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Is Seafaring a Career for me?

The U.S. merchant maritime industry employs men and women who work on a variety of vessels in the deck, engine and steward departments. If you become a mariner, you will have job opportunities in different sectors of the maritime industry. Jobs are available on U.S. flag commercial vessels sailing on the deep seas, inland waterways and Great Lakes; including cargo vessels, tugs and cruise ships. There are also civilian mariner positions available on military vessels operated by private maritime companies, as well as on vessels owned and operated by the U.S. Navy and other government agencies.

Although the merchant marine is sometimes referred to as the nation’s “fourth arm of defense,” America’s mariners who choose to work on government vessels are part of a civilian crew supporting military missions. Mariners sailing in these positions are not members of the armed forces.

Shipboard life is very demanding. Mariners live and work together in a confined and isolated environment, and maybe away from home for months at time. There is often no immediate access to medical care. However, seafaring is a rewarding career, with good pay and benefits. If you continue your training, you will have the chance to continue to move up the career ladder into more skilled and higher-paying positions. You will also have an opportunity to travel all over the world, and to be part of the “brotherhood of the sea.” Once you complete the Unlicensed Apprentice Program, you will have the skills necessary to begin a career as a seafarer.

What is Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship?

The Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship (“SHLSS” or “School”), affiliated with the Seafarers International Union of North America, Atlantic, Gulf, Lakes and Inland Waters District/NMU, AFL-CIO (SIU) is a vocational school dedicated to preparing students for successful careers as U.S. merchant mariners. The School has been training individuals for careers at sea since 1967. The SHLSS provides entry-level training for individuals who wish to begin a seafaring career. We do not accept students that already hold a rating(s).  The program is called the “Unlicensed Apprentice Program.” SHLSS also offers classes for experienced seafarers to permit them to upgrade their skills. There are eligibility requirements for both the Unlicensed Apprentice Program and the upgrading classes. The requirements for the apprentice program are set forth in these materials. Seafarers must meet additional eligibility requirements in order to participate in the upgrading classes.

The School is located on the campus of the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education. The campus consists of over 60 acres on the waterfront in Piney Point, Maryland, which is approximately 60 miles from Washington D.C. The campus includes the SHLSS, as well as the Joseph Sacco Firefighting and Safety Training School; various classroom facilities, including a cooking lab for hands-on training and culinary demonstrations; the Paul Hall Library and Maritime Museum, marine simulation equipment; and the Seafarers Training and Recreation Center, which contains dining facilities, living quarters, and recreational and laundry facilities. Hands-on-training is also conducted onboard the Freedom Star, a vessel which is docked at the campus’s waterfront.

What is the Unlicensed Apprentice program?

The Unlicensed Apprentice Program at SHLSS is the largest training program for entry-level seafarers in the United States. It is designed to prepare students with little or no maritime experience for a seafaring career.

What is the cost for tuition room and board for Program Participants?

There is no charge for tuition or room and board for Program participants. However, students are responsible for paying the costs of their uniforms (once the student receives their uniform the fees are non-refundable), a physical exam, drug test, benzene test, and fees for the following required documents: a U.S. Merchant Mariner’s Credential, a Transportation Workers Identification Credential, and a current passport. These fees and costs are approximately $1,500. Students must also pay for the cost of their transportation to the Center.

What is the curriculum?

The Unlicensed Apprentice (UA) Program is approximately one year long, and includes a combination of classroom training at the SHLSS, as well as an apprenticeship on board a vessel. The Program is broken down as follows:

Phase I – sixteen (16) weeks of entry level training at the SHLSS. Stewards who complete Phase I may sail as Steward Assistants (SA) until they reach 200 sea days, at which point they will return to the school for Phase IV.

Phase II (Deck and Engine) – sixty (60) days or more shipboard training as an unlicensed apprentice. Apprentices receive an entry wage while they are training on board the vessel during Phase II.

Phase III (Deck & Engine) – one hundred twenty (120) days at sea entry level employment earning contract wage aboard a designated SIU contracted vessel.

Phase IV – Completion of department specific upgrading classes at SHLSS.

  • Completion of AB (3 weeks)
  • Completion of FOWT (4 weeks)
  • Completion of Chief Cook (5 weeks)

You must successfully complete all four phases in order to receive credit for the UA program and it must be done within one year of your completion of Phase III or you will be discontinued and your seniority will be dropped to C-seniority.

Training covers the duties and responsibilities of seamanship in the three shipboard departments: deck, engine and steward, through a curriculum that includes both classroom learning and hands-on training. Skills that are taught include:

Deck – marlinespike seamanship, cargo handling, watch standing duties, routine maintenance regimes and shipboard safety.

Engine – diesel and steam plant familiarization, use and care of tools and equipment and shipboard safety.

Steward – food preparation fundamentals, handling stores, nutrition, shipboard sanitation, laundry operations and shipboard safety.

