Military to Mariners -- Veteran's Information Page

Maritime Administration

The Maritime Administration is the agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation with responsibility for waterborne transportation.
Military to Mariner……Your life afloat.
Military to Mariner connects Veterans to careers afloat in the U.S. Merchant Marine.

The Maritime Administration

  • Is creating a list of training institutions which accept GI bill educational benefits
  • Maritime Administration hosts a gateway for all those interested in employment afloat in any part of the U.S. Merchant Marine
  • We’ll provide links to training and employers.

And we have useful downloadable documents

 Using your Veteran’s Educational Benefits The Department of Veteran’s Affairs maintains a website to answer questions about the GI Bill (The “GI Bill” is the generic term for the various education assistance programs administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs)

What the U. S. Merchant Marine is

The Merchant Marine consists of commercial ships and vessels registered in the United States.  Most are privately owned and operated.

While commercial vessels are not military vessels, there are some similarities.  The head of the engineering department, for example, is called the Chief Engineer.  Likewise, vessel masters – the Master is the person in command -- are formally addressed as “Captain”. There are special laws and regulations governing merchant seamen; these laws and regulations are enforced by the U. S. Coast Guard.

  • Commercial vessels usually have three departments: Deck, Engine, and Steward.  Most mariners will spend their careers in only one of these departments.  Common job descriptions are here.
  • Often you will need some training to augment your military qualifications.  A link to maritime training sources is here.
  • Merchant Mariners are generally divided into two categories: licensed and unlicensed.  These correspond with commissioned and enlisted status in the military.
  • Licensing. Merchant Marine Officers are licensed, like surgeons or airline pilots.  The regulatory agency for the merchant marine is the U.S. Coast Guard.  The Coast Guard will evaluate your experience and advise you which license or licenses you may be eligible for.
  • Unlicensed members of a merchant vessel’s crew are either entry-level or skilled.  Entry-level mariners do not need experience afloat.  Skilled unlicensed mariners must have a specified amount of sea-time and often formal training.  Further information is available at the National Maritime Center’s web site.

What the U. S. Merchant Marine is not (including: How much will I be paid?)

The Merchant Marine isn’t a government agency nor is it a military service, so there is no central hiring agency.  Therefore, there is not a common pay scale which applies across the industry.  Each vessel owner or operator sets a unique pay scale.  Especially in the deep-sea industry, this is often through an agreement with a labor union.  Examples of wages in the industry can be found here.

The Department of Labor, however, tracks wages within over 400 industries, including the merchant marine.  Their web site is here

 U. S. Coast Guard (USCG)

The Coast Guard is the regulatory agency responsible for seagoing credentials for U.S. merchant mariners.  The Coast Guard maintains 17 Regional Examination Centers (REC) around the country.  The RECs are supervised by the National Maritime Center (NMC).  You can contact the NMC by e-mail ( or by toll-free telephone number (1-888-IASKNMC) (1-888-427-5662).

  • Enforcement of laws and regulations which affect the maritime industry is assigned to the Assistant Commandant for Marine Safety, Security, and Stewardship (CG-5), who is a Coast Guard Admiral. 
  • The Assistant Commandant’s subordinate for maritime credentials is the Commanding Officer of the National Maritime Center
  • Public access to all USCG functions is available through the Coast Guard’s webportal “Homeport

National Maritime Center—the source for your credentials

The National Maritime Center (NMC) is a U. S. Coast Guard command whose mission is to issue credentials to fully qualified mariners in the most effective and efficient manner possible in order to assure a safe, secure, economically efficient and environmentally sound Marine Transportation System.  NMC is also accessible through the Coast Guard’s “Homeport” web portal.  NMC oversees 17 Regional Examination Centers (RECs) located at various places around the country.  Your local REC should be  your first step to obtaining your document, certification, or license.

Becoming a Merchant Mariner

Step 1: Organize your military record.

