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The Average Salary of a Merchant Marine Academy Grad

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According to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), U.S. cargo ships carry 85 percent of the commodities necessary for the nation’s industry and defense. USMMA prepares students to serve as deck and engineering officers on U.S. registered deep water cargo and passenger vessels. The starting salary for a graduate in 2010 was $65,114 according to a survey conducted by the USMMA.


USMMA graduates are hired by private companies operating deep sea vessels with U.S. registration. They usually begin serving as third officers (mates) or third assistant engineers. The pay level depends on the size of the company for which they work, the type and size of ship on which they serve and the nature of their employment contract. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the 2010 salary range for deck officers (captain, first, second and third officers) was $30,690 to $117,310 per year. For ship engineers (engineer, first, second and third mates), the salary range was $37,170 to $112,720.

Career Prospects

The demand for water transportation professionals, including USMMA graduates, is expected to increase by 19 percent for ship engineers and 17 percent for deck officers between 2008 and 2018. The demand is driven by several factors, including growth in off-shore oil and gas production and increasing cruise line business. In addition, deep sea U.S. registered vessels are considered essential to the national defense and the U.S. government will continue to provide maritime security subsidies and require that certain federal cargoes, such as military supplies, be carried in U.S. registered ships.


Students at the USMMA, called midshipmen, learn how to navigate and maintain a ship; manage the crew; understand international and maritime law; and comply with customs and import/export laws, as well as emergency and wartime procedures. The USMMA is considered a federal military service academy along with West Point and the Air Force and Naval academies. Under the 1936 Merchant Marine Act, the merchant marine serves as a naval military auxiliary in times of war and national emergency, carrying supplies and troops to where they are needed. As both academy midshipmen and serving merchant marine officers, USMMA graduates are also members of the U.S. Naval or Coast Guard Reserves for eight years.

Service Obligations

Graduates are required to serve for a minimum of five years after graduation. There are several possibilities for service options, including serving as a merchant marine deck or engineering officer on a U.S. registered vessel; as a commissioned officer in the U.S. military or in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or as an employee in a U.S. maritime industry, profession or science. USMMA graduates must also maintain two maritime licenses for six years. The Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) is a biometric security card issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) is the professional certification issued by the U.S. Coast Guard.


Diane Chinn is a freelance writer with more than 15 years experience in many areas, including business and technical communications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from California State University and a Master of Arts in human resources and industrial relations from the University of Minnesota. She is a Six Sigma Green Belt .