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Captain Richard Phillips, (Tom Hanks played him in the movie) who was at the helm of the container ship Maersk Alabama when four Somali pirates seized it in 2009 went back to work a year after his kidnaping.


“I still like being at sea, it’s what I’ve done for 34 years and anyway, the wife is happy to see me back to work,” Phillips has said in many interviews with newspapers. “It can be tough, but worth it. I love being at sea.”

Phillips is a merchant mariner and sea captain who steers the giant ships that move cargo such as TV’s from China and cars from Germany to consumers in the U.S.

The merchant marines is not a branch of the military, so signing up to work on one of these ships isn’t as dangerous as enlisting, although there are real pirates in the world.

If you’re looking for adventure and don’t get seasick, there are jobs on the ocean such as captain and chief engineer, assistant engineer or marine oilers. Other jobs such as cooks, electrical engineers and maintenance workers can also be found on these floating transportation carriers.

Tom Nichols of Santee attended the California Maritime Academy after graduating from Grossmont High School. He earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering and went off to work on oil rigs around the world.

“I always loved the stories about sailors and old movies and everything about travel,” Nichols said. “It’s not exactly a romantic job, but it’s never boring. I work three months on and three months off. Not everyone can be away from land that long but I love it.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, most deck officers, engineers, and pilots have a bachelor’s degree from a merchant marine academy. The academy programs offer a bachelor’s degree and a Merchant Marine Credential (MMC) with an endorsement as a third mate or third assistant engineer. Graduates of these programs can also choose to receive a commission as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve, Merchant Marine Reserve, or U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

Non-officers, such as sailors or marine oilers, usually do not need a degree. Gigs for pilots, mates and able bodied seaman can be found at maritimeemployment.com.

Not all jobs require a college degree, but all workers must obtain Merchant Mariner Credentials from the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook is very good for a captain. The Bureau puts the growth rate for most industries at 14.3 percent from 2010 to 2020, it projects the growth rate for water transportation occupations will range up to 20 percent during the same period.

Civilian captains working on support vessels in America’s offshore oil fields earn up to $800 per day, or about $219,000 per year, for 273 days’ work.

While there are dangers in this type of work — the aforementioned pirates, and storms to name a few — there is also good karma waiting for you as many of the ships transport food aid to third world countries. If you’re serious about saving the world and have no qualms about putting yourself in danger to rescue dolphins or whales from slaughter, you can crew for organizations such as Greenpeace or Sea Shepherd, a non-profit marine wildlife conservation organization.

If you get sea sick, but still love the ocean, there are jobs for landlubbers as well. Ship management, marine insurance, and sales and marketing are a few careers in which you can work shoreside, but still say you work in shipping.

“Life at sea can be rewarding and dangerous, but it beats working in an office or at a drive-thru,” Nichols said. “I’ve been to almost every country in the world and seen the most amazing things. My parents wanted me to be a teacher, which is a good career for most people. I can’t imagine doing anything but what I do. Not everyone can say that about their job.”

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