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United States Merchant Marines


United States Merchant Marines

United States Merchant Marine

United States Merchant Marine emblem
Ships: 465 (>1000 GRT)
Deck Officers: 29,000
Marine Engineers: 12,000
Unlicensed: 28,000
Statistics for the shipping industry of United States
Total: 465 ships (1,000 gross register tons (GRT) or over)
Totalling: 10,590,325 GRT/13,273,133 metric tons deadweight (DWT)
Cargo ships
Bulk ships 67
Barge carrier 7
Cargo ship 91
Container ships 76
Roll-on / roll-off ships 27
Vehicle carrier 20
Chemical tanker ships 20
Specialized tanker ships 1
Petroleum tanker ships 76
Passenger ships
General passenger ships 19
Combined passenger/cargo 58
Source: This article contains material from the CIA World Factbook which, as a US government publication, is in the public domain.

The United States Merchant Marine[1] is the fleet of U.S. civilian-owned merchant vessels, operated by either the government or the private sector, that engage in commerce or transportation of goods and services in and out of the navigable waters of the United States. The Merchant Marine is responsible for transporting cargo and passengers during peace time. In time of war, the Merchant Marine is capable of being an auxiliary to the Navy, and can be called upon to deliver troops and supplies for the military.[2] The Merchant Marine however, does not have a role in combat, although a merchant mariner has a responsibility to protect cargo carried aboard his or her ship.

Merchant mariners move cargo and passengers between nations and within the United States, operate and maintain deep-sea merchant ships, tugboats, towboats, ferries, dredges, excursion vessels, and other waterborne craft on the oceans, the Great Lakes, rivers, canals, harbors, and other waterways.

As of 2006, the United States merchant fleet numbered 465 ships[3] and approximately 100,000 members. Seven hundred ships owned by American interests but registered, or flagged, in other countries are not included in this number.

The federal government maintains fleets of merchant ships via organizations such as Military Sealift Command and the National Defense Reserve Fleet. In 2004, the federal government employed approximately 5% of all American water transportation workers.[4]

In the 19th and 20th centuries, various laws fundamentally changed the course of American merchant shipping. These laws put an end to common practices such as flogging and shanghaiing, and increased shipboard safety and living standards. The United States Merchant Marine is also governed by several international conventions to promote safety and prevent pollution.

While the U.S. Government does employ some persons with Merchant Marine credentials to work on various types of government-owned ships, the Merchant Marine itself is not a military service, nor is it an auxiliary to the U.S. Navy during peacetime, and merchant seaman themselves are not military personnel. A "merchant marine" is the commercial fleet of a nation, the ships are owned by various shipping companies. U.S. merchant ships are regulated by the U.S. Coast Guard, the Department of Transportation, and The Maritime Administration.

Shipboard operations

Captains, mates, and pilots supervise ship operations on domestic waterways and the high seas. A captain is in overall command of a vessel, and supervises the work of other officers and crew. The captain orders the ship's course and speed, maneuvers to avoid hazards, and continuously monitors the ship's position. Captains oversee crew members who steer the vessel, ship location, engine operations, communications with other vessels, maintenance and equipment operation. Captains and department heads[6] ensure that proper procedures and safety practices are followed, ensure that machinery is in good working order, and oversee the loading and discharging of cargo and passengers. They also maintain logs and other records tracking the ships' movements, efforts at controlling pollution, and cargo and passengers carried.

The mates direct a ship's routine operation for the captain during work shifts, which are called watches. Mates stand watch for specified periods, usually 4 hours on and 8 hours off.[7] When more than one mate is necessary aboard a ship, they typically are designated chief mate or first mate, second mate, third mate, and so forth. Mates directly supervise the ship's crew. They monitor cargo loading and unloading to ensure proper stowage, and supervise crew members engaged in maintenance and the vessel's upkeep.

Harbor pilots guide ships in and out of confined waterways, such as harbors, where a familiarity with local conditions is of prime importance.[8] Harbor pilots are generally independent contractors who accompany vessels while they enter or leave port, and may pilot many ships in a single day.

