Is the EMBARC Waiver Legitimate?

Last week I published a proposed draft request for a waiver of the EMBARC requirements that, if granted, would allow Academy midshipmen who requested this waiver to be assigned to Sea Year aboard the same commercial ships that MARAD presently allows state maritime school students to sail upon.  I indicated that there was no promise that the waiver would work, stating,

It can’t hurt, and perhaps if the powers-that-be hear directly from the midshipmen that they are supposedly trying to protect that they are doing more harm than good, they might grant it. And if the Secretary of Transportation gets enough of these waiver requests, these lawyers have some other ideas how they might be used to accomplish our goal of getting midshipmen safely back to Sea Year on militarily-useful, commercial, operating, ships.

On Tuesday, at a meeting with the National Parents Association, the Academy Superintendent, VADM Jack Buono, was asked about the waiver.  Here’s the exchange:

Q. (parent):  “There was an EMBARC waiver that was posted. Is that legitimate?”
A. (Buono): “No it’s not. No, there was never a program like that in the Department of Transportation or MARAD and the waivers wouldn’t be approved. That would have to be a program that was endorsed by MARAD and DOT. I’ve had conversations with them to say hey, I’ve never heard about this. Is this something that MARAD or DOT is supporting? And the answer is no. So I just offer that.”

My message to readers is to not put much stock in Buono’s response, which simply parroted MARAD’s official position.  Of course there’s no such “program” at the DOT or MARAD. But that doesn’t mean the waiver request is not legitimate. As the waiver request points out, DOT/MARAD can grant other types of waivers to USMMA midshipmen. DOT/MARAD reacted exactly as as civil snivel servants usually do—reflexively reject any out-of-the-box thinking and avoid any action that might cause them to extend their necks beyond their shells by even the slightest amount.  DOT/MARAD are simply not willing to honor legitimate waiver requests (and Congress should ask, “Why not?”). 

It’s worth pointing out that the EMBARC waiver requests have value even if DOT and MARAD refuse to officially recognize them.  Among other things, they have political value. For example, the EMBARC waiver request was deliberately posted on Thursday, March 24 so that it could impact a Friday, March 25  meeting with the Acting Maritime Administrator, her deputy, several Congressmen and Senators (or their staffers) and other key stakeholders among the invitees. I know that a couple of the attendees from the Legislative Branch (along with MARAD staff) read this blog and knew that the waiver post would highlight for the attendees the idiocy of a policy that assumes that a ship that is safe enough to allow state maritime academy students to sail on it is nevertheless not safe enough for Academy midshipmen (who actually go out on their sea year with far more protections against SASH (such as satellite phones) than state school students are given).

In response to this similar criticism in the past, MARAD has insisted (falsely) that it lacks the power to regulate the state schools. But at Friday’s meeting—and I don’t think it is a coincidence—MARAD changed course. While it continued to make that false assertion at the meeting, Friday marked the first time that MARAD took a different tack and announced that the state schools were now going to “voluntarily” [yeah, right] refrain from assigning their students to ships that are required to adopt EMBARC, but have not done so (i.e., nearly all of the vessels, as MARAD’s pace of engagement on EMBARC applications approximates the speed of a becalmed sailboat). 

In other words, MARAD was directly addressing the contradiction in its policy that the waiver post had highlighted—and in a manner that directly addressed the waiver’s rationale.  (The waiver specifically asked that Academy midshipmen be permitted to be assigned to the same ships that the state school students are being assigned to. So if state school students are officially no longer assigning there students to those ships, MARAD can argue that the waiver is pointless.)

Forcing MARAD’s hand in this manner is already having other repercussions. Also at last Friday’s meeting, MARAD engaged in a shameful game of hide-the-ball with Congress.  It’s a bit complicated and I’m working on a post to explain it (the working title for the post is “How MARAD Beclowns Congress — Example 1”); but, we now have MARAD on record making some statements to the Legislative Branch that are deliberately deceptive. We are getting inside MARAD’s OODA Loop and forcing it to react without thinking. MARAD also apparently didn’t consider all of the ramifications of its argument about the “voluntary” action of the state schools. A revised EMBARC Waiver that exploits MARAD’s latest mistakes (and exposes its deceit with Congress) is in the drafting stage.

So “not legitimate”? Depends what your goal is.  We’re playing a long game.



  1. In response to a parent’s (of a possible applicant’s) question concerning sea year – I was told that sea year is still in place and that it appears that midshipman will have enough sea time to sit for their license (300 days for engineers and 330 days for mates). When I pursued it further, sea year is being spent on MSC vessels, Navy vessels, USCG vessels and almost ZERO commercial vessels.

  2. Perhaps a USMMA student should take a leave of absence from the school and then perform non-school sponsored cadet sailing? Is there anything preventing the shipping companies from having independent non-USMMA or SMA students as cadets onboard ship.

  3. As a an Engineering Graduate 58” there is no substitute for the experiences I got aboard actual merchant ships at sea. I sailed aboard ships many of which were veterans of WW2 as were my fellow officers. Who taught me what I needed to know to walk abord many different ships and types of fellow sailors when I got my license. Merchant ships were very understaffed compared with Naval and other types of ships 🚢 required a lot more innovative solutions to problems. I assume the ships of today will require far more varieties of knowledge than the ships of the past rather like the difference I experienced
    When I later supervised startup of over 8 nuclear submarines, the first few having tube type instrumentation and the later integrated circuits. Rather like being a mechanic on the old model “t” and the subsequent cars of today. Every day aboard ship was a lifetime of education as were the Sea Projects we were required to do. Being at sea is not the issue, it is the exposure to the movie that is playing that is important, not sitting in an empty theater, putting in time!

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