photo above: Maritime program students wear survival suits aboard the Forerunner training vessel. All photos courtesy Clatsop Community College
By Annissa Anderson
In an ever-demanding world of increasing commerce, maritime workers of all ilk play an important part in fishing, tourism and shipping industries. The basic training and certifications that mariners need to work – safely and legally – are provided at just a few institutions, and in Oregon, Clatsop Community College (CCC) in Astoria is a major hub for Maritime Science and Maritime Fire Science education for the northwest and far beyond.
CCC also offers the only Coast Guard approved Training Ship Program in the Northwest, which prepares students with the skills and knowledge to work safely and effectively in the maritime industry. Students with no experience at all can earn a 2-year AAS degree or can opt for a one-year certificate program. Those already working in the industry, who wish to increase their scope of licensing or add endorsements, can take classes specifically tailored to obtaining U.S. Coast Guard licensing.
“Students are well set to go in any direction they choose,” said Eldon Russell, Maritime Science Instructor for CCC. With a retiring workforce in the maritime industry, opportunities abound for new people with training to fill these positions, said Russell. Students go on to work as licensed deck hands on tugboats or cruise ships, work on large vessels like fuel tankers or cargo vessels or become captains of their own enterprises like tour or fishing guide services.
Safety is always at the forefront for mariner training. Classes include Basic Training, Lifeboatman, Practical Navigation, Celestial Navigation, and Stability. Learning the fundamentals and how to calculate stability are key to keeping a vessel safe, said Russell. “We teach every aspect of what they need to work and be safe on board a vessel,” he said.
Another important dimension of maritime safety taught at CCC is Maritime Firefighting Science. Every seaman must meet requirements for dealing with fire on a vessel, said Jake Campbell, Fire Science Instructor at CCC. Those with no firefighting experience, as well as trained mariners who are required by the Coast Guard to renew firefighting training every five years, go through rigorous training that can be lifesaving out at sea.
“Fighting a fire on a boat is not like fighting a fire in your house,” said Campbell. Vessels are steel structures which radiate heat. In addition, they are containerized, which makes fire burn much hotter, he said.
Teaching on scale – CCC trains 500-590 students in the Maritime programs annually – requires simulating many of the real time situations that happen at sea in a classroom setting. To effectively train as many students as possible in maritime firefighting, the school has a three-story burn building designed to copy a vessel – complete with hospitality spaces and an engine room.
For both Maritime Science and Fire Science training, new equipment that keeps students safe in crucial. The Roundhouse Foundation, based in Sisters, played a role in providing essentials for basic safety training, including a Viking Life raft training model and immersion suits for students. For firefighting training, Roundhouse helped CCC to purchase new protective clothing and Padgenite insulating panels to reinforce fire walls withing the training facility.
“Community colleges and their programs represent the workforce needs of their community. Clatsop Community College and the North Coast are unique to Oregon as they sit at the confluence of the Columbia River and the Pacific. Mariners need a special set of skills to work on the turbulent waters of this region and Clatsop’s programs teach real-world skills in an incredibly challenging environment. Students in this program graduate ready to work right in their backyard or anywhere the open waters can take them,” said Erin Borla, Executive Director of the Roundhouse Foundation. Helping to fund program expenses at community colleges is part of the foundation’s vision, which includes encouraging innovative programming and stimulating local economies.
Additional funding for safety equipment means that students have the very best at hand. “It keeps us up to date with the latest technologies, allowing us to train the students with the equipment they will be using on board their vessels and not out-of-date equipment,” said Russell. The life raft and survival suits are used both at the Astoria campus and for off-site training at other locations, like for research scientists from Oregon State University who are conducting oceanic research.
Working with a diverse range of students from different backgrounds and seeing them move into the workforce is one of the more gratifying aspects of teaching for Russell. “I feel that it keeps our employers staffed with experienced and qualified personnel,” he said.
Certainly, the collaborative efforts of the college and other entities who contribute to maritime education are doing just that.