Ship's engineers operate, maintain, and repair engines, boilers, generators, pumps, and other machinery. Merchant marine vessels usually have four engineering officers: a chief engineer and a first, second, and third assistant engineer. On many ships, Assistant Engineers stand periodic watches, overseeing the safe operation of engines and other machinery. However, most modern ships sailing today utilize Unmanned Machinery Space (UMS) automation technology, and Assistant Engineers are Dayworkers. At night and during meals and breaks, the engine room is unmanned and machinery alarms are answered by the Duty Engineer.

Deck officers and ship's engineers are usually trained at maritime academies.[9] Women were barred from U.S. maritime academies until 1974, when the State University of New York Maritime College and the California Maritime Academy first admitted women cadets.[10] It is becoming increasingly difficult for unlicensed mariners to earn a merchant marine license[11] due to increased requirements for formal training. A mariner must have sufficient sea time in a qualified rating and complete specified testing and training, such as that required by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

Able seamen and ordinary seamen operate the vessel and its deck equipment under officer supervision and keep their assigned areas in good order.[12] They watch for other vessels and obstructions in the ship's path, as well as for navigational aids such as buoys and lighthouses. They also steer the ship, measure water depth in shallow water, and maintain and operate deck equipment such as lifeboats, anchors, and cargo-handling gear. On tankers, mariners designated as pumpmen hook up hoses, operate pumps, and clean tanks. When arriving at or leaving a dock, they handle the mooring lines. Seamen also perform routine maintenance chores, such as repairing lines, chipping rust, and painting and cleaning decks. On larger vessels, a boatswain — or head seaman — will supervise the work.

Marine oilers and more experienced qualified members of the engine department, or QMEDs, maintain the vessel in proper running order in the engine spaces below decks, under the direction of the ship's engineering officers. These workers lubricate gears, shafts, bearings, and other moving parts of engines and motors; read pressure and temperature gauges; record data; and sometimes assist with repairs and adjust machinery. Wipers are the entry-level workers in the engine room, holding a position similar to that of ordinary seamen of the deck crew. They clean and paint the engine room and its equipment and assist the others in maintenance and repair work. With more experience, they become oilers and firemen.

As of 2011, a typical deep-sea merchant ship has a captain, three mates, a chief engineer and three assistant engineers, plus six or more unlicensed seamen, such as able seamen, oilers, QMEDs, and cooks or food handlers.[13] Other unlicensed positions on a large ship may include electricians and machinery mechanics.[14]


The history of ships and shipping in North America goes back at least as far as Leif Erikson, who established a short-lived settlement called Vinland in present day Newfoundland. The shipping industry developed as colonies grew and trade with Europe increased. As early as the 16th century, Europeans were shipping horses, cattle and hogs to the Americas.

Spanish colonies began to form as early as 1565 in places like St. Augustine, Florida, and later in Santa Fe, New Mexico; San Antonio, Tucson, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. English colonies like Jamestown began to form as early as 1607. The connection between the American colonies and Europe, with shipping as its only conduit, would continue to grow unhindered for almost two hundred years.

Revolutionary war

The first wartime role of an identifiable United States merchant marine took place on June 12, 1775, in and around Machias, Maine. A group of citizens, hearing the news from Concord and Lexington, captured the British schooner HMS Margaretta. The citizens, in need of critical supplies, were given an ultimatum: either load the ships with lumber to build British barracks in Boston, or go hungry. They chose to fight.[15]

Word of this revolt reached Boston, where the Continental Congress and the various colonies issued Letters of Marque to privateers.[16] The privateers interrupted the British supply chain all along the eastern seaboard of the United States and across the Atlantic Ocean. These actions by the privateers predate both the United States Coast Guard and the United States Navy, which were formed in 1790 and 1775, respectively.

19th and 20th centuries

The merchant marine was active in subsequent wars, from the Confederate commerce raiders of the American Civil War, to the assaults on Allied commerce in the First and in the Second World Wars. 3.1 million tons of merchant ships were lost in World War II. Mariners died at a rate of 1 in 24, which was the highest rate of casualties of any service.[17] All told, 733 American cargo ships were lost[18] and 8,651 of the 215,000 who served perished in troubled waters and off enemy shores.

