Upgraders Make History at Paul Hall Center


April 2016


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Four Seafarers recently etched their respective names in the annals of SIU history by becoming the first to graduate from the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education’s (PHC) AB to Mate Modular Program.


The inaugural group, ABs Brendan O’Brien, Jon Silveira, Timothy van Weezel and Emmanuel Wilson on Feb. 5 completed the final in a series (six in all) of four- and five-week training modules at the union-affiliated maritime training center in Piney Point, Maryland. All that now stands between them and their respective 3rd Mate endorsements is their passage of a written U.S. Coast Guard examination.


Prior to taking the exam, each of the third mate candidates must submit a comprehensive application package to the Coast Guard for approval. Among other items, this package must contain copies of TWICs, MMCs, drug test results, physicals, proof of sea service, and copies of all course completion certificates and any required assessments. Once packages are approved by the Coast Guard, candidates have one year to take the exam.


Three of the four grads shared their assessments of the AB to Mate course and voiced confidence in their abilities to conquer the exam.


“I do believe that I am ready to successfully take on the exam and to sail as a mate,” said van Weezel, who calls Oakland and Wilmington, California, as well as Piney Point, Maryland, his home ports. “I was quite fond of the course because it gave you everything you need to go out and do your job as a third mate.


“I rate the course as being top notch and highly informative,” continued van Weezel, who has been with the union since September 2010. “During the various modules, the instructors presented you with all of the tools that you need to advance your career in whatever direction you want. As a mariner, it’s basically up to you to know what you need in order to advance in your career and then go out and get it.”


Offering advice to fellow Seafarers who hope advance in the industry, van Weezel said: “To my brothers and sisters who aspire to move up, I say set your goals, go to work, keep your head down, enjoy shipping and accomplish what you need to despite any adversity you may encounter. Keep on doing what’s necessary to accomplish your goals.”


O’Brien said in his estimation, the course thoroughly prepared him and his classmates to ascend the ladder to third mate.


“The AB to Mate Program was a great opportunity and a good course,” he said. “It prepared us very well for what we will face during the Coast Guard exam, but I will definitely have to do some intense studying and reviewing prior to the time I take the test.” O’Brien donned the SIU colors in 2007 and sails out of the port of Jersey City, New Jersey.


“I spread my training out over a period of one year,” he continued, “so I am not as familiar with the materials we covered early on as I am with that which we had later down the road. Nevertheless, I’ll be ready for the exam when I get to take it.”


O’Brien concluded by urging fellow Seafarers to take full advantage of every opportunity that comes their way, especially in the area of upgrading at the PHC.


“I thought that the AB to Mate course was a great program,” said Silveira, who sails from the port of Jacksonville, Florida. “The instructors that we had were absolutely top notch and so were the facilities at Piney Point.


“I had a great time,” continued the Seafarer of 10 years who was a member of PHC Apprentice Class 658. “In addition to improving my skills, I got to meet other people the industry who have the same goals as mine. I will definitely try to keep in contact with them. I was thrilled to be accepted for the program but even more thrilled to complete it and pass everything.”


Silveira said he attended college for two years prior to joining the SIU. And although he did not finish, many of the courses he took helped prepare him for the AB to Mate Program.


“The celestial navigation module was extremely difficult,” he said. “But thanks to some of the math classes I had in college, complemented by some extra tutoring and computer programs provided by the school I was able to pass it. There were times, however that I had my doubts.”


Now working on a relief job, Silveira plans to spend his off-duty time preparing for the Coast Guard exam. “I’ve already submitted my application package to the Coast Guard,” he concluded. “Once they approve everything and let me know, I’ll go in for the test sometimes in May or June.”


Silveira advises anyone contemplating getting into the AB to Mate Program to be sure to brush up on their math skills. “You really do need to be knowledgeable in mathematics including Algebra and Trigonometry,” he said. “A lot of mathematics are involved and the courses move at a pretty fast pace, so that if you fall behind, you’ll really be in trouble.”


The PHC in 2013 began accepting applications from the general membership for its AB to Mate Modular Program – an intensive series of courses that offer ABs the ability to reach the level of third mate. Previously, the AB to Mate Program was only open to mariners who were sponsored by their respective companies.


Officials described the opening of the program to the general membership as part of the SIU’s overall goal of allowing its members as many opportunities for career advancement as possible. It’s a win-win situation – mariners can advance their careers, while companies have a greater pool of highly trained workers.


Under the program, ABs must complete a series of four- or five-week training modules at the PHC that cover everything from advanced firefighting and electronic navigation to shiphandling and meteorology. For most mariners, there are six four- or five-week modules, equaling about six and one-half months of total training. Those receiving oceans endorsements are required to take a sixth module on celestial navigation.


While the modules must be completed in a certain order, mariners are not required to complete them back-to-back. That means mariners can carve separate modules of training out of their schedules over an extended period of time.


To qualify for the program, mariners must have: 120 days sailing in the previous calendar year; 1,080 days seatime in the deck department, with 180 days holding AB-Limited or Unlimited rating; current Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch (RFPNW) and Able Seafarer-Deck and AB-Unlimited rating; three reference letters from vessel masters within the last two years; and pass an aptitude test developed by the Lundeberg Maryland Seamanship School (LMSS). Members are encouraged to apply for the course through the admissions office. For more information, call (301) 994-0010.

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