but also trains them as Reserve Officers of the Navy.

I have Singaporean friends who are in the merchant marines. Once, when I had returned there for a visit, they were very anxious to see me as they had actually visited Canada and couldn’t wait to tell me what fun they’d had and how much they enjoyed it.
Their port of call? Frobisher Bay !! I did my best to explain that it was not truly representative of the rest of Canada though I was glad they had a good time.
One thing really puzzled them, when asked about their occupations they inevitably responded, ‘We’re seamen’, they just couldn’t understand why Canadians always laughed at this.

Merchant marines are vital to the United States.
The primary mission of the U.S. Navy is to keep open shipping lanes to allow trade between the U.S. and other nations to continue. We can keep open the lanes, but if no one uses them, we fail in our mission.
That’s where the merchant marines come into play.
USNS vessels and other U.S. flagged ships may, in times of war or by CINC order, be pressed into service to move troops, equipment, ammunition and supplies overseas. They may also be used as platforms to evacuate embassy personnel or refugees from countries in crisis. The last major use of USNS vessels for a military operation was Operation Desert Shield.
Often overlooked, the merchant marines were crucial to Great Britain’s defiance of Germany in WWII. Convoys crossed the North Atlantic bringing England much of the war materials needed by them to wage war against Hitler. Curiously, the U.S. merchant marines had the highest death rate of any branch of service during the war. The Third Reich’s wolfpacks took a large bite out of our maritime forces before we learned to adequately protect them.
You may still join the merchant marines. But you must now already have the skills needed aboard an ocean-going vessel before they will even consider you. Also it is a very tough life. Most of your time is spent at sea. Ship overhauls are few and far between. The U.S. government has consistantly overlooked its merchant marine fleet in favor of its high-tech Navy.

Before you go, you might want to read “Looking for a Ship” by John McPhee.

Here’s my addition to the trivia for the day:

My grandfather was in the Merchant Marines during WWII. That’s all I know; have a picture of him in his uniform (looks just like old dress blue crackerjacks). Still alive, but never discussed it with anyone I know. Gotta ask him…

I was a merchant marine. I worked on Great Lakes ore boats two summers in college. I had to get a seaman’s card (don’t remember what it was officially called). That basically meant that I had to go down to the Federal Building in Detroit, pay a fee, have a photo taken, have my fingerprints taken, and receive a slightly-larger-than-a-driver’s-license card with my photo and thumbprint and “VALIDATED FOR EMERGENCY SERVICE” stamped across it. (I wonder if I’ll get called up in some future crisis?)

After that, I just had to talk some shipping company in to hiring me. My brother, two years later, was simply told to go to the union hall, join the union, and wait. (For most of the iron ore fleets, the union was Local 1000 of the Steelworkers.)

If you want to be an officer, the Merchant Marine Academy is not your only option. I believe you have to be appointed to the MMA, just as to Annapolis, West Point, etc. You can also pursue that career on your own through one of the colleges or academies on this web site: .


Another thing you should know before shoving off. Don’t expect lots of exotic ports of call in your new career as a U.S. merchant mariner. The U.S. commercial fleet is much more expensive to operate than commercial vessels, because to earn the right to fly a U.S. flag on your ship you have to do all sorts of outrageous things like be safe, pay your sailors a living wage, pay taxes, sail an American-built ship, etc.

The result is that U.S. vessels currently tend to be used only for those trips where a U.S. ship is required by U.S. law. Specifically, trade within the U.S. So the Prudhoe Bay to Los Angeles run will be on a U.S. ship, but the Singapore to San Francisco trip will not. Cruise ships outside the Hawaii trade tend to be foreign flagged. IIRC, ships carrying grain under U.S. foreign aid programs have to be American, so maybe you’ll get to see Vladivostok.

Theoretically, ships flying the U.S. flag or that of one of our allies get protection from the United States Navy. And they do. But when push comes to shove, we always cave and provide protection to ships flying “flags of convenience” too.

Someday, when some dictator closes down a gulf (or whatever), I hope we have a President with the spine to say “You like the low costs of being a Liberian ship so much? Call the Liberian Navy! Putz!”

But it won’t happen.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

Humph. Besides the fact that my dictionary is in an unmarked box somewhere with the bulk of my books (post-move), I doubt that it’d tell me exactly what they do and how to join. Half the reson for posting here is for the color commentary.

Ok, so I wasn’t really planning on joining, but the context I’ve always heard on people joining the merchant marines was in the same rogue romantic context as joining, say, the Foreign Legion. So, I was under the assumption that they did more than cart around crates of lugnuts from San Fransisco to Hawaii for the Navy. Wow, that sounds mighty boring. I better keep my job. :wink:

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

Jorge-isn’t the Merchant Marine a branch of the Dept of Transportation and not Defense, at least during peacetime? When was the last time they were under DOD jurisdiction, if anybody knows? Vietnam?

Ohmygosh, Jophiel!

Don’t assume from my lil ol’ post that U.S. merchant mariners are doomed to “cart around crates of lugnuts from San Francisco to Hawaii for the Navy.”