Merchant shipping also played its role in the wars in Vietnam and Korea. During the Korean War, the number of ships under charter grew from 6 to 255. In September 1950, when the U.S. Marine Corps went ashore at Incheon, 13 Navy cargo ships, 26 chartered American, and 34 Japanese-manned merchant ships, under the operational control of Military Sea Transportation Service, participated.

During the Vietnam War, ships crewed by civilian seamen carried 95% of the supplies used by the American armed forces. Many of these ships sailed into combat zones under fire. The SS Mayaguez incident involved the capture of mariners from the American merchant ship SS Mayaguez.[19]

During the first Gulf War, the merchant ships of the Military Sealift Command (MSC) delivered more than 11 million metric tons of vehicles, helicopters, ammunition, fuel and other supplies and equipment. At one point during the war, more than 230 government-owned and chartered ships were involved in the sealift.

Government-owned merchant vessels from the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) have supported emergency shipping requirements in seven wars and crises. During the Korean War, 540 vessels were activated to support military forces. A worldwide tonnage shortfall from 1951 to 1953 required over 600 ship activations to lift coal to Northern Europe and grain to India. From 1955 through 1964, another 600 ships were used to store grain for the Department of Agriculture. Another tonnage shortfall following the Suez Canal closing in 1956 brought about 223 cargo ship and 29 tanker activations from the NDRF. During the Berlin crisis of 1961, 18 vessels were activated, remaining in service until 1970. The Vietnam War required the activation of 172 vessels.[20]

Since 1977, the Ready Reserve Fleet (RRF) has taken the brunt of the work previously handled by the National Defense Reserve Fleet. The RRF made a major contribution to the success of Operation Desert Shield/Operation Desert Storm from August 1990 through June 1992, when 79 vessels helped meet military sealift requirements by carrying 25% of the unit equipment and 45% of the ammunition needed.[20]

Two RRF tankers, two Roll-on/Roll-off (RO/RO) ships and a troop transport ship were employed in Somalia for Operation Restore Hope in 1993 and 1994. During the Haitian crisis in 1994, 15 ships were activated for Operation Uphold Democracy operations. In 1995 and 1996, four RO/RO ships were used to deliver military cargo as part of U.S. and U.K. support to NATO peace-keeping missions.[20]

Four RRF ships were activated to provide humanitarian assistance for Central America following Hurricane Mitch in 1998.[20]

21st century

In 2003, 40 RRF ships were used in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. This RRF contribution included sealifting into the combat theater equipment and supplies including combat support equipment for the Army, Navy Combat Logistics Force, and USMC Aviation Support equipment. By the beginning of May 2005, RRF cumulative support included 85 ship activations that logged almost 12,000 ship operating days, moving almost 25% of the equipment needed to support operations in Iraq.[20]

The Military Sealift Command was also involved in the Iraq War, delivering 61,000,000 square feet (5,700,000 m2) of cargo and 1,100,000,000 US gallons (4,200,000 m3) of fuel by the end of that year. Merchant mariners were recognized for their contributions in Iraq. For example, in late 2003, Vice Adm. David Brewer III, Military Sealift Command commander, awarded the crew of the MV Capt. Steven L. Bennett the Merchant Marine Expeditionary Medal.[21]

The RRF was called upon to provide humanitarian assistance to gulf coast areas following Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita landfalls in September 2005. The Federal Emergency Management Agency requested a total of eight vessels to support relief efforts. Messing and berthing was provided for refinery workers, oil spill response teams and longshoremen. One vessel provided electrical power.[20]

As of 2007, three RRF ships supported the Afloat Prepositioning Force with two specialized tankers and one dry cargo vessel capable of underway replenishment for the Navy's Combat Logistics Force.[20]

The commercial fleet

As of 2006, the United States merchant fleet had 465 privately owned ships of 1,000 or more gross register tons. Two hundred ninety-one (291) were dry cargo ships, 97 were tankers, and 77 were passenger ships. Of those American-flagged ships, 51 were foreign owned. Seven hundred American-owned ships are flagged in other nations.[22][23]

