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Abroad & At Home: Domestic vs. International Credentialing, part II

Read Part I of this blog post here

In our last blog post we discussed the vocabulary associated with earning mariner credentials the world over. We also looked at a few similarities and differences between credentialing on either side of the Atlantic as an example. This post goes a bit farther; we'll address a few of the most frequently asked questions regarding domestic and international credentials and follow up with some supplemental resources.

Some FAQs

Why is my credential only “good” in the US? Like many countries, the United States has a vested interest in employing its own mariners on its own ships. The Jones Act of 1920 lays out rules that ensure that the American Merchant Marine is manned by US citizens on US-built vessels, with the goals of preparedness in the event of war and control over who and what sails US waters. American shipping laws are also relatively stringent in regards to the number of crew vessels must carry, maximum hours those crew can work, and a maritime employer’s liability in the event of an injury.

All this is to say: the United States prohibits mariners of other nationalities from working on American vessels, and other countries in turn often hire crew operating under their own rules and regulations. While some groups such as the Commonwealth of Nations honor each other’s maritime credentials, the US is not part of such a group. Our mariners come with a list of protections and expectations that doesn't always mesh with the policies of other nations.

Will my seatime from foreign-flagged vessels “count” towards USCG qualifications? This is a “yes, if...” question. The US Coast Guard states that foreign sea service is “subject to evaluation by the Coast Guard to determine that it is a fair and reasonable equivalent to service acquired on merchant vessels of the United States with respect to grade, tonnage, horsepower, waters, and operating conditions.” That is to say that you must closely document foreign sea service, as it will receive even greater scrutiny than domestic service during your application’s evaluation process.

What credentials do I need to get hired on a foreign-flagged vessel? The answer to this question has as many potential answers as there are potential job openings. There’s no resume or job history that can guarantee you a place on the foreign-flagged vessel of your dreams, but there are a number of steps you can take to best prepare yourself for any job you desire, regardless of nationality

  1. Start earning STCW endorsements. Even if you’re a new mariner who's applying only for domestic entry-level jobs that don’t require any maritime credentialing, the initial STCW course Basic Safety Training (BST) is a baseline for any position on international vessels, large vessels, and many vessels that conduct business on the open ocean. STCW-95, a suite of safety-related courses including BST, is even more valuable abroad.

  2. Establish contact with your goal vessel early… even if that means volunteering. Many foreign-flagged tall ships require prospective crewmembers to complete a passage as a paying “guest crew” member before they’ll consider them for a paid position. This ensures that a mariner doesn’t fly halfway around the world to take a job on a vessel and with a crew that aren’t a good match for them.

  3. Have your job application documents ready for anything. While many non-American vessels prefer to hire from within their own country’s population due to citizenship and licensing requirements, a vessel with an immediate opening is more likely to hire the first qualified candidate to come their way, no matter their citizenship status. Have a working resume/CV, basic maritime cover letter, scans of your licenses and credentials, and list of professional references close at hand at all times- you’ll thank yourself when that elusive job suddenly appears.

  4. Obtain and record your qualifications and experiences. This means keeping careful count of your seatime, keeping credentials current through renewals, and testing for every domestic endorsement for which you qualify. Just like for any job, the more you can prove your experience and commitment to professional development, the better.

Where in the US can I take the courses required for international qualifications? The US Coast Guard has provided a comprehensive document listing every approved training facility in the US. Many of these facilities offer STCW, RYA, and other internationally-honored courses. Find a training center that you’re interested in and scan their course offerings to determine whether or not they offer the course you seek.

What about Flags of Convenience? Excellent point! Some vessels and maritime companies operate under flags of convenience (FOCs)- they’re registered under a country other than that of the owner/operators. A very obvious example of FOCs is seen in the cruise industry, where most cruise ships, though operated by American or European companies, fly the flags of small Caribbean nations such as the Bahamas and are therefore subject to that nation’s less stringent rules and tax laws. Companies with FOC-flagged vessels may gladly honor your credential if you apply to them, especially if your citizenship matches that of the operating entity, but be forewarned; dodging strict regulations may benefit the company’s profits, but can be detrimental to mariner working conditions.

Other resources

The Enkhuizen School in Rotterdam, NL teaches bilingual courses designed for square-rig sailors and places its students on vessels such as Europa to train.

A Marketplace podcast episode, broadcast during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, covers some examples of the difficulties of using American-flagged vessels for international travel

Considering moving to foreign-flagged vessels for your primary source of income? Make sure to plan ahead for your taxes

Are you itching to expatriate? Australia considers mariners highly desirable immigrants; you can read more about that program by following this link.

There's a lot to consider as you chart your own course through the maritime world, but starting with a firm base of knowledge and solid professional development goals can start you off on the right tack. Have any further questions for The Seafarer Collective? Leave us a comment or email us and we'll do our best to address your query.

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