Deckhands are needed at Washington State Ferries to prepare for higher-ranking jobs, like captain, when aging crew members retire in coming years. Got sea legs?
Washington State Ferries is hiring 60 new deckhands and offering hope they could move up to the rank of captain in the next decade.
Normal turnover, an aging workforce and slight staffing increases have created job openings next year.
Of the system’s 79 captains, ferries chief Lynne Griffith said about 62 percent are 55 or older, which might someday cause a retirement wave. That’s not a crisis, but the agency does need to create career pathways, she said. The state might also woo mariners from cargo ships, cruise lines, or other ferry systems.
Ferry careers, deck to helm
Washington State Ferries is hiring 60 ordinary seamen, who can rise through the ranks.
Ordinary seaman: Responsible for cleaning, first aid, firefighting, lookout. Requires 13 days training. Average pay, $22.67/hour.
Able-bodied seaman: Responsible for vehicle loading, lifeboats, knot tying, assisting mates/captains. Requires two years experience, nine days of school. $26.45/hour.
Mate: Shares navigation with captain, supervises vehicle loading, crowd management. Requires four years sea time, 33 days of officer school, 163 days of pilotage, study, training. $37.74/hour.
Captain: Full command of vessel and passenger safety. Requires five to six years sea time, 35 days study, Coast Guard master’s license. $46.78/hour.
More information: www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/yourwsf/employment/
To publicize the recruitment, she invited reporters Tuesday to test their nerves on a ferry simulator realistic enough to make a skipper’s sea legs sway.
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An entry-level deckhand could rise to captain in six years, though 10 years is more realistic, given that these begin as on-call positions, with grueling and seasonal schedules in early years.
Pay begins at $22.67 per hour for ordinary seamen, rising to $46.78 for captains. Mariners could earn more in cargo or fishing fleets, but ferries offer the beauty of Puget Sound and a nightly trip home, Griffith said.
“This is a great career path. You’re not going to get rich, but you’re not going to be poor,” said Capt. Mike Schilling, who develops crew-training programs.
Simulator sessions, at Pacific Maritime Institute in Seattle, are part of that training. Wraparound screens display Puget Sound bluffs, buildings and currents.
Cruising at six knots toward Bainbridge Island, the simulated ferry Kaleetan encountered an oncoming ferry — where the Eagle Harbor shipping channel offers just two-tenths of a mile between the green and red beacons. A 15-degree rudder turn to starboard lagged a minute following a twist of the steel steering lever, as foghorns blew and the boat’s inertia kept it drifting north.
The simulator even depicts loss of propulsion, as occurred with the ferry Tacoma in 2014 and 2015.
Dale Bateman, the institute’s assistant director, said it can make shipmasters sweat, concentrating months of obstacles, breakdowns and storms into a brief session.
Another sample ride passed through bow-raising whitecaps leaving Seattle. Three deep-draft cargo ships crossed, as the Victoria Clipper docked nearby. Saltwater splashed the window.
“This is a little bit of the cool factor, about being a captain or a mate on the Washington State Ferries,” said Griffith, who with Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson has undergone basic deckhand training. “It’s something to strive for, if you want to be a seaman.”