2005 statistics from the United States Maritime Administration focused on the larger segment of the fleet: ships of 10,000 metric tons deadweight (DWT) and over. 245 privately owned American-flagged ships are of this size, and 153 of those meet the Jones Act criteria.[24]

The World War II era was the peak for the U.S. fleet. During the post-war year of 1950, for example, U.S. carriers represented about 43 percent of the world's shipping trade. By 1995, the American market share had plunged to 4 percent, according to a 1997 report by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office (CBO).[25] The report states, "the number of U.S.-flag vessels has dropped precipitously—from more than 2,000 in the 1940s and 850 in 1970 to about 320 in 1996."

A diminishing U.S. fleet contrasted with the burgeoning of international sea trade. For example, worldwide demand for natural gas led to the growth of the global liquefied natural gas (LNG) tanker fleet, which reached 370 vessels as of 2007. In 2007 the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD) set uniform LNG training standards at U.S. maritime training facilities.[26] While short-term imports are declining,[27] longer term projections signal an eightfold increase in U.S. imported LNG by 2025, the worldwide LNG fleet does not include a single U.S. flagged vessel. Moreover, only five U.S. deepwater LNG ports were operational in 2007, although permits have been issued for four additional ports, according to MARAD.[28]

The US pool of qualified mariners declined with the fleet.[29] In 2004 MARAD described the gap between sealift crewing needs and available unlicensed personnel as "reaching critical proportions, and the long term outlook for sufficient personnel is also of serious concern."[30]

Future seagoing jobs for U.S. mariners may be on other than U.S.-flagged ships. American-trained mariners are being sought after by international companies to operate foreign-flagged vessels, according to Julie A. Nelson, deputy maritime administrator of the U.S. Department of Commerce.[31] For example, Shell International and Shipping Company Ltd. began recruiting U.S. seafarers to crew its growing fleet of tankers in 2008.[32] In 2007 Overseas Shipholding Group and the Maritime Administration agreed to allow American maritime academy cadets to train aboard OSG's international flag vessels.[33]

The federal fleet

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) — an arm of the Navy — serves the entire Department of Defense as the ocean carrier of materiel during peacetime and war. MSC transports equipment, fuel, ammunition, and other goods essential to United States armed forces worldwide. Up to 95% of all supplies needed to sustain the U.S. military can be moved by Military Sealift Command.[34] As of 2006 MSC operated approximately 120 ships with 100 more in reserve. More than 8,000 civil service or contract merchant mariners staff the ships.[35]

MSC tankers and freighters have a long history of also serving as supply vessels in support of civilian research in the Arctic and Antarctic, including McMurdo Station, Antarctica and Greenland.

The National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF)[36] acts as a reserve of cargo ships for national emergencies and defense. As of 2006, the NDRF fleet numbered 251 ships, down from 2,277 ships at its peak in 1950.[37]

NDRF vessels are now staged[38] at the James River, Beaumont and Suisun Bay fleet sites and other designated locations.

A Ready Reserve Force[39] component of NDRF was established in 1976 to provide rapid deployment of military equipment. As of 2007, this force included 58 vessels, down from a peak of 102 in 1994.[20]

In 2004, the federal government employed approximately 5% of all water transportation workers, most of whom worked on Military Sealift Command supply ships.[4]

The United States Merchant Marine Academy

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (also known as USMMA or Kings Point) is one of the five United States Service academies. It is charged with training officers for the United States Merchant Marine, branches of the military, and the transportation industry. The Academy community considers former Merchant marine officer (1917-1920) and, later, USN Vice Admiral Richard R. McNulty, who had long advocated for the Academy, its "Father".[40] The Academy's McNulty Campus is named for him.[41] McNulty was supervisor of the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps of the U.S. Maritime Commission from 1938-1948. He was appointed the Academy's 3rd superintendent in 1946 and served in this position until his retirement in 1948.

