Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Morning Mariner In Review: The New Hawespipe

Hawespipe -- Opening in eyes or forward part of a ship where shank of patent anchor is stowed.
--American Merchant Seaman's Manual

These instructions apply to license applicants who are NOT participating in a formal training program of instruction such as presented at a maritime academy. These instructions apply to mariners who are "coming through the hawespipe."
--National Maritime Policy Letter [01-02], Applicability Section
It's astonishing how much has changed since Leonard Lambert's The New Hawespipe: A Comprehensive Guide to Merchant Marine Licensing and Documentation was first published in 2007. In three short years the rules for licensing and documentation of US mariners have undergone -- and continue to undergo -- what can generously be called "modernization" as the Coast Guard moves with unprecedented speed to bring the US in line with the rest of the world. Despite this, Lambert's book remains what may be the best ever written on "how to get your license" or Merchant Mariners Document.

What sets The New Hawespipe apart is its focus on the process of getting your credentials. Other works focus on the Coast Guard test itself, with the application requirements and process often no more than a few introductory pages transcribed verbatim from the Coast Guard application packet. Lambert breaks down the licensing system into easy-to-understand chunks, then goes on to cover topics like practical assessments, STCW requirements, classes and schools, and special procedures for military folks moving to the civilian merchant marine. He gives hints on dealing with the Coast Guard (although it will always be tough to top the late Budd Gonder's advice to "whatever you do, keep smiling") and ends with a chapter on "Being An Officer, Being A Leader" that addresses the "pay it forward" responsibilities of all merchant officers, whether hawespipers or maritime academy graduates.

When it comes to actually taking the test, Lambert approaches it strategically, offering tips on how he studied for the exams, while realizing that not everyone learns the same way. There are no sample test questions here, but Lambert does recommend "the Murphy books" for such things or, if you're feeling brave and focused, downloading the questions from the Coast Guard web site. It's in this chapter that Lambert tells one of his many "it happened to me" anecdotes, one that will be familiar to a lot of mariners:
You are ready to test. The USCG takes your application, certificates, and documents, making copies of the necessary documents (make sure you retain the originals of all documents). You pay your application fee and wait for something to happen. After a period in which they have ignored you, you ask if you need to do anything else, and their answer is that the evaluation process is underway and can take anywhere from four to six weeks. The feeling of getting close to your license slowly fades away and you wonder what you will do for the two months the USCG is evaluating your application. Should you go back to work as an AB? Should you get a part-time job to regain the money spent for school? Should you yell at the Coast Guard because their evaluation process sucks?
For a book this size (it runs less than 200 pages) The New Hawespipe covers a lot of ground. While it can be read in a day, most mariners will be able to skip over the parts not applicable to their own situation. Considering how many American mariners work in the towing or small passenger industries, it's surprising Lambert gives little attention to the Towing Officer Assessment Record ("make sure and read the policy letter to understand what is needed" he writes) or how the Coast Guard evaluates sea service on older, "rule-beater" passenger vessels operating under the gross registered tonnage rules. The publication of The New Hawespipe also pre-dates the issuing of the Medical and Physical Evaluation Guidelines in NVIC 04-08 and the Proposed Rulemaking to fully incorporate the STCW code into US law. The blog on Lambert's website was doing an excellent job following up on changes to licensing and documentation requirements, but hasn't been added to since August.

The New Hawespipe is available from Cornell Maritime Press (the same company that publishes the American Merchant Seaman's Manual and other reference titles for the professional mariner). Any mariner feeling a little over his or her head when it comes to license or MMD requirements will breathe a little easier after reading this book.

For more firsthand stories of mariners working their way up the hawespipe, check out my fellow blogger "Paul, dammit!" at Hawespiper: The Longest Climb.

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