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Charting a Maritime Career: The NMI Voyage Plan

Maritime Vessel At Sea

The maritime industry is ever-growing and ever-changing. There are so many paths you can choose both on and offshore, and every path requires you to earn and maintain different levels of licenses, endorsements, and education. Some questions you might ask yourself in your pursuit of a maritime career include:

  • Do you want to become an engineer and work below the decks?
  • Do you want to pursue a dream of becoming a captain of a large cargo vessel or cruise ship?
  • Do you want to see the world, developing skills as you go and taking courses along the way?

Determining your passions in the industry is the first step in charting your course. Understanding the basics can help you make those life-changing decisions, which is why NMI is here to help guide you through the process of pursuing your ultimate maritime goals.

So, where to start? There are many avenues you can take to dip your toes into the maritime waters. You can sign up as a volunteer on a tall ship and learn the ropes hands-on, you can jump into taking classes or enroll in a degree program, get a seasonal job on a yacht or fishing boat, and much more. Maritime jobs require special skills, and these skills can be learned through training and higher education at NMI.

NMI, a private maritime college, offers a higher education two-year degree in Applied Science in Nautical Science as well as all the needed licenses and endorsements both nationally and internationally.  A private, smaller institution gives you personal attention, individual career planning, mentoring and tailored education. NMI helps future mariners individually apply for and get out into the field with our two Summer at Sea Co-ops with partnered industry leaders. This not only gets you the sea time, but the industry connections and the experience all in one. In addition, students also work with the local industry and participate in community services. Choosing the path that is best suited for your type of learning and career interests is the key, and NMI offers a fast-track path to your success.

To help you on your path, here are some basic terminology and licensing steps  – *All of this information plus very helpful checklists, requirements and guidelines can be found on the National Maritime Center website.  This is an important website to help you along the way.  Remember!  You will also need to check on sea time requirements for each rating and officer level. Keep this in mind when looking at the right program for you – as not many programs help provide the necessary sea time. NMI incorporates the necessary sea time within the two-year college program through the semester at sea co-ops.

Deck ratings: Able seamen and ordinary seamen operate the vessel and its deck equipment under officer supervision. On tankers, mariners are designated to hook up hoses, operate pumps, and clean tanks. The following are ratings in the deck department:

  • Ordinary Seaman means an “entry-level” unlicensed member of the deck department. This is one of the first ratings that will get you out at sea.
  • Able Seaman means qualified member of the deck department that may work as a watch stander and/or day worker.
  • Tankerman means a qualified member of the deck department trained to assist or supervise the transfer of liquid cargo.
  • Lifeboatman means a member of the crew qualified to take charge of a lifeboat or a life raft.

Deck officer ratings: Captains, mates, operators and pilots supervise ship operations on domestic waterways and the high seas. The following are officer endorsements in the deck department:

  • Master means the officer having command of a vessel.
  • Mate means a qualified officer in the deck department other than the master.
  • Operator means an individual qualified to operate uninspected passenger vessels.
  • First Class Pilot accompanies vessels while they enter or leave port to ensure safe navigation of entrance and departure.

Engine ratings: Qualified members of the engine department (QMEDs), maintain proper running order in the engine spaces below deck, under the direction of engineering officers. 

  • Wipers are entry-level workers, who clean, paint the engine room and its equipment, and assist in maintenance and repairs.Wiper means an “entry-level” unlicensed member of the engine department.
  • QMED (Fireman/Water tender, Oiler, Junior Engineer, Electrician/Refrigerating, Pumpman/Machinist) means qualified member of the engine department that may work as a watch stander and/or day worker.

The U.S. Coast Guard no longer issues original endorsements for Deck Engineer, Deck/Engine Mechanic, or Engineman, or individual endorsements for Refrigerating Engineer, Machinist, Electrician, and Pumpman.

Engine officer ratings: Ship’s engineers operate, maintain, and repair engines, boilers, generators, pumps, and other machinery.  The following are officer endorsements in the engine department:

  • Engineer means a qualified officer in the engine department.
  • Chief Engineer means any person responsible for the mechanical propulsion of a vessel.
  • Assistant Engineer means a qualified officer in the engine department.
  • Designated Duty Engineer means a qualified engineer, who may be the sole engineer on vessels with a periodically unattended engine room.

The MMC: The Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) is a credential issued by the United States Coast Guard in accordance with guidelines of the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) to United States seafarers in order to show evidence of a mariner’s qualifications. It is the standard documentation required for all crew members of U.S. ships with a Gross Tonnage of over 100 and for all vessels required to operate with a licensed Master, regardless of size.  In addition to applying for the MMC, you must also apply for a TWIC card which stands for Transportation Worker Identification Credential. The TWIC program provides a tamper-resistant biometric credential to maritime workers requiring unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities, outer continental shelf facilities, and vessels regulated under the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, or MTSA, and all U.S. Coast Guard credentialed merchant mariners. These are all credentials that are usually obtained and applied for through your education program.

This list of STCW endorsements can continue on and on as well as other ratings as you move higher up the chain of command. Here is a list of the licenses and endorsements you will receive with the NMI two-year program to compare:


  • Able Seaman (Limited)
  • Master 100 Ton
  • Mate 200 Ton

Commonwealth of Dominica:

  • II/3 Master Less than 500 GT


STCW Basic Safety Training

  • Assistance Towing
  • Proficiency in Survival Craft
  • Radar Observer (Unlimited)
  • Auxiliary Sail
  • Automatic Radar Plotting Aids (ARPA)
  • Tankerman Barge PIC
  • QMED (Engine room) options available as well

We hope this helps initiate your search and pathway into the maritime industry. Shipping and the maritime industry as a whole are the lifelines of the global economy. There will always be a need for this ever-growing field. Green technologies and ocean awareness are also deeply embedded into the industry, so if your interests also lie in an environmental category, there are opportunities for you as well.  

There is a saying, Fair Winds and Following Seas– taking that first step onboard is both exhilarating and nerve-racking. We wish you the best of luck on your voyage, and know that here at NMI we will help guide you along the way. To learn more about our college degree program, visit

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