Ever since this blog was started, I have emphasized the importance the Academy’s sea year has to the goal of graduating the best and highest qualified merchant marine officers in the world. Frequently, I have called attention to the perspective of sea year from a woman’s point of view because I consider it ironic–if not borderline criminal–that the sea year
stand down cancellation that was ostensibly designed to protect women from SASH did significant damage to the education, opportunities and industry standing of the women it was trying to protect. (Don’t get me wrong—it was catastrophic for male midshipmen, too.) But, because of this unique injury to women, I made it a point to spotlight the comments of women graduates (here, here and here), women midshipmen, and even a woman in the Academy’s Public Affairs office.
So I guess it is no surprise that many readers called my attention to an editorial in Maritime Executive. Captain Deatra Thompson is a 1994 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. She did her time in the Navy as a surface warfare officer and after leaving the Navy, worked her way up to Master on a U.S. flag merchant ship. She knows “our world,” but was educated in, and worked in, the U.S. Navy world. We all know of the recent problems the Navy has encountered with navigational or seamanship mishaps and Captain Thompson sees a solution for the Navy in USMMA’s sea year, which she describes quite well:
U. S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) Midshipmen have different training requirements than others. Located in Kings Point, New York, this smaller, lesser known federal academy requires its students to spend a full year of their undergraduate education at sea on an operational ship.
The Sea Year is structured, rigorous, and designed to give its Midshipmen real-world experience. In addition to working a minimum of eight hours per day, including four hours of bridge watch at sea, these Midshipmen must complete a 22-credit graded “Sea Project”. Comprised of navigation, Rules of the Road, seamanship, engineering, etc., this project provides a framework for learning that requires the hands-on application of coursework. Midshipmen are supervised by senior officers and given as much authority and experience as their trainer determines they are ready to accept, with the understanding that, one day, they will need to be able to do it alone. The Sea Year is, in many ways, a fully tested, sea-based version of SWOS [Surface Warfare Officer School].
Please, read the whole editorial.