Seattle Central College’s $20 million training facility for maritime careers will also allow ship operators to practice piloting state ferries.

Share story

Seattle Central College opened a new $20 million training facility for maritime careers in Ballard Thursday, a building that includes a simulator allowing ship operators to practice piloting a state ferry and other large vessels.

The new Seattle Maritime Academy building, on the Lake Washington Ship Canal near the Ballard Bridge, is four times the size of the old building, said Sarah Scherer, director of the academy. The building — christened by Seattle Central President Sheila Edwards Lange on Thursday when she broke a bottle of Champagne against the entrance — has 24,000 square feet of classrooms, library space and meeting rooms.

The academy offers two certificate programs that serve as a launching-off point for a career in the maritime industry. The certificates, approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, are in marine deck technology and marine engineering technology.

Completing one of the nine-month certificates, followed by an internship, provides an entry-point into the maritime business, said Sherer, who spent 13 years piloting oceangoing vessels. People working in the maritime industry typically start with entry-level jobs after earning one of the certificates and work their way up the career ladder while employed on a ship.

Scherer said there’s a big return on investment for a certificate in marine technology. The nine-month courses cost $9,000. After a short internship, students can earn $40,000 to $60,000 for six months of work.

She said the academy teaches about 36 students a year — 18 in each program. There’s usually a waiting list for the engineering program, and the one for deck technology is becoming more well-known. With the added space, the academy could potentially double the number of students it teaches, she said.

Maritime jobs often attract people who like the idea of working half the year. “It’s one of the cool selling points of maritime work,” she said, and attracts people with all-consuming passions, such as artists and surfers, who use the other half of the year to pursue their interests.

Scherer said the academy is working to attract more students of color and women to the industry. The academy already draws people from a range of ages and backgrounds — including recent high-school graduates and people in their mid-40s who go back to school to start a new career.

The new building’s ship simulator will be available for companies to rent, allowing employees to practice challenging scenarios they might encounter at sea. The building also includes labs to practice working on refrigeration, hydraulic and diesel equipment, and a machine shop where students can make their own tools.

The maritime industry provides more than 22,000 jobs and contributes more than $2.1 billion to the regional economy, according to the City of Seattle Office of Economic Development. Statewide, it’s responsible for nearly 58,000 jobs and contributes more than $15 billion to the economy, according to a state economic-impact study.

The academy also plans to offer continuing-education programs for recreational boaters starting in the spring, Scherer said. For example, it will offer a course in how to pilot a recreational boat through the Ballard Locks. Scherer joked that the class might well help lower the divorce rate in Seattle.