The Academy operates on an $85 million annual budget[42] funded by the US Department of Transportation and is administered by the U.S. Maritime Administration ("MARAD")

Freshmen, known as plebes, start in early July where they begin a two and a half week indoctrination period, also known as "indoc." Indoc is functionally run by upperclassmen but is overseen by officers of the United States Maritime Service who are part of the Commandant of Midshipman's staff. This high stress period involves physical training, marching, and an intensive introduction to regimental life at the academy. After the indoctrination period is completed, the academic year begins. In September, first year students officially become part of the regiment upon taking the oath of office into the U.S. Navy Reserve on Acceptance Day. Until "recognized" later in the academic year, plebes continue to be required to adhere to stringent rules affecting most aspects of their daily life. After earning it, the plebes are recognized giving them the title of Midshipmen, which gives them more privileges, known as rates.

Academy students, known as midshipmen, focus on one of two different ship transport areas of education: marine transportation or marine engineering. Transportation students learn about ship navigation, cargo handling, navigation rules and maritime law. Engineering students learn about the function of the ship's engines and its supporting systems. There are currently six different academic majors available to midshipmen. Three of them are referred to as "Deck Majors" because in addition to a Bachelor of Science degree in the major field of study: Marine Transportation, Logistics and Intermodal Transportation, and Maritime Operations and Technology; they sit for and upon successful completion of the examination are issued a Third Mate (Deck Officer) License of Steam or Motor Vessels, Unlimited Tonnage, Upon Oceans. The other three available curricula are referred to as "Engine Majors"; they are: Marine Engineering, Marine Engineering Systems, and Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management. "Engine Majors" sit for and upon successful completion of the examination are issued Third Assistant Engineer (3 A/E - Engineering Officer) Licenses Steam and Motor Vessels, Any Horsepower. Maritime Operations and Technology majors, also referred to as "Shoppers", are eligible to seek and obtain certification as "Qualified Members of Engine Department" (QMED) - the highest unlicensed rating in the engine department. Marine Engineering Systems and Marine Engineering Systems & Shipyard Management graduates are also qualified to sit for the Engineer In Training (EIT) examination administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

For part of sophomore and junior year, known at the Academy as third class and second class year, students work as cadets on regular American merchant ships. Midshipmen are typically paired two to a ship, one engineering cadet and one deck cadet. Midshipmen work and function as part of the crew and gain an opportunity for generous amounts of hands-on experience as well as the opportunity to travel abroad to many different foreign ports. The average midshipman travels to 18 countries during this period, which totals a minimum of 300 days.[42] Due to this absence from the Academy, the remaining three academic years span from late July, through mid-June.

The USMMA Mariners compete in Division III of the NCAA, as a charter member of the Landmark Conference in all sports (men's sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, lacrosse, soccer, swimming & diving, tennis and track & field; while women's sports include basketball, cross country, swimming & diving, track & field and volleyball) except in football, where they are an associate member of the Liberty League, and collegiate wrestling, where they are a member of the Centennial Conference. The USMMA formerly was a member of the Skyline Conference until the 2006-07 season.

The USMMA Varsity Intercollegiate Sailing Team competes at the Division I level and is a member of the Middle Atlantic Intercollegiate Sailing Association (MAISA) and has fifteen Intercollegiate Sailing Association (ICSA) national championships to its credit, as well as nearly two dozen district titles. The Mariners won their first ICSA National (now "North American") Championship in 1979. The Mariners have four dinghy championships in 1979, 1983, 1984, and 1987. Six sailors have received College Sailor of the Year recognition, Jonathan Wright 1971, Alex Smigelski 1979, Morgan Reeser, 1983 & 1984, Jay Renehan 1985, William Hardesty III, 1998. The school has had 32 All American Skippers, 11 Honorable mention skippers, and 10 All American crews.

Important laws

A few laws have shaped the development of the U.S. merchant marine. Chief among them are the "Seamen's Act of 1915", the "Merchant Marine Act of 1920" (commonly referred to as the "Jones Act"), and the "Merchant Marine Act of 1936."

The Seamen's Act of 1915

The Seaman's Act[43] significantly improved working conditions for American seamen.[44] The brainchild of International Seamen's Union president Andrew Furuseth, the Act was sponsored in the Senate by Robert Marion La Follette and received significant support from Secretary of Labor William B. Wilson.

