Written by Lt. Katie Braynard
Many people know that the Coast Guard is responsible for issuing Merchant Mariner Credentials to mariners, but did you know that the Coast Guard also issues these credentials to current military members who apply? It’s true – and every military member who is eligible should consider taking the time to apply for and obtain these credentials, especially if they are interested in a career in the maritime sector once they retire or separate from the Coast Guard. If you get your credential early in your Coast Guard career, you can continue to upgrade it as you promote and move to billets of greater responsibility.
Here are some key things you should know about the program and applying:
1) The Coast Guard National Maritime Center (NMC), in partnership with the Pay and Personnel Center (PPC), just updated the Transcript Of Sea Service (TOSS) needed to apply.
In the past, information was hand-transcribed from a service member’s Direct Access records into the TOSS form. This method was time consuming for staffs on both ends, and allowed for data inconsistency and then need for verification, which at times slowed down the process. However, the NMC and PPC just announced a new form that will help to minimize the time it takes to obtain a TOSS form and increased the information it contains, making the application much more useful. Now the form auto-populates data based on which cutters are entered. This is a huge advantage as it provides NMC with additional information regarding your job type and service, which is used to determine what credentials or endorsements you are eligible for.
2) Your sea time is good for the last seven years.
Yes – seven years! What does this mean? It means that if you have three months qualifying service on a vessel of appropriate tonnage or horsepower anytime within the past seven years, you are good to go! In years past, many military members had trouble documenting 90 days of sea service within the proceeding three years to qualify for an officer’s endorsement. However that three year period was recently extended to seven years when serving on vessels of the uniformed services. Depending on the credential you are applying for, there may be additional sea service or training requirements. Check out the NMC website or contact your local Regional Exam Center (REC) for additional information.
3) A vast majority of officers and enlisted personnel are eligible for credentials.
If you’re enlisted, the NMC has created a great guide that tells you what your service is equivalent to at each rank. For example, if you serve as an E-4 in the deck department aboard a cutter, that service is creditable to the service of an able-bodied seaman. There are equivalencies for engineering credentials as well – so nearly any service counts! For officers, your eligibility depends on a few factors, such as the cutter you served on and where the cutter patrolled. Also, underway deck watch officers and engineering watch officers’ duties are considered equivalent to watch standing duties performed by licensed mates and engineers aboard merchant vessels. There are a couple of points on the NMC website on the dedicated “Military Service” button you can check out for more information.
4) You may have to take a test – but sample exams and questions are provided.
No one likes taking tests, but most of the information is stuff you already know! The National Maritime Center also provides sample exams and questions to help you prepare. For some credentials you may be able to take a training course in lieu of the Coast Guard examination. You have a year from your application being approved to take and pass your test to obtain the credential – plenty of time to brush up on any material you may be a bit rusty on. And if you don’t pass all of your examination modules on your first try, you may be able to try again. Check out all the links on the Examinations Webpage for the latest information.
5) Holding a Merchant Mariner Credential is a GREAT transition or post-retirement plan!
If you’re thinking about separating from the service or retiring, having a Merchant Mariner Credential can open up an entire world of jobs in the maritime industry (not just underway positions) that allows you to put your skills to use post service. If you love working in the maritime domain, it’s definitely worth considering!
If you have questions, you can check out the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center website for more details. Here, you’ll find specific information about military to mariner credentialing and checklists on putting together your application. If you still have questions, you can contact your nearest REC or call the National Maritime Center directly at IASKNMC@USCG. MIL or (888)IASKNMC.