Opportunities abound to learn maritime A-B-Seas

“In the photo are Bryan Field, left, and Sean O’Doherty, two mariners who trained at the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Maryland.(Photo by Bonnie West) Sailing up and down the blue waters of Commencement Bay are ships, tankers, freighters and boats traveling to and from the Port of Tacoma.Aboard many of them are young Americans who had a chance to do something different with their lives–learn a maritime trade and visit the world’s cultures in the process.Many of them are graduates of the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education, located in Piney Point, Maryland. The facility is the largest training center for deep sea merchant seafarers on the world’s oceans and inland waterways boatmen in the United States.They extend their program for professional advancement to men and women between the ages of 18 and 25.Students are trained to work as deck, engine or steward department mariners and can pursue their interests in bridge management, marine electronics, power plant maintenance, culinary and galley operations, and more.And the training doesn’t stop there. Opportunities are available throughout the graduate’s maritime career and many of the courses taken are transferable as college credits. After completing schooling and on-the-job training, apprentices become able-bodied seamen and women eligible to earn from $2,000 to $6,000 a month, depending on experience and seniority, for working six to eight months each year.Pierce County students facing graduation in June and the big, wide world beyond may want to consider the training and opportunities available to them through the school at Maryland. The Unlicensed Apprentice Program consists of three phases of instruction: LA twelve-week vocational curriculum focusing on maritime organization, basic seamanship, emergency action and social responsibility. LTwelve weeks of ship-board training focusing on ship operations and maintenance in which the student services in each of the different departments and maintains a journal of his/her activities. LSpecialized department-specific train-ing based on the department choice of the Unlicensed Apprentice.Successful completion of the program qualifies the student to ship as an ordinary seaman, wiper or steward assistant–and employment is guaranteed.The grading policy at the Paul Hall Center is based on the conventional letter grade and pass-fail systems used in public and private schools. In addition to receiving letter grades based on class work, quizzes and tests, students also are evaluated on practical job factors and conduct. Their progress is determined by their ability to perform basic skills according to behavioral objectives and to develop proper work habits and cooperative attitudes towards their peers–and for good reason. It’s not like differences of opinion that come up on a ship can be resolved by taking a walk around the block. There is no block. Bryan Field, 20, of Port Orchard, completed the Piney Point, Md., program and set sail for the first time last March.I found out that my father was in it (Merchant Marines) a long time ago and I have friends there now, Field said. They kind of led me on the way.On his first voyage, Field sailed around the world working general utility, deck work, and in the engine room utilizing skills he learned at the school.I had lots of fun traveling, Field said. I went from Portland, Oregon, to Singapore and Bangladesh, the Suez Canal and New Orleans. I saw different places and made good money. But you’ve got to be educated and you can’t go in there a slacker. You have to want to study and really want to do this. But it’s worth it to sign up and check it out.He’s probably the highest paid 20-year-old in Tacoma! laughed Bob Hall, assistant vice president of Government Services & Fisheries at the Seafarers International Union of North America. His offices are located at the Port of Tacoma.Hall added that Field made $3,500 a month after taxes, and that a fat monthly paycheck isn’t unusual. The money is a very compelling thing, Hall said. We have guys who make as much as $12,000 a month.He said that anyone who attends the school at Piney Point finds out quickly if they’re suited to the mariner’s life.It disciplines them, he said. If they can’t make it through 90 days in school, they won’t make it aboard a ship. It’s a culling process to some degree.Sean O’Doherty, 36, of Eatonville, can be considered an old salt. He has been sailing for 14 years since first hearing about the educational opportunities at Piney Point from a relative. I was studying teaching, but I decided to pursue this instead, he said.O’Doherty, who has worked for a number of companies on different ships, from freighters to tankers, is working toward an engineering license. I’ve experienced lots of things and gone to different countries and met all kinds of different people in different culture, he said. There are great opportunities there. The challenge for the young person is to see some of the world, make a decent living and really have the possibility to advance yourself and upgrade your skills.O’Doherty, who will soon be supporting a new bride at the four-bedroom home he bought last year, has been happy with his mariner’s life. They feed you, clothe you, educate you, guarantee you a job, and fly you to it. You can’t beat that!It costs $1,500 to $1,800 for airfare to the school, clothing, the items a student would need in the school’s programs, as well as a passport.There are programs through the state and Tacoma that can help a financially disadvantaged person get to Piney Point, said Hall, nephew of Paul Hall, a past president of the Seafarers International Union for whom the center is named.Hall has seen a number of success stories like Field and O’Doherty over the years. He has even seen teens from the streets turn their lives around.Not everybody out of high school is college-bound and this opportunity offers them all the benefits of the military, but it doesn’t have the time commitment, he said. For more information about the Paul Hall Center, contact Bob Hall at the Seafarers International Union, 3411 So. Union St., Tacoma, at 253/272-7774, or visit the school’s Web site at: www.seafarers.org. “