Among other things, the Act:

  1. abolished the practice of imprisonment for seamen who deserted their ship;
  2. reduced the penalties for disobedience;
  3. regulated working hours both at sea and in port;
  4. established minimum food quality standards;
  5. regulated the payment of wages;
  6. required specific levels of safety, particularly the provision of lifeboats;
  7. required a minimum percentage of the seamen aboard a vessel to be qualified Able Seamen; and
  8. required a minimum of 75% of the seamen aboard a vessel to understand the language spoken by the officers.

The Act's passage was attributed to labor union lobbying, increased labor tensions immediately before World War I, and elevated public consciousness of safety at sea due to the sinking of the RMS Titanic three years prior.[45]

The Jones Act

The "Merchant Marine Act of 1920," often called The "Jones Act," required U.S.-flagged vessels to be built in the United States, owned by U.S. citizens, and documented ("flagged") under the laws of the United States.[46] It also required that all officers and 75% of the crew be U.S. citizens. Vessels satisfying these requirements comprised the "Jones Act Fleet," and only these vessels were allowed to engage in "cabotage", or carrying passengers or cargo between two U.S. ports.[47]

Another important aspect of the Act is that it allowed injured sailors to obtain compensation from their employers for the negligence of the owner, the captain, or fellow members of the crew.

The Merchant Marine Act

The Merchant Marine Act of 1936 was enacted "to further the development and maintenance of an adequate and well-balanced American merchant marine, to promote the commerce of the United States, to aid in the national defense, to repeal certain former legislation, and for other purposes."

Specifically, the Act established the United States Maritime Commission and required a United States Merchant Marine that consisted of U.S.-built, U.S.-flagged, U.S.-crewed and U.S.-owned vessels capable of carrying all domestic and a substantial portion of foreign water-borne commerce which could serve as a naval auxiliary in time of war or national emergency.

The act also established federal subsidies for the construction and operation of merchant ships. Two years after the Act was passed, the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps, the forerunner to the United States Merchant Marine Academy, was established.

International regulations

Federal law requires the merchant marine to adhere to a number of international conventions. The International Maritime Organization was either the source or a conduit for a number of these regulations.

As of 2007, the principal International Conventions were:

  • SOLAS 74: International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea;
  • MARPOL 73/78: International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, 1973 as modified by the Protocol of 1978;
  • ICLL 66: International Convention on Load Lines, as revised in 1966;
  • 72 COLREGS: International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea;
  • STCW 95: International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW); and
  • SAR 79: International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue.[48]

Noted U.S. Merchant Mariners

Merchant seamen went on to make their mark on the world. The first was mariner John Paul Jones, who went on to become the "Father of the American Navy".

Douglass North went from seaman to navigator to winner of the 1993 Nobel Prize in Economics.

After completing service in the Merchant Marine, multiple merchant seamen earned the Medal of Honor. George H. O'Brien, Jr. earned the award in the Korean War. Lawrence Joel earned the honor in the Vietnam war. Granville Conway, public servant, was a Presidential Medal for Merit recipient.

Some became notorious criminals. William Colepaugh was convicted as a Nazi spy in World War II. Perry Smith's own murderous rampage (in 1959) was made famous in Truman Capote's non-fiction novel In Cold Blood. George Hennard was a mass murderer who claimed twenty-four victims on a rampage at Luby's Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas (1991).

Mariners are well represented in the visual arts. Merchant seaman Johnny Craig was already a working comic book artist before he joined up, but Ernie Schroeder would not start drawing comics until after returning home from World War II. Seaman Haskell Wexler won two Academy Awards, the latter for a biography of his shipmate Woody Guthrie.

Merchant sailors have also made a splash in the world of sport. Drew Bundini Brown was Muhammad Ali's assistant trainer and cornerman, and Joe Gold made his fortune as the bodybuilding and fitness guru of Gold's Gym. In football, Dan Devine and Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich excelled. Seamen Jim Bagby, Jr. and Charlie Keller played in Major League Baseball. In track and field, seamen Cornelius Johnson and Jim Thorpe both won Olympic medals, though Thorpe did not get his until thirty years after his death.

