Merchant Marine education and starting salary

I helped with a project for the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and learned that tuition, room, and board is $26,000 per year for four years compared to a starting salary of $120,000 per year (to be on a ship for 6 months per year). A graduate from two years earlier said that he has paid off all of his loans and now is shopping for a house and an airplane. Within five years, the pay can rise to $180,000 per year. After that, the sailor is qualified to be a captain and earn $240,000+/year, but these jobs are scarce and cannot be obtained immediately or by everyone. The true dream job is to be a harbor pilot (see “Earn $400 per hour in a government-regulated job“), but these may require family connections.

How are the gender wars doing at the academy? “About 5 percent of the cadets are women,” said the recent graduate. Why so few when the school offers such a great ROI? “A woman doesn’t need to go out in 80-knot weather to spend a third mate’s pay.” [I think that he was referring to marriage, but under Massachusetts family law, she will be able to spend approximately one third of the paycheck after a brief unmarried encounter.]

The above salaries are for U.S.-flagged cargo ships, which are required to have 75 percent American crew members (all unionized). Foreign-flagged cruise ships pay half as much. There wouldn’t be any U.S.-flagged ships at all if not for government regulations that restrict foreign-flagged vessels from certain kinds of operations and also direct payments from the U.S. military, which wants military cargo to go on U.S.-flagged vessels. Note that U.S.-flagged does not mean U.S.-owned, U.S.-built, or U.S.-managed. My source is working on a container ship that was built in South Korea and is owned and operated by Maersk.

3 thoughts on “Merchant Marine education and starting salary

  1. Check out longshoremen. No formal education, amazing pay. The jobs are so coveted that to get one of these jobs that require no special skill or education you have to jump through ridiculous hoops for a decade or so working part time.

  2. I’ve been on civilian-run Navy ships and chatted with some Merchant Marine sailors. While the down side of being on duty 50% of your time in large chunks would made family life hard or impossible, that 50% large chunk of your year entirely to yourself with a six figure income is appealing. 6 months on/off appeared common for oceangoing ships, but coastal or inland ships often had 1/1 or 3/3 crew schedules. One could do worse for a career.

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