Thinking About Setting Sail? This Program Could Be Your Head Start to the Career of Your Dreams

The helm of a ship with the mast and blue, cloudy skies in the background.

Noah Davis and Alfred Shepherd can tell you stories you’d expect to hear from an experienced sailor. Funny thing is, neither of them have even finished high school.

The seniors from the Maritime Academy of Toledo just returned from a two-week-long school internship aboard the Flagship Niagara. This sailing voyage across gigantic Lake Erie was meant to give Noah and Alfred their first real taste of life working in the maritime industry.

An older man and two students talk to the camera.

Click a button to watch our interview with Rick Brown and students from the Maritime Academy of Toledo:

Aboard the Niagara—a replica of Commodore Perry’s Brig from the War of 1812—the pair and their classmates experienced everything from rough weather to seasickness. They worked 15-hour days. They slept in hammocks below deck, under ceilings so low you’d bump your head if you stood up straight. Sometimes the waters were rough and choppy, then there would be days when the wind didn’t seem to move the sails an inch.

“You couldn’t see land most of the time,” Alfred recalls of the experience. "All you’d see was water and stars.”

Noah remembers an ominous storm that, at one point, required all hands on deck.

“You could literally watch the storm develop over water as it got closer to you,” Noah said. “And as soon as it got really close, one of the mates and the captain realized there was a really high potential for a dangerous situation to come out of the storm.”

This once-in-a-lifetime voyage was the capstone of Noah and Alfred’s senior year at the Maritime Academy of Toledo. Toledo is one of over 40 schools across the nation designed to help middle and high school students prepare for careers in the maritime or shipping industry. It was the first school of its kind to offer maritime-themed classes in a Career Tech Education format. At Toledo, you’ll find traditional college prep classes like math, literature and history, but you’ll also find classes like shipbuilding and navigating. Teachers call it “marinizing” the coursework. Toledo students can choose to study a variety of sea and shore side maritime occupations, from engineering to culinary. They wear uniforms. They learn self-discipline, hard work, and accountability. They learn to work as a team.

And it all comes with a big reward: Toledo graduates will have earned the credits and certifications to work just about anywhere in the maritime industry, or attend a maritime college, right out of high school. We caught up with Rick Brown, program director of Toledo’s Maritime Academy Career Tech Education Program (or, CTE), to learn more.

“This program is unlike anything they have done before,” Brown said. “[Students] are set up after the program so that they have options, and are a step ahead in college.”

“In all of our programs,” he said, “whenever you graduate you also have the certification to start working immediately. They can go on and work with the correct certification literally on any ship in the world at entry-level.”

Toledo graduates can even be recommended for congressional appointment to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point, New York. They can enroll in an Officer Training Program, attend a two- or four-year college, or apply to one of the nation’s five state maritime academies with a competitive advantage over other students.

“It’s all about opportunity, and that’s how we view it,” Brown said.

After he graduates, Noah plans to attend a maritime college, where he’ll earn an engineering degree to work on a tugboat or other large vessel. Alfred plans to get an entry-level position on a ship immediately, where he’ll save up money for college. Other students might seek positions in shore side occupations like welding, insurance, or working in a shipyard.

According to Brown, now is a particularly good time for students to consider the maritime industry, which is facing a retirement boom over the next few years. When asked what might make shipping occupations appealing for young people, he noted perks like competitive salary, the opportunity to travel the world, and a flexible work schedule.

“There’s an awful lot of freedoms involved,” he said. “You might be out on a cruise for three months at a time, but when you get off, you’re off for three months, and you can go anywhere you want in the world on vacation.” Students interested in maritime occupations should definitely check out Toledo and other similar programs across the nation, which could boost them into an industry that’s full of exciting opportunities.

“If someone wants to get into the industry, I would definitely encourage them,” Noah said.

To learn more, check out the website of The Maritime Academy of Toledo or search for maritime school to learn about similar programs in your area of the country. Or, a quick search for “maritime-themed schools” can help you learn about similar programs in your area of the country.

“Think of how much you could help yourself by really starting to explore maritime,” Brown noted.

And be sure to check out the remainder of this issue of Fast Forward for more information on careers in maritime transportation!

Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 5 - Maritime