Policy Update

Rule Change Aids US Mariners’ Return to Sea

Coast Guard rule change seen as a big win for American mariners, allowing more flexibility to reenter the maritime workforce after time away.

By Eric Haun

Credit: Michel Sauret / U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District
Listen to this article

A rule change is making it easier for experienced U.S. mariners to return to sea after time away from the industry.

A new policy letter from the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) temorarily extends the renewal grace period for a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC), commonly referred to as a Coast Guard license or credential, from one year to six years, lessening the burden for seafarers seeking reentry into the maritime workforce.

The move has been welcomed by the U.S. maritime and offshore industries, which have struggled with a shortage of qualified mariners, and comes amid a concerted push by public and private sector stakeholders to bolster America's domestic maritime workforce.

The Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA), an industry trade group, said it helped spur the change with a letter urging the USCG "to adopt fair practices that would support merchant marines looking to return to the industry".

“OMSA has long advocated for ending restrictive policies that needlessly prohibit American mariners from returning to the workforce,” said Aaron Smith, president of OMSA. “We applaud the USCG for extending the grace period for renewing a Coast Guard license renewal period and for providing American mariners with more flexibility to contribute their expertise.”

Under the previous policy, mariners taking leave had to renew their MMC within one year or restart the expensive and time-consuming process of accumulating required sea-time, tests and training. The process to reactivate an expired captain’s license includes between $12,100 and $43,710 in class fees and between 39 and 124 days of classroom instruction, OMSA said.

“There is no practical reason for short MMC renewal limits as they do not enhance safety or retention,” Smith said. “Extending these limits will more effectively facilitate maintaining an experienced and qualified workforce and enhance national security by providing an additional source of fully qualified American mariners to be rapidly activated.”

The new six-year period accommodates for individual life circumstances as well as industry cycles, OMSA said, noting the domestic maritime industry has historically experienced natural fluctuations between periods of high utilization and slowdown that create opportunities for mariners to both enter the industry and take leave. The one-year grace period for license renewal overlooked the natural cycles of the industry and imposed unnecessary burdens on mariners, the group said.

“It is a huge win for American mariners,” Smith said. “Doing away with needlessly restrictive policies that negate the needs of industry professionals will create a better environment for mariners to contribute to the needs of the nation.”

Marine News Magazine
May 2024
RW Fernstrum