The Sea’s the Limit for Maritime Careers

A blue and red container ship sets sail. In the background there is a dock full of containers.

The saying goes that the sky’s the limit, but when you’re talking about career options in maritime transportation, the sea is really the limit.

To learn more about career options in maritime transportation, we spoke with Paul “Chip” Jaenichen, the Maritime Administrator with the Maritime Administration of the United States. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) is a branch of the United States Department of Transportation . MARAD deals with waterborne transportation. That is, it works in areas involving shipping, shipbuilding, port operations, national security, and safety. Chip, as the Maritime Administrator, oversees the entire administration.

A man in a business suit. Behind him are windows, flags, and a seal of the Maritime Administration.

Click a button to watch our interview with Paul “Chip” Jaenichen:

Chip has been working with MARAD since 2012, starting as Deputy Administrator. President Obama appointed him Maritime Administrator in 2013 and he was confirmed by the Senate in July 2014. His appointment came after a decorated history as a naval officer with 30 years of service—so Chip knows quite a bit about the possibilities available in the maritime industry.

“The Maritime Administration has a very broad portfolio,” Chip told us. This portfolio ranges from dockworkers, marine engineers, and naval architects on the shore side, to captains, shipmen, bosuns, mechanics, and engineers on the shipside. But that’s not all. They even employ mariners whose job is to keep the ships at the ready. This means ensuring that ships are always prepared so they can support an urgent mission to globally deploy our Armed Forces within five days. Those vessels can also be used to support humanitarian assistance and disaster response, such following the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Sandy.

Of course, careers in maritime transportation aren’t limited to the Maritime Administration alone. There are over 40,000 ships working all across the globe, which means there are plenty of options available. Chip said, “The shipbuilding industry in the United States is a $24 billion industry. It supports 107,000 jobs in the shipyards.”

All those different jobs are hardly limited to working on or around the boats themselves. Logistics—a topic we covered in Fast Forward Volume 2 Issue 2—plays a key role in maritime transportation. The complex web of buying and selling goods (and shipping them across the globe) needs people to oversee it. This is especially true given that 75% of the goods we see in stores had to—at some point—travel by water to get to the United States.

Salaries in the maritime transportation industry are good. For example, crane operators—the folks who remove the thousands of 20-feet containers from ships—can make more than $200,000 a year. But on average, Chip said, the median salary for maritime jobs is $50,000 to $75,000. Skilled welders and other trades can earn more, while logisticians' salaries sit in the middle of that range. Longevity and performance raises exist in many of these jobs, as well. Recent grads might not start out earning as much, but with time and dedication they can earn more, up to and exceeding $150,000.

Not all of these jobs require college degrees, either. Many companies, especially those working inland waterways and rivers, prefer to test out their own potential employees. Selected hires can rise from their start as a deckhand to being captain of a ship. Students who choose to go to college can still get into maritime careers by joining the U.S. Navy and U.S. Merchant Marine.

Many jobs in maritime transportation also only work for part of the year, yet earn pay for the whole year. Chip told us there’s a variety of ways that can work out. Work shifts vary in length, for instance. Some range from fourteen days on to fourteen days off (meaning you would work for two weeks and then basically get a two-week paid vacation), while other shifts last for months before breaking for months.

The timing of these shifts vary and it often comes with deployment and time at sea away from everyone onshore. Seafarers are generally away from their families for long periods of time. “That’s the challenge,” Chip said, reflecting on his own years as a naval engineer and submarine Captain. “I missed a lot of pretty big events in my children’s lives…I’ve been underway for Christmas, I’ve been underway for Thanksgiving.”

The reality of jobs like those offered in maritime transportation is that you are sometimes needed elsewhere, no matter the time of year or the holidays you celebrate. “There are advantages,” Chip added, “but there are also disadvantages. It’s something that has to work well for you.” But if you relish the chance to explore the world from the vastness of the ocean, there’s a good chance maritime transportation is the career path for you.

Erin Skoog
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 5 - Maritime