Students are required to take classes concerning shipboard emergencies and operations including: fire fighting, water survival, first aid, CPR, industrial relations and social responsibilities on board a vessel. Each course is designed to provide the students with skills and knowledge to perform safely and effectively aboard a ship. Apprentices also learn about citizenship and individual responsibility through a series of classroom discussions and visits to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., and the SIU Headquarters in Camp Springs, Maryland. The prospective seafarer will also learn about the nature of the shipping industry, the economics of marine transportation, and government policies and regulation that affect the vitality of the U.S. fleet.

What is the school's policies on requests for accomodations?

The Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship has the right to set and maintain standards for admitting students and evaluating their progress and is not obligated to waive any requirements that are fundamental or essential to the integrity of the programs. Students with disabilities must meet the academic, technical and physical standards for participation in the programs. Generally speaking applicable law does not require the School to provide accommodations that fundamentally alter the nature of a program (such as by diluting academic integrity) or that pose an undue hardship (defined as significantly difficult or expensive).

Pursuant to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) and any relevant state law, the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship will consider the request for reasonable accommodations from qualified students with disabilities. Accommodations are subject to the United State Coast Guard regulations governing training and education of merchant mariners and are considered on a case by case basis.

To receive accommodations for a disability a student must provide documentation of the need for accommodation at least 30 days prior to arrival at the Seafarers Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship. The evaluation should be less than two years old to demonstrate the current impact of the disability and to identify appropriate accommodations for merchant mariner training. Documentation should be in the form of a psycho-educational or neuropsychological evaluation conducted by a licensed or certified psychologist, educational diagnostician or other relevant professional with training and experience in identifying and diagnosing learning disabilities on professional letterhead and signed.

The School reserves the right to request additional information or evaluation. Your written permission will be required to release information to the School. The School will maintain the confidentiality of your request for accommodation and supporting documentation, unless you give the School permission to release this information.

What should I expect if I attend the the unlicensed apprentice program?

The work of a seafarer is physically demanding and requires a certain level of physical fitness. You should be aware that upon arrival you will be evaluated to determine whether you are physically able to perform the essential tasks of a merchant mariner. This evaluation will include an assessment of your ability to climb ladders and stairs; your agility; your sense of balance; your ability to lift loads of at least 40 pounds; your ability to crouch, kneel, crawl, and stand on your feet for extended periods; your manual dexterity; and your ability to use survival equipment. If you are physically unable to perform these essential tasks, you cannot work as a mariner on a ship. For this reason, you may be sent home to improve your fitness level if you cannot successfully perform these tasks upon arrival. In addition, as part of your training at SHLSS, you will be required to participate in regular fitness training.

The UA Program curriculum has been developed to meet all US Coast Guard requirements. The UA is required to wear a uniform (once the students uniform has been issued the fees are non-refundable) and march to and from classes. Apprentices must adhere to strict grooming standards. Males must arrive with and maintain a short, military cut during the training.  Females must wear hair up and it must fit entirely into a ball cap.  (Note: Due to United States Coast Guard regulations, students are not allowed to wear wigs or dreadlocks in the Unlicensed Apprentice program.)

The daily routine of a UA is very much like the routine a merchant mariner will experience on board a ship. Below is a typical day in the life of a UA during the first phase of the program:

  • 0400 – wake-up
  • 0415 – prepare dorm for morning inspection
  • 0430 – breakfast
  • 0445 – report to work in the Galley
  • 0730 – mustering for morning colors
  • 0800 – march to class
  • 0800 – 1100 class
  • 1100 – march to lunch
  • 1130 – report to galley for lunch detail
  • 1300 – march to class
  • 1300 – 1600 afternoon class
  • 1600 – return from class and march to evening meal
  • 1630 – report to galley for evening meal duty
  • 1630- 1930 – galley duty
  • 2000 – lights out

What are the anticipated expenses?

  • USCG physical/drug test/yellow fever/benzene = $320
  • Merchant Mariners Credential = $140
  • USCG issued medical certificate = no charge
  • TWIC = $125.25
  • U.S. Passport = $110
  • Dental = varies depending on work that needs to be completed

What are the school's academic policies?

Students are required to pass any assessments and exam(s) in each course in order to pass the course. If a student fails the assessment or exam, he or she is allowed one additional opportunity to take the assessment/exam. If a student fails a course, they will be sent home at their own expense to get academic help and must submit proof with written request to return to the school.

Applicants should be aware that if they do not complete the entire Program, they will not be eligible to receive certificates for the courses they have taken up to the point that they were dismissed, decided to leave or discontinued by the school for not completing the entire program.

What are the application process and admission requirements?

