Thursday, January 29, 2015

Application Submitted and Back to Sea!

I finished up school a few weeks ago and headed home for a while to take some time off.  I had a few weeks left of ATO, so I spent them gathering my paperwork and filling out my application for licensing.  The application process consists of gathering a ton of information and paperwork to copy and send in to prove that you've met the requirements for an upgrade to Officer status.  Course certificates for the past 2 years, Physicals, Drug screen letters, onboard assessment sheets, sea letters from my company and anything else that the Coast Guard might need to deem me worthy of officer status.
So, I gathered everything, (about 100 pages total) made multiple copies and overnighted everything to a licensing expert back east (Chuck Kakuska of Sea K's Licensing) where he then took a look and double checked to make sure I have everything.  Once Chuck was satisfied, he walked it into the local REC about a week ago and submitted it in person on my behalf.  You can submit your paperwork by yourself, but hiring a licensing expert can save you time and money, especially when it's someone like Chuck who was the Executive Officer for the Toledo REC before retiring.  Needless to say, he knows the system and will get you the best bang for your buck.  There's isn't an REC in Sacramento, where I'm from, so I'd have to drive to Oakland, 2 hours away, if I wanted to submit it in person.

Chuck seemed to think that all my Navy time and recent tug time combined, would qualify me for a 3rd Mate Unlimited license, so it was worth the $100 fee to have him give it a once-over and walk the packet in personally.  If for some reason the Coast Guard doesn't approve me for the bigger license, I should at least be guaranteed a 1600 ton Near Coastal and 500 ton Oceans license, which is still a large license and very marketable.  Click here for an overview of Merchant Marine Licenses

So, the packet is in and we wait. Once approval is granted, I can test.  In the meantime, I study daily and try to up the percentage on my practice tests.  It's a lot of information to go over, but it's just like eating an elephant... one piece at a time.

This morning, I finally got word from my boss that he has a trip for me and I'll be leaving on Friday the 13th, bound for Dutch Harbor via Whittier.  This should be a 5 week trip, so it'll give me plenty of time to study and get ready for licensing. I had a trip last summer that left on Friday the 13th as well, which is a double negative since it's considered bad luck to leave port on a Friday, let alone, Friday the 13th.  Always an Adventure...  :-0

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

School: DONE!

Today, one-year and 10 months later (to the day) I successfully finished my schooling!  I had passed my final class yesterday (Flashing Light) and needed to do today's assessment in the simulator with my company representative, and that was it.  Done.

It's been an amazing journey to this point, and it's gone by extremely fast, but the journey is still only in its beginning phases.  Over the next few days, I will organize all my paperwork, certificates, sea time letters, medical physical results, etc. and put them into a nice packet that will get sent to my licensing expert back east.  He will walk the packet into the Coast Guard for me and from that point, we wait.  The Coast Guard will then forward the application to the National Maritime Center and will make sure I have everything needed for the upgrade to Officer status.  If they approve the packet, they will give me the green light to test for my license.  This approval process can take anywhere from 2-8 weeks and from what I hear, it's been taking more in the 8-week range.  Once I get the green light, I will take part in a 2-week test prep session somewhere, maybe Seattle, and then take my exams in Portland, OR at the Coast Guard REC.  There's an REC in Seattle and Oakland, but since my good friends lives in Portland, I can stay with them and have a nice place to study each night before the next module.  Testing will take a week and consists of 7 modules, 2 per day.  If I pass all 7, my license will be issued shortly thereafter and the next phase of my career will be underway.

I'm still in shock that school is over and it'll probably sink in over the next few days.  I've met some really cool people and I'm going to miss sitting in class with my schoolmates.  We've had a good time, and I'm sure we'll keep in touch as we move forward in our careers. I will most likely see them during test prep unless I get approved really early and decide to do test prep in another location.

At any rate, I will post up the progress of my packet as it gets submitted and obviously the steps towards testing.  I'm nervous about testing, mostly because it's a lot of information to get tested on in a short period of time.   I'll make it though somehow, just like everything else...

Best quote I heard last week from a senior officer giving advice for new deck officers:  "Don't be the senior guy with a secret".

that tiz all.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Driving Ships

I'm back in school and plugging away at my last class session.  This time around, we are learning about ship handling for a week, which consists of a morning lecture and an afternoon of practice in the simulator.  We've had to practice turns and stopping in current, wind, tight corners on rivers, shallow waters and even anchoring.

There's much to learn about the hydrodynamics of a ship and how other ships can effect you when passing closely, so we practice and practice until we get it right.  Bank effect can cause your ship to veer off in the opposite direction when passing closely to banks or other large structures and even ships.

Today we had to pass an assessment of anchoring a large bulk carrier in South San Francisco bay and it was a little nerve racking.  A fairly simply task, but we had to meet certain criteria (speed restrictions, distance off, etc.) and it's always stressful when your instructor is watching and grading you.  I pulled it off without any problems, as did everyone else.

Next week we do our flashing light (Morse Code) assessment and then we do our final simulation assessment where a representative from our company comes in and watches us navigate a boat for a few hours in the simulator. We have to make all the regular called to VTS (Vessel Traffic Service), make navigational passing arrangements with other ships and safely navigate from one point to another without any problems. This will be our final day of class and hopefully the company rep likes what they see and will offer the students a full time position afterwards.  I'm fairly certain that my company is already counting on my becoming an officer for them, but who knows... I could crash a boat in the simulator and they might have second thoughts.

Anyhow, I'm staying in a cool little apartment with my friend Jake and we'll be driving back to Sacramento after our assessments are done next week.  Then it's on to packet submittal and the waiting process before I can test for my license.