Oh, no, not at all! Imagine yourself as the captain of a bargetow, navigating the Mighty Mississippi with 70 barges of natural gas out of the Big Easy. If you’re too fast, BOOM, Natchez gets blown off the map. Too slow, and Memphis goes dark.

Too stressful? OK, you’re captain of a brand new cruise ship, running out of Oahu for 7-day cruises hitting Maui, the Big Island and Lanai. They’re shooting an episode of Baywatch next month and want you for a cameo.

No? How ‘bout a tugboat captain in Newport News, taking the shiny new USS Ronald Reagan out to sea for the very first time. Why, you can remember hauling in the steel to lay her keel – seems like only yesterday.

Or a harbormaster captain in New York, guiding the big oilers past the Statue of Liberty into the Kill Van Kull. Yea, ships come in and out of port all the time, but for the big jobs they always call you. Because you know the Harbor.

Don’t give up yet. There are plenty of terrific jobs in the U.S. merchant marine. Some don’t even require travel. Most pay well (NY Harbormaster >$200K). And the ladies love ya.

Livin’ on Tums, Vitamin E and Rogaine

Chief Scott: I sincerely hope you do more research for your professional writings. The last major use of USNS vessels continues today. The US Navy owns the vessels and those vessels are manned by a civilian crew in the employ of the US Navy. There is also a military department on those ships under the charge of an Officer in Charge.

A very good example of a merchant vessel being pressed into service in time of war or other emergency would be the Royal Navy’s use of the QEII during the Falklands War.

Let me know if y’all need more help in interpreting the freaking dictionary definition cited above.

647: Nope. The Merchant Marine is not a branch of any part of the United States Government–not even during wartime. What it is, though, is defined quite nicely in the dictionary cite I quoted above.

During peacetime, the MM are under the purview of the Department of Transportation, and also the Department of Commerce, in regards to licensing, safety, business, and other concerns. During wartime, the MM is under the purview of the DOD in regards to missions to which they’re assigned.

Please, folks; let’s not get hung up on the word “Marine” in “Merchant Marine.” All that means is that those guys (and gals, of course!) are the seaborne merchants of a country. The US Marines, however, are a part of the US Navy and thus aren’t merchants.

Jophiel: So you’re considering joining the French Foreign Legion? Here’s a handy link.

Bon voyage!

I used to be a merchant marine officer - captain of a supply boat for the oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico. Big deal.

Go to south Louisiana and apply for a job as a deckhand with one of the companies that supplies boats to the oil companies (my old company is always hiring). For little more than minimum wage, you can spend long periods of time away from land crowded onto a small boat with a bunch of strangers, two at least of which will be yelling and swearing at you because you are screwing up, doing a dirty, dangerous job while hoping you don’t get seasick.

After a couple of years of that shit, you can pay a bunch of money to go to a ‘sea school’ to study for advancement - to Able-bodied Seaman, or Assistant Engineer, or First Mate, or even Captain. (Different lengths of time for all of these, and depends on what size vessel you worked on.) Take the test required by the Coast Guard, and get your new license, make a little more money, eat a little less shit.

BTW, Merchant Marines are licensed, inspected, etc. by the Coast Guard, and overseen by the DOT except in wartime, when they come under the control of the DOD.

My official title was ‘Master, Near Coastal Steam or Motor Vessels of Not More than 100 Gross Tons’. I was also a Grade B Tankerman. Every five years you have to take a ‘refresher’ test and renew your licenses.

Pre-employment drug screening is a requirement, random testing frequent, and once you earn a license of some kind you can get in deep shit for flunking, even during your time off.

Monty – I do a lot of research before publishing. I stand by my initial statement, “The last major use of USNS vessels for a military operation was Operation Desert Shield.”
A military operation is a single operation to attain a given mission. – not the everyday operations of our Navy and Merchant Marines.

You’ll note I didn’t say “Last major use of USNS vessels…”

Of course the USNS and Merchant Marine fleet is still operational and in use today – just not for a major military operation. When these vessels and crews fall under the auspises of DoD for war material movement. that’s when they prove their mettle.

When not directly involved in a operation, these USNS ships are undergoing overhaul, providing underway replenishment services close to U.S. Coastal waters, or remain at their homeports loaded and ready for an emergency which would see them deploy. They act as the most basic kind of freighter when not involved in a military operation.
The last operation which pressed all of our USNS ships and some U.S. flagged vessels into service for a military sea lift was the Gulf War.

You, in effect, read my statement and choose to attack only one part of it. This is poor form. Since such idiocy is easily highlighted.

Well in that case, shouldn’t they be called the Marine Merchants? Or does that just not sound as glamorous?

You remain incorrect, Scott. And that flabbergasts me as you’re apparently assigned to an aircraft carrier. What amazes me is that you continue to equate the USNS vessels with “the entire merchant marine.” It’s merely one part of that; however, it (the USNS fleet) is owned by the US Navy. And the USNS fleet had vessels deployed with USS vessels on every deployment I’ve made in my career. Or just maybe I was dreaming when I was onboard the USNS WALTER DIEHL.

You are so right when you say that idiocy is easily highlighted. In this case it’s yours. I certainly hope you have someone else write the port briefs.