U.S. Coast Guard Expands Eligibility for Military Sea Time

MSC civilian mariners and Navy sailors deploy a USV from the deck of the USNS Hershel Woody Williams, September 2019 (USN)

Published Sep 20, 2019 11:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

About 400-500 American veterans apply for merchant marine officer endorsements every year using their military sea time. The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed to change its policies on sea service eligibility to make it easier for these applicants, expanding the window for sea service eligibility by allowing sea time from up to seven years in the past.  

At present, military sea time must be within the past three years to qualify for use in applying for a civilian national officer endorsement. The change to seven years would apply to military veterans, former members of the NOAA officer corps, and civilians who have served aboard vessels of the uniformed services. It may be particularly useful for veterans who served at sea but transferred to shoreside positions during the final years of their military career. 

The "military-to-mariner" pipeline is a policy priority for the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD), the maritime training community and the American maritime industry at large. The change in eligibility requirements may increase the number of credentialed merchant mariners available for employment - a perennial issue for U.S. strategic sealift needs. MARAD has warned of the declining numbers of available American mariners for years, and has recently said that it could face difficulties in crewing its sealift fleet in the event of a major conflict or national emergency. The number of national endorsements issued for merchant marine officers has fallen over the past ten years, including a 20 percent decrease in 2018 alone, according to the Coast Guard. 

The policy change also offers a direct financial benefit for applicants. "Providing a method for individuals to use recent sea service on vessels of the uniformed services to qualify for an MMC with a national officer endorsement could result in the opportunity for them to be initially employed at a higher pay rate, which leads to the possibility of favorable wage impacts to the mariner," the USCG noted.