The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport is looking for low-income, underrepresented coastal residents to help diversify the maritime industry through a new maritime training program aboard its two tall ships, the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain.
The two replica tall ships travel between San Diego and Vancouver, British Columbia, providing sales and mock cannon battles. The nonprofit has long offered Two Weeks Before Mast, during which attendees crew for two weeks learning knots, sail theory, maintenance and maritime history.
A recent three-year, $512,000 grant from the Bellevue, Washington-based Magic Cabinet Foundation funded Sea School Northwest, an expanded eight-week training program started this month. The program teaches students about basic seafaring skills and shipboard systems, while preparing them for Coast Guard certifications and finding jobs in the maritime industry.
Hali Boyd, director of the school, said the program is an effort to increase diversity in the maritime workforce.
“Women make up about 2 percent of the maritime industry,” Boyd said during a maritime industry panel Friday in Astoria.
By contrast, more than 40 percent of sampled crew members on the seaport’s vessels identified as female. More than 45 percent were between the ages of 25 and 35, significantly younger than the average age of 54 in the maritime industry. Their reported salaries before joining the vessels averaged around $15,000, far below the average salary of more than $70,000 in Washington state maritime jobs.
The maritime sector in Washington state is growing at an estimated 6.4 percent a year. Many former crew from the tall ships have gone on to careers in the maritime industry. Boyd started on the Lady Washington and eventually served as vessel commander for the river cruise ship Portland Spirit. Olivia Fabrizio, a member of the industry panel, dropped out of graduate school to crew aboard the Hawaiian Chieftain and is now second mate aboard the stern-wheeler American Empress plying the Columbia and Snake rivers.
People get hired in the maritime industry sometimes without any experience, Fabrizio said, while those who crew on the Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain are usually ahead of the curve in general marlinspike seamanship skills like tying knots, securing lines and working with rope.
“You’re usually above and beyond your co-workers,” she said.
The Sea School offers 24 full-ride scholarships a year, along with between 24 and 48 nonscholarship slots for students. The focus is on low-income participants from traditional maritime communities and underrepresented demographics such as women, ethnic minorities and members of the LGBTQ community.
“What we need are young people who are eager to go into these jobs,” said Caitlin Stanton, a former Hawaiian Chieftain crew member and a development officer with the seaport.