Sea School coming to Aberdeen to train future mariners

The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority is starting a school to train the future of the maritime industry.

In a release, the seaport announced that they have been selected for a 3-year, $512,000 grant to implement a “Sea School”.

“ One of Washington’s largest industries, the $21.4-billion-dollar maritime sector, has a high profile problem. Described as a “greying” industry, the median age of workers is 54, while the sector continues to grow at an average rate of 6.4% a year.

The tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain have relied on volunteer sailors to fill out their crew and are trained while on the ships. Approximately 57% of these sailors are under the age of 35.

They say that over  100 of their alumni have gone on to get licensing to work in the commercial industry.

“What many people don’t realize is that the fundamentals of being a good deckhand are very similar to what they have always been, even back in the eighteenth century,” shared Captain Ryan Downs, who himself got his start on the decks of Lady Washington. “We do have so many more electronic devices than our predecessors, but none of the knots have changed, none of the need for awareness of your surroundings has changed. We have our mariners on tugboats and cruise ships all over the world, using the seamanship skills they learned on tall ships.”

Starting in 2018, Sea School will provide a new opportunity for those wanting to get into the industry.

Funded by a three-year, $512,000 grant from the Bellevue-based Magic Cabinet Foundation, the program will include full scholarships for up to 24 people each year to learn job skills.

Sea School trainees will join the tall ship crew for a month or more at a time according to the Seaport, living on the ship and working their way through a self-driven curriculum that combines training, daily hands-on practice, and comprehension tests.

The Seaport has brought on Curriculum Development Specialist, Captain Sarah Herard, a seasoned mariner and graduate scholar at Central Michigan University studying training and development in education.

Guest instructors will also bring specialty training to the school such as life raft deployment and medical trainings.

“The maritime sector pays a family wage,” said GHHS Executive Director Brandi Bednarik, “The industry’s average salary in Washington is $70,000.  Our goal with Sea School is to throw open doors to the industry to people who would otherwise have barriers.  The scholarships available through this program will provide the opportunity to low income people, especially from coastal communities within Washington state, similar to our home base of Grays Harbor County.  People not well represented in the maritime industry like women, people of color, the LGBTQ community, and registered tribal members will have more options to earn family wages and to acquire valuable skills.  Our ongoing goal is to be a gateway for equal access to family-wage jobs at sea.  This has always been a blue collar industry, and we want to see that continue – maritime work is something that anyone can succeed if they work hard.  We are providing that first important step, which is a foot in the door.  The impact of Sea School will be felt nationwide and is not limited to working on a vessel.”

As mariners retire or step away from the industry, the Seaport says that one issue facing them as they look to bring in new workers is a lack of public awareness of the maritime industry.

Included in the budget for Sea School will be funds for “a public marketing campaign, educational speaker panels for Washington state youth, and vessel open houses that provide a free vessel tour and information on the program to the general public”.

 “People get genuinely excited when they see our vessels,” shares GHHS Program Development Officer Zachary Stocks. “That excitement gets them thinking about the possibilities in their own life. By using our vessels to attract attention for the industry at large, we can engage younger generations and get them thinking about a maritime career.”


Sea School will include:
  • 72 need-based full scholarships for people ages 18 to 35 to participate in Sea School. Priority will be given to applicants who would otherwise have barriers to the industry. Everything is included down to the work gear!
  • 10 $2,000 merit-based crew development scholarships per year for GHHS crew to obtain USCG licensing.
  • 3-4 educational panels each year in communities around Washington state. These free events will feature a group of working mariners talking about their career at sea.
  • Vessel open houses in 8-10 communities each year where people can come learn about Sea School and maritime work.
  • Modernized training on GHHS vessels including an all-new training curriculum, 2x year life raft deployment, immersion suits, crew “field trips” to see other types of vessels, visiting speakers, podcasts, training videos, and more!


The program is slated to launch in summer of 2018. The first scholarship application window is slated to open in the first half of 2018. Interested parties can sign up to hear alerts by subscribing to the Sea School email list or following Grays Harbor Historical Seaport on Facebook.


Sea School eBook


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