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Destination - Castine - Learning the ropes at Maine Maritime

As you approach Castine, the vessels, docks and red brick buildings of Maine Maritime Academy dominate the waterfront. Founded in 1941, this four-year college offers a host of degree programs in such fields as engineering and technology, marine transportation, business and management, marine science, and interdisciplinary studies.

The centerpiece of its 60-vessel fleet — and of most degree programs — is the 500-foot training ship State of Maine, which cruises each summer with first- and third-year students aboard. The cruises, often to foreign ports, provide much of the hands-on “time at sea” experience required for Coast Guard Third Assistant Engineer and Third Mate Unlimited licenses.

The ship’s complement of 250 includes 190 students. “Our mission is to put students in leadership roles and let them learn by their successes and mistakes,” says Capt. Brendan McAvoy.

First-year students receive an overall orientation by standing watches, assisting in vessel operations (from navigation to loading 40 tons of stores) and maintaining the vessel’s MAK 601C 8,046-hp diesel and auxiliary systems. Third-year students focus on their major — deck or engineering.

“Our voyages are also a cultural learning experience, for quite a few students have never been to sea or even out of [their home state],“ says McAvoy, who sails a Pearson 33 out of Belfast, Maine. “The May-June 2008 deployment [included] the Canary Islands, Bermuda, Savannah [Ga.] and a dip across the equator for a day of foolishness. I think [the voyage] builds character and, by default, stresses self-sufficiency.

“These days, kids seem to always be looking at a screen, or on a cell phone,” he continues. “Our job is to tear down walls and build a community over the course of the voyage. Students learn to respect each other’s privacy and to respect what others are doing.”

As they learn what is required for their licenses, says McAvoy, students are taught accountability and responsibility, and that their actions affect others on board. “For example, accidentally setting off the smoke alarm sends everyone to fire stations,” he says.

A former Navy research vessel, State of Maine is leased to the academy from the federal government. The ship doesn’t carry commercial cargo, but occasionally performs relief missions — among them, tarps and tents to Estonia, and lumber and medical equipment to Brazil.

The summer following their second year, students are assigned to commercial ships visiting ports worldwide. Throughout their course of study, students train aboard the college’s 76-foot oceangoing tug, 88-foot arctic research schooner Bowdoin, 47-foot research vessel and 40-foot navigation lab ship, 230-foot barge, and 50-some other sail, power and working craft.

Maine Maritime Academy’s renowned hands-on approach continues ashore. In addition to classes, students work in the school’s marina; steam, diesel and electric power plant labs; simulators (visual bridge, liquid cargo and power plant); planetarium; wave generator; aquariums; machine and welding shops; and labs for marine equipment, computer-aided design, electronic navigation, refrigeration and power equipment.

Students seeking an unlimited merchant marine license must join the uniformed Regiment of Midshipmen, which stresses discipline and work ethic. Other students may join the regiment. No military service is required, except from those in the Naval/Marine or Army ROTC programs.

About two-thirds of Maine Maritime Academy’s 825 students pursue engineering degrees leading to maritime positions or shoreside ones in power plants, paper mills and their suppliers. U.S. News & World Report has ranked the college’s six engineering undergraduate degree programs among the nation’s best. Bachelor of Science degrees are also offered in marine transportation, ocean studies and international business and logistics, which also offers master’s degrees. Two-year associate degrees are offered in small vessel operations (jobs on tall ships, private yachts, tugboats, ferries and such), and small craft design and systems in connection with The Landing School of Boat Building and Design in Arundel, Maine. The college boasts that each year 90 percent of graduates find professional positions or begin advanced degrees.

Though the Maine Maritime Academy stresses marine-oriented programs, the college includes sailing and other athletic teams, clubs, a social center and dormitories on its 35-acre campus in downtown Castine. Extensive orientation helps integrate students into the community through its organizations, activities and part-time work opportunities and is considered advantageous for students and residents alike.

The school offers daily tours of the State of Maine when it’s in port during summer, and on weekends from September to late April. For more information, visit or