United States Merchant Marine

United States Merchant Marine
Usmm-seal.png

United States Merchant Marine emblem
Ships:465 (>1,000 GRT)
Deck officers:29,000
Engine officers:12,000
Ratings:28,000
Source: "Water Transportation Occupations". U.S. DOL, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved March 31, 2007.

The United States Merchant Marine[1][2] refers to either United States civilian mariners, or to U.S. civilian and federally owned merchant vessels. Both the civilian mariners and the merchant vessels are managed by a combination of the government and private sectors, and engage in commerce or transportation of goods and services in and out of the navigable waters of the United States.[3] The Merchant Marine primarily transports cargo and passengers during peacetime; in times of war, the Merchant Marine can be an auxiliary to the United States Navy, and can be called upon to deliver military personnel and materiel for the military.[4] Merchant Marine officers may also be commissioned as military officers by the Department of Defense. This is commonly achieved by commissioning unlimited tonnage Merchant Marine officers as Strategic Sealift Officers in the United States Navy Reserve.[5][6][7]

Merchant mariners move cargo and passengers between nations and within the United States, and operate and maintain deep-sea merchant ships, tugboats, towboats, ferries, dredges, excursion vessels, charter boats and other waterborne craft on the oceans, the Great Lakes, rivers, canals, harbors, and other waterways.[2]

As of October 1, 2018, the United States merchant fleet had 181 privately owned, oceangoing, self-propelled vessels of 1,000 gross register tons and above that carry cargo from port to port.[8] Nearly 800 American-owned ships are flagged in other nations.[9][10]

The federal government maintains fleets of merchant ships via organizations such as Military Sealift Command (part of the US Navy) and the National Defense Reserve Fleet,[2] which is managed by the United States Maritime Administration. In 2004, the federal government employed approximately 5% of all American water transportation workers.[11]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, various laws fundamentally changed the course of American merchant shipping. These laws put an end to common practices such as flogging and shanghaiing,[12] and increased shipboard safety and living standards. The United States Merchant Marine is also governed by more than 25 (as of February 17, 2017)[13][14] international conventions to promote safety and prevent pollution.[15]

P.L. 95–202, approved November 23, 1977, granted veteran status to Women Airforce Service Pilots and "any person in any other similarly situated group" with jurisdiction for determination given to the Secretary of Defense who delegated that determination to the Secretary of the Air Force.[16] Although the Merchant Marine suffered a per capita casualty rate greater than those of the U.S. Armed Forces, merchant mariners who served in World War II were denied such veterans recognition until 1988 when a federal court ordered it. The Court held that "the Secretary of the Air Force abused its discretion in denying active military service recognition to American merchant seamen who participated in World War II."[16]

Shipboard operations

Flag of the United States Merchant Marine

Captains, mates (officers), and pilots supervise ship operations on domestic waterways and the high seas. A captain (master) is in overall command of a vessel, and supervises the work of other officers and crew. A captain has the ability to take the conn from a mate or pilot at any time he feels the need. On smaller vessels the captain may be a regular watch-stander, similar to a mate, directly controlling the vessel's position. Captains and department heads[17] ensure that proper procedures and safety practices are followed, ensure that machinery is in good working order, and oversee the loading and discharging of cargo and passengers. Captains directly communicate with the company or command (MSC), and are overall responsible for cargo, various logs, ship's documents, credentials, efforts at controlling pollution and passengers carried.[citation needed]

Mates direct a ship's routine operation for the captain during work shifts, which are called watches. Mates stand watch for specified periods, usually in three duty sections, with four hours on watch and eight hours off.[18] When on a navigational watch, mates direct a bridge team by conning, directing courses through the helmsman and speed through the lee helmsman (or directly in open ocean). When more than one mate is necessary aboard a ship, they typically are designated chief mate or first mate, second mate and third mate. In addition to watch standers, mates directly supervise the ship's crew, and are assigned other tasks. The chief mate is usually in charge of cargo, stability and the deck crew, the second mate in charge of navigation plans and updates and the third mate as the safety officer. They also monitor and direct deck crew operations, such as directing line handlers during moorings, and anchorings, monitor cargo operations and supervise crew members engaged in maintenance and the vessel's upkeep.[citation needed]

Harbor pilots guide ships in and out of confined waterways, such as harbors, where a familiarity with local conditions is of prime importance.[19] Harbor pilots are generally independent contractors who accompany vessels while they enter or leave port, and may pilot many ships in a single day.[citation needed]

Engine officers, or engineers, operate, maintain, and repair engines, boilers, generators, pumps, and other machinery. Merchant marine vessels usually have four engine officers: a chief engineer and a first, second, and third assistant engineer. On many ships, Assistant Engineers stand periodic watches, overseeing the safe operation of engines and other machinery. However, most modern ships sailing today utilize unmanned machinery space (UMS) automation technology, and Assistant Engineers are dayworkers. At night and during meals and breaks, the engine room is unmanned and machinery alarms are answered by the Duty Engineer.[citation needed] Marine oilers and more experienced qualified members of the engine department, or QMEDs, maintain the vessel in proper running order in the engine spaces below decks, under the direction of the ship's engine officers. These workers lubricate gears, shafts, bearings, and other moving parts of engines and motors; read pressure and temperature gauges, record data and sometimes assist with repairs and adjust machinery. Wipers are the entry-level workers in the engine room, holding a position similar to that of ordinary seamen of the deck crew. They clean and paint the engine room and its equipment and assist the others in maintenance and repair work. With more experience, they become oilers and firemen.[citation needed]

United States Merchant Marine officer's crest

Able seamen and ordinary seamen operate the vessel and its deck equipment under officer supervision and keep their assigned areas in good order.[20] They watch for other vessels and obstructions in the ship's path, as well as for navigational aids such as buoys and lighthouses. They also steer the ship, measure water depth in shallow water, and maintain and operate deck equipment such as lifeboats, anchors, and cargo-handling gear. On tankers, mariners designated as pumpmen hook up hoses, operate pumps, and clean tanks. When arriving at or leaving a dock, they handle the mooring lines. Seamen also perform routine maintenance chores, such as repairing lines, chipping rust, and painting and cleaning decks. On larger vessels, a boatswain—or head seaman—will supervise the work.[citation needed]

As of 2011, a typical deep-sea merchant ship has a captain, three mates, a chief engineer and three assistant engineers, plus six or more unlicensed seamen, such as able seamen, oilers, QMEDs, and cooks or food handlers known as stewards.[21] Other unlicensed positions on a large ship may include electricians and machinery mechanics.[22]