What is the merchant marine?

I have tried Googling this, but couldn’t get a clear and concise answer. Based on what I gather, it seems to be the civilian shipping industry, possibly with some extra training so that it could be nationalized in the case of war. I am correct? Is there more too it?

Wikipedia has an entry about the United States Merchant Marine.

ETA: Graduates of the Academy in King’s Point can go into the military as a commissioned officer, but most serve on commercial ships, I believe.

The Merchant Marine are the civilian ships. Tankers, freighters, and passenger ships.

It is sometimes referred to as the fourth arm of defense. In a major conflict war supplies have to be moved from one point to the war zone. And most of it will be sent by ship. The US Merchant Marine has never been nationalized. During WWII some ships that were built with subsidies were taken over by the Navy after the war started. Most of the Liberties, Victories, T1s and T2s were operated by civilian crews. The gun crews on the ships were Navy personal. In the 1930’s 3 out of every 4 licensed officers on ships with Mail subsidies had to have a reserve commission in the Navy.

In addition to King" Point there are 6 state academys. Not sure about King’s Point. But with the state academys as I understand it now. at the Third class year the students that qualify can chose the Naval Science option. With the Naval Science option classes are taken to obtain a reserve commission in the Navy or the Coast Guard. In each class one or two graduates will apply to go active.

An interesting note in time of war or draft students at the academys are not classified for the draft, but have their names removed from the draft.

I’ve read about this in the past and was wondering how it works in detail: Are merchant marine academies in the US run like military academies? And if not, when and where do the prospective Navy (reserve) officers learn to march and to shoot a rifle, i. e. the basic military stuff?

I’m only a little familiar with the USMMA, mainly from knowing a former faculty member, but:

I remember there was a PBS special or something on the service academies some years ago, and the USMMA was peeved they were left out. I don’t imagine the military aspects are as rigorous as the other service academies, but I do think they do drills, marching, and PT. The superintendents sometimes have USN, USCG, or USMC backgrounds. I’m not at all familiar with the state academies.

Basically, just another euphemistic war-time buzzword.

According to N-gram, the term gained popularity in the Spanish American War, peaked in WWI, enjoyed another peak in WWII, and has since ceased to have any relevance.


This actually makes the most sense. I have always been vaguely aware of the term, but never quite understood what it was all about. Apparently there are about 1200 US owned cargo ships, but most are foreign “flagged”, with only 400 being US flagged and thus part of the “Merchant Marine”. Thus the civilian industry is mostly not part of it, and the term has little relevance.

My Dad served in the US Navy in the late days of WWII and was assigned duty to the Merchant Marine.
He always referred to his duty as a Merchant Marine.
More correctly, an armed gaurd on a merchant ship.
For years the VFW would not recognize his service as being a Veteran of Foreign Wars until they started running short of elligable prospects.
He never stopped trying to join because he and his crew shot a Jap Zero down protecting the ship he was assigned to.

The only one I’m familiar with at all is the Texas Maritime Academy, which is part of Texas A&M University - Galveston Campus.

It seems to be a joint NROTC / Merchant Marine Corps of Cadets, and the non-cadet leadership seems to be mixed as well, with a fair number of civilians and Navy people listed.

Things have changed since I graduated. There is a class system with a Corp of Midshipmen or Cadets. But the lines between the classes are not as strong as a military academy. There are not the age restrictions.

When I was a Midshipman we learned to march as part of the corps. The only time I touched a rifle was when I joined the drill team. The basic military stuff, each of the academic trimesters we took one Naval Science class. The class was taught by a Naval officer of a Chief.


Officers may get extra training as noted in the posts regarding the maritime academies.

When I worked on the Great Lakes ore boats, in college, I had to get an Ordinary Seaman’s card from the Coast Guard. (It looked like an oversized driver’s license.) I certainly did not take any special tests to get it, (although I was finger printed, and, friends, somewhere in Washington, enshrined in some little folder, is a study in black and white of my fingerprints.) At the bottom of the card there was a line that read “Validated for emergency service.” from which I deduced that if we went into a shooting war, I could be told to stay on the boat rather than returning to college. I wondered whether I could be called up to be a merchant mariner after I had left Interlake Steamship Company, but with the dissolution of the draft, I never bothered to follow up to see whether I was in jeopardy.

I never received any special training other than the normal stuff that would make me a proficient deckhand, regardless of any hostilities.

You cannot be called to the merchant marine. During WWII if you were not under articles and draftable you could expected to be drafted if you spent more thantwo weeks on the beach.