The application process to the Unlicensed Apprentice Program is selective. The Program only accepts applicants whom the Admission Committee determines will be able to successfully pursue a seafaring career. A candidate must demonstrate that he or she possesses the discipline, ability, and fitness level necessary to work as a merchant mariner in order to be accepted into the Program. Candidates are accepted throughout the year. The detailed description of the Application Process below contains more information about how frequently applicants are accepted.

Admission Requirements

Applicants seeking admission to the Unlicensed Apprentice Program must meet the following requirements:

General Requirements

All applicants must meet the following general requirements:

  • Must be 18 or older.
  • Must be eligible to work in the United States.
  • Must be able to meet all U.S. Coast Guard qualifications/requirements for the issuance and upgrades of a Merchant Mariner’s Credential.  Do not currently hold a MMC above OS, WI, SD(FH).
  • Must be able to obtain a USCG issued 2 year STCW medical certificate.
  • Must be able to obtain a Transportation Workers Identification Card (TWIC) issued by TSA.
  • Cannot be on any form of probation or parole.
  • If convicted of any crime other than a minor traffic violation you will required to submit a final court disposition(s).

General Physical Requirements

Applicants must meet the following physical requirements:

Be in good physical, mental and dental health. Applicants must be able to pass a complete physical and drug test performed by a Seafarers Health and Benefits Plan contracted clinic for employment purposes.

  • Have blood pressure normal for their age.
  • Have teeth in good medical condition. (see dental requirements)
  • Have normal color vision as determined by USCG approved color vision testing or mariner could be restricted to sailing steward department.
  • All deck department applicants must have a minimum of 20/200 vision in each eye, and corrected to 20/40 in both eyes.
  • All engine department applicants must have a minimum of 20/200 vision in each eye, and corrected to 20/50 in both eyes. NOTE: If the applicant does not meet the vision requirements for upgrading in either the Deck or Engine departments, he/she may be restricted to sailing in the Steward department.
  • Applicants who wear corrective lenses or glasses need to bring either two (2) pair of glasses or one (1) pair of glasses and enough contact lenses for a minimum for nine (9) months.


What are the expectations of me onboard a vessel?

The work of a seafarer is physically demanding, and requires a certain level of physical fitness. You should be aware that upon arrival you will be evaluated to determine whether you are physically able to perform the essential tasks of a merchant mariner.

Physical evaluations include an assessment of your ability to climb ladders and stairs; agility; balance; ability to lift loads of at least 40 pounds; crouch, kneel, crawl, and stand on your feet for extended periods; manual dexterity; and your ability to use survival equipment.

If you are physically unable to perform these essential tasks, you cannot work as a mariner on a ship. For this reason, you may be sent home to improve your fitness level if you cannot successfully perform these tasks upon arrival.

What documents will I need to have in hand before arriving?

  • U.S. Passport
  • Transportation Worker Identification Credential


What ratings qualify for the Vet Program?

Culinary Specialist – Previous U.S. military experience in Culinary (Pay grade E-6 or above with at least one Culinary tour of not less than 24 months in a Lead Foodservice Production Capacity.  The U.S. military service must have been within five years. The candidate may exceed this five year requirement of continuously employed in a food service capacity.


  • Boatswains Mate (BM)
  • Operation Specialist (OS)
  • Gunners Mate (GM)
  • Quartermaster (QM)
  • Radarman (RD)
  • Signalman (SM)
  • Electrician Technician, Navigation (Submarine) (ETV)
  • Mineman (MN)


  • Machinists Mate (MM)
  • Boiler Technician (BT)
  • Electricians Mate (EM)
  • Gas Turbine Systems Tech. (GS), (GSE), (GSM)
  • Engineman (EN)
  • Hull Maintenance Technician (HT)
  • Machinery Technician (MK)
  • Machinery Repairman (MR)
  • Interior Comm. Electrician (IC)
  • Damage Controlman (DC)
  • Telephone Technician (TT)

Can I use my Vet benefits?

Yes, but you will need your Certificate of Eligibility.

How much time with the military will transfer over?

At least 2 years in Engine or Deck approved ratings. The UNCG will approve use of 60% of military sea service and apply it to obtain a USCG endorsement of Able Seafarer Deck or FOWT with no recency requirement.


What are the main duties as a cook onboard a vessel?

Food Prep & Planning: Chief Cooks will perform the butchering, cook of the roasts, soups, gravies, and sauces, prepare and serve all the food, assist the Steward and Baker in serving breakfast, and plan the menus.

Inventory & Equipment: Cooks will work under the supervision of the Steward and/or Baker and assist in the proper storage of provisions, which includes inventory of galley stores and equipment, and report to the Steward and/or Baker if any equipment repairs are needed.

Cleanliness & Food Safety: Cooks are also responsible for the general cleanliness of the galley and its equipment.

Should Cooks bring any additional items?

You may bring your knives if you like.

What skills are expected from Cooks?

  • Cutting skills
  • Knife safety skills
  • Sanitation
  • Time management
  • Following recipes
  • Production

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