  • Collect copies of your DD-214, Report of Separation (if you’ve been discharged), and records of any maritime-related courses you’ve taken which are not listed on the DD-214.
  • Get a summary of your military record, including training, by executing a Request Pertaining to Military Records
    .  You may request a paper copy of the form by contacting the closest VA Vet Center.  Vet Centers are also listed in the phone book in the federal government pages.
    • If you have any kind of afloat experience through your military service, write “Sea Service Transcript” in Section II, subsection 2 “OTHER INFORMATION AND/OR DOCUMENTS REQUESTED”, of your SF-180
  • Navy and Coast Guard service members and veterans: the NMC has evaluated your recruit training as meeting most of the requirements for Basic Safety Training.  Some ratings in the Navy and Coast Guard are evaluated for further training and sea time for merchant marine service; the list of approved ratings is figure 2-1 of the USCG’s Marine Safety Manual, Volume II.
  • Other services.  Your sea-service-related experience must be evaluated by the NMC.

Step 1a: Download a new mariner package from the NMC website.

Step 1b: Have your military service evaluated for maritime equivalency by the NMC.  Contact the NMC by e-mail ( or by telephone 1-888-427-5662 (1-888-IASKNMC).  The NMC evaluator will tell you which documents to mail or fax to the NMC, which will then evaluate your service.

Step 2: Obtain your Merchant Mariner’s Document (MMD)

  • Contact the closest USCG Regional Examination Center (REC).  RECs are your first stop toward obtaining U.S. licenses, Merchant Mariner's Documents, Certificates of Registry and STCW forms. RECs perform evaluations, administer examinations, issue U.S. Merchant Mariner credentials and conduct oversight of approved courses.  The list of the 17 RECs is hereOR, you may call the NMC (1-888-427-5662) and ask for the address and telephone number of the closest REC.

Step 2b: Get a drug screen.  An applicant for a mariner’s credential who must undergo a physical examination must also pass a drug screen for five prohibited substances.  There are several methods of satisfying this requirement; they are found here.

Step 2c: Obtain your MMD

Most employment in the U.S. merchant marine requires an MMD (often referred to as a “Z-card” in the maritime industry) which is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). You can find information about obtaining an MMD here, or by downloading the package of forms here.

  • The process of obtaining an MMD now requires you to visit a USCG Regional Examination Center (REC).  A list of RECs and their contact information is here.
  • The Coast Guard is required by law to charge a fee for the MMD.  The money collected is added to the U. S. Treasury, not given to the Coast Guard.  The fee schedule is here.

Step 4: Obtain your TWIC

After April 15, 2009, the Coast Guard will issue merchant mariner credentials only to applicants who have a Transportation Worker’s Identity Credential or TWIC.  The TWIC is issued by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

TSA is required by law to charge a fee for the TWIC.

 Step 6: Do you need training?

STCW.  The United States is a party to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), which sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel aboard seagoing merchant ships.  Mariners require some level of STCW training to serve aboard U.S.-flag vessels.  Most mariners aboard U.S.-flag vessels will require some level of STCW training.

Maritime related training in the United States is certified or accepted by the National Maritime Center.  There are hundreds of courses available, from very basic which takes someone with little or no maritime background through an apprenticeship, through very advanced.

Step 7: Ship Out!

  • Where?  Which part of the industry?  The U.S. merchant marine consists of over 10,000 ships and vessels.  Which part of the industry you wish to sail in is an important decision; to help you decide, visit here.
  • What? Most commercial vessels have three departments: Deck, Engine, and Steward.  Most mariners will spend their careers in only one of these departments.  Common job descriptions are here.
  • How? Often you will need some training to augment your military qualifications.  In addition to the list of Coast Guard approved courses, the Maritime Administration has a link here.
  • Licensing. Merchant Marine Officers are licensed, like surgeons or airline pilots.  The Coast Guard will evaluate your experience and advise you which license you may be eligible for.