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Water Transportation Occupations - What They Do


How to Advance (Advancement)
Experience and passing exams are required to advance. Deckhands who wish to advance must decide whether they want to work in the wheelhouse or the engine room. They will then assist the engineers or deck officers. With experience, assistant engineers and deck officers can advance to become chief engineers or captains. On smaller boats, such as tugs, a captain may choose to become self-employed by buying a boat and working as an owner-operator.

Employment
Water transportation workers held more than 81,100 jobs in 2008. The total number who worked at some point in the year was significantly larger because many merchant marine officers and seamen work only part of the year.

About 40 percent of all workers were employed in water transportation services. Another 26 percent worked in establishments related to port and harbor operations, marine cargo handling, or navigational services to shipping. Governments employed 11 percent of all water transportation workers, many of whom worked on supply ships and are civilian mariners of the Navy Department's Military Sealift Command.

Job Outlook
Employment in water transportation occupations is projected to grow faster than average. Excellent job opportunities are expected as demand for people working in the shipping industry, particularly officers, is expected to be greater than the number of people wishing to enter these occupations.

Job Growth
Employment in water transportation occupations is projected to grow 15 percent over the 2008-2018 period, faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth will stem from increasing tourism and growth in offshore oil and gas production. Employment will also rise in and around major port cities due to increasing international trade.

Employment in deep-sea shipping for American mariners is expected to remain stable. A fleet of deep-sea U.S.-flagged ships is considered vital to the Nation's defense, so some receive Federal support through a maritime security subsidy and other provisions in laws that limit certain Federal cargoes to ships that fly the U.S. flag.

Employment growth also is expected in passenger cruise ships within U.S. waters. Vessels that operate between U.S. ports are required by law to be U.S.-flagged vessels. The staffing needs for several new U.S. flagged cruise ships that will travel to the Hawaiian Islands will create new opportunities for employment. In addition, a small, but growing interest in using ferries to handle commuter traffic around major metropolitan areas should create some opportunities.

Some growth in water transportation occupations is projected in vessels operating in the Great Lakes and inland waterways as the economy recovers from the recession. Growth will be driven by demand for bulk products, such as coal, iron ore, petroleum, sand and gravel, grain, and chemicals. Since current pipelines cannot transport ethanol, some growth will come from shipping ethanol. Problems with congestion in the rail transportation system will increase demand for inland water transportation.

Excellent job opportunities are anticipated over the next decade as the need to replace workers, particularly officers, will generate many job openings. High turnover, the prospect of many retirements in the water transportation industry as a whole, and growth in the level of trade occurring worldwide will cause more jobs to be created than there will be people interested in taking them. The number of graduates from maritime academies has not kept up with the demand for officers on board ships. In addition, higher regulatory and security requirements has limited the pool of potential seamen. And a limited number of berths (beds) on board ships also is making it difficult for potential seamen to get the required number of hours on board ships to qualify for certain credentials. However, as the industry acknowledges these problems, living conditions, training, and opportunities for advancement should go up to attract more people to the occupations.

Earnings
Earnings vary widely with the particular water transportation position and the worker's experience. Earnings are higher than most other occupations with similar educational requirements for entry-level positions. While wages are lower for sailors than for mates and engineers, sailors' on-board experience is important for advancing into those higher paying positions. Workers are normally paid by the day. Since companies provide food and housing at sea and it is difficult to spend money while working, sailors are able to save a large portion of their pay.

Median annual wages of captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels were $61,960 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $42,810 and $83,590. The lowest 10 percent had wages of less than $29,330, while the top 10 percent earned over $108,120. Annual pay for captains of larger vessels, such as container ships, oil tankers, or passenger ships may exceed $100,000, but only after many years of experience. Similarly, earnings of captains of tugboats are dependent on the port and the nature of the cargo.

Median annual wages of sailors and marine oilers were $34,390 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,550 and $44,080. The lowest 10 percent had wages of less than $21,110, while the top 10 percent earned over $51,890.

Median annual wages of ship engineers were $60,690 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $45,520 and $79,800. The lowest 10 percent had wages of less than $34,420, while the top 10 percent earned over $102,850.

Median annual wages of motorboat operators were $31,910 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,600 and 48,310. The lowest 10 percent had wages of less than $20,420, while the top 10 percent earned over $59,120.

The rate of unionization for these workers is about 12 percent. Unionization rates vary by region. In unionized areas, merchant marine officers and seamen, both veterans and beginners, are hired for voyages through union hiring halls or directly by shipping companies. Hiring halls rank the candidates by the length of time the person has been out of work and fill open slots accordingly. Most major seaports have hiring halls.

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