Writers Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Ralph Ellison, Herman Melville, and Jack Vance and were merchant mariners, as were prominent members of the Beat movement: Allen Ginsberg, Herbert Huncke, Bob Kaufman, Jack Kerouac, and Dave Van Ronk. Peter Baynham, the coauthor of the film Borat, and Donn Pearce, who wrote the movie Cool Hand Luke, were formerly merchant mariners. Filmmaker Oliver Stone won multiple Academy Awards.

WWII-era merchant mariners played well-known television characters. The list includes Raymond Bailey (who played Milburn Drysdale on The Beverly Hillbillies); Peter Falk (who played the title character on Columbo); James Garner (who played Jim Rockford on The Rockford Files); Jack Lord (who played Steve McGarrett on the original Hawaii Five-0); Carroll O'Connor (who played Archie Bunker on All in the Family); Denver Pyle (who played Uncle Jesse Duke on The Dukes of Hazzard); and Clint Walker (who played Cheyenne Bodie on Cheyenne).

Songwriter and lyricist Jack Lawrence was a mariner during World War II and wrote the official United States Merchant Marine song, "Heave Ho! My Lads, Heave Ho!" while a young lieutenant stationed at Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, in 1943.

Writer/businessman Robert Kiyosaki claimed to have been a mariner.

Paul Teutul, Sr., the founder of Orange County Choppers and Orange County Ironworks, was a merchant mariner during the Vietnam War.

Fictional accounts

The United States merchant marine has been featured in movies and other fictional accounts.

In animations and cartoons

  • Popeye was a merchant mariner before joining first the U.S. Coast Guard, and then the U.S. Navy.


WWII fare
Other movies prominently featuring the United States Merchant Marine
On television
  • On the soap opera Days of our Lives, the characters Bo Brady and Steve "Patch" Johnson were merchant mariners.
  • On the popular 1960s television sitcom Gilligan's Island, Captain Jonas Grumby (the "Skipper"), was variously referred to as having been formerly in the Merchant Marine and in the U.S. Navy,
  • On the popular 1960s television sitcom McHale's Navy, lead character, Lt. Cmdr. Quinton McHale, was referred to as a member of the Merchant Marine before World War II.
  • On the 1980s sitcom Punky Brewster, Henry P. Warnimont (George Gaynes) - adoptive father of the title character - was a merchant mariner.
  • On the 1960s family program My Three Sons The Character Uncle Charley (William Demarest) had worked as a Merchant Seaman prior to coming to live in the Douglas home
  • In the 1970s TV series Baretta, the title character played by Robert Blake often mentions that he worked as a Merchant Seaman before becoming a police officer
  • In The 1970s series Taxi, the character Tony Banta's (played by Tony Danza) father works as a Merchant Seaman, and in the episode Travels With My Dad, Tony gets a job on a Merchant Ship so that he and his dad can spend time together


In Tennessee Williams' play The Glass Menagerie, the character Tom Wingfield leaves his family to work in the Merchant Marine.

In literature

  • A humorous tale of a post WWII merchant marine radio operator, with unexpurgated colorful language, profanity and maritime union shenanigans.


See also


  • Seafarers International Union - War's Forgotten Heroes (Article)

External links

  • Merchant Marine and USCG Training Resources
  • Heave Ho — The United States Merchant Marine Anthem (lyrics only)
  • Sea History at the National Maritime Historical Society
  • The Marine Society (the world's oldest seafarers' not-for-profit organisation)
  • Women and the Sea: The Mariner's Museum.
  • Women in Maritime History
  • Lyrics to the official Merchant Marine song, "Heave Ho! My Lads, Heave Ho!", music and lyrics by Jack Lawrence
  • Compilation of Maritime Law (U.S. 2006)
  • American Merchant Marine at War - Revolution to World War II to today
  • Maritime Trade & Transportation 2002 from the Bureau of Trade Statistics
  • , a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan

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