The son of one of my friends in South Korea (friend, son, and the rest of their family are all South Korean citizens) is now a cadet (midshipman) at Mokpo National Maritime University (their version of the Merchant Marine Academy). Not only does he get his education paid for by their government, but he will be commissioned a Reserve Officer in the military, and is exempted from conscription. Of course, he does incur a term of obligated service either on active duty or in the Reserves.

The general idea, as in the US, is to have a professional and competent corps of officers in the merchant arena and said officers, when needed, can be used in the Navy during wartime or national emergency.

I still don’t get it. Suppose I was back in the pre-1960s, and I lived in Florida, and bought a boat for my business, which was importing Cuban cigars, which my employees personally bought on the streets of Havana, and brought back to the USA in our boat. This post makes it sound like it was automatically part of the Merchant Marine:

But other posts refer to various academies, which make it sound like I’d be part of the Merchant Marine ONLY if I chose to get some sort of specialized education. What sort of education is required to own and pilot a boat? My father had a pleasure craft (30-50 feet long) that we took up and down the Hudson River in the 1970’s, and I clearly remember taking a Coast Guard course with him during the evenings at the local high school, but IIRC it was totally optional, with no sort of “driver’s license” ever required.

What’s not to get? The boats are owned by their owners. They’re not in the military. Some of the merchant ships, a very few, are owned by the Navy (at least in the US, those ships are labeled USNS) and have a civilian crew, civilian master, and also a very small military detachment aboard. Those boats are not warships and their crews, except for the military detachment, are not in the military.

The national governments which have Merchant Marine academies have decided that such academies are to the benefit of their country and thus provide an education to those who wish to become officers aboard a civilian ship. The various merchant vessel owners consider hiring graduates of those academies to be beneficial to their business. And having someone already trained, already commissioned, and current in maritime matters is of benefit to the military if the country does go to war: the country doesn’t have to start from scratch, so to speak, to get someone trained up as a Naval officer.

Your father’s craft is a pleasure craft and he didn’t require a Master’s License. Now, if your dad or you want to be a captain of a cruise ship, this page is informative.

The 1st quote would probably require a License’

Here in Minnesota we have lakes that are actually reservoirs controlled by the USCG
When the lake is under the CG control a fishing guide that takes a couple people out for a day of perch jerking is required to be licensed, Many do not and for a long time most guides didn’t even know about the requirement.
This would be what is called a 6-pack license allowing a boat to carry 6 or LESS people.
Of course this is also a requirement in all states that have Navigable waters.
Here is a fact sheet from the MN DNR

So… would it be accurate to say that one of the requirements for a Master’s license is that you have to volunteer to become a part of the Merchant Marine?

Gbro: That link does show there’s a difference between an operator’s license and a master’s license. And, of course, there’s a difference between a master’s license issued by a state and a master’s license for a large ship issued by the federal government.

Keeve: Not exactly. The Merchant Marine is the non-military sea-going vessels and crews of a country. One is automatically a Merchant Mariner when one receives credentials for such employment.

Marine in Merchant Marine doesn’t mean “I’m a Marine like those guys in the USMC.” It means “having to do with the sea”.

I think the Merchant Marine Academies are muddying things in people’s mind. Merchant Marine is basically the entirety of the civilian shipping capacity of the United States. This means any commercial ship that is U.S. flagged is part of the Merchant Marine. During WWII they weren’t press-ganged into the military or anything, but the resources of our civilian shipping industry, collectively, worked toward the war effort–and received pay for it. Much as Ford or GM switched their car factories off and turned them into plane and tank factories and they had I believe a guaranteed production contract with the War Department to buy up everything they rolled off.

The Merchant Marine Academy in King’s Point is a Federal Academy paid for by the taxpayers (no tuition) designed to train people for service as leaders on merchant ships. Typically I believe to get a Master’s License (which basically lets you be a Captain on the biggest vessels) you need a lot of experience and training. I don’t think you have to go to one of the State Merchant Marine Academies / Maritime Schools per se, or the USMMA, but I think going through those programs does a lot to put you on your way toward licensure. I know that the one person I’ve known who went to the USMMA had to spend some time out at sea even while in school so I’m assuming when he graduated he had a lot of both education and experience hours logged…I don’t know if that’s enough to get one of the various licenses right away but he’d have been further on his path than someone just trying to work up from a deckhand.

The government sponsors the USMMA because I think it views it as a “good thing” to have some nucleus of Americans actually trained in the operation of ships at sea. It’s something that could be advantageous at some point down the road during a major war or such (in theory.)