In exchange for a taxpayer-funded education at the USMMA, all midshipmen commit to fulfill a maritime service obligation that continues following graduation. This commitment that is mandated by law, restated in the Maritime Administration's (MARAD) regulations, and in the Service Obligation Contract each midshipman signs upon the completion of Indoctrination.
The following is a summary of the applicable laws and regulations governing your service obligation to MARAD, and is provided for ready reference. For the full text of the applicable laws and regulations, please refer to 46 U.S.C. § 51306 and 46 C.F.R. § 310.58.
Post-Graduation Service Obligation Requirements
Having successfully completed the course of instruction at USMMA and upon receiving their U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) with an officer endorsement, a graduate’s remaining service obligation covers the following four (4) elements:
- Five (5) years of MARAD-approved service/employment;
- Maintaining their USCG MMC and accompanying documents for six (6) years;
- Maintaining their reserve commission for eight (8) years*; and
- Submitting annual reports demonstrating their service obligation compliance.
Successful fulfillment of the post-graduation service obligation requires completion of every item listed above.
*Individuals who executed their service obligation contract prior to June 2016 must maintain their reserve commission for six (6) years. Due to a change in the law, this requirement was increased to eight (8) years for all individuals executing service obligation contracts beginning in June 2016.
All graduates must provide at least five (5) years of MARAD-approved service in in support of the foreign and domestic commerce and the national defense of the United States. MARAD approval is required before any time spent in a given position will count towards fulfillment of a graduate’s five (5) years of service/employment.
This approval is automatic for two categories of service/employment: (1) employment as a merchant marine officer sailing aboard U.S.-flagged vessels; and (2) service as a commissioned officer on active duty in the Armed Forces of the United States or as a commissioned officer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps or the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Corps.
Graduates seeking to fulfill the service/employment portion of their service obligation through any other means MUST submit additional paperwork to MARAD seeking specific permission to pursue an alternate path. These alternatives are discussed below.
- Options That Do Not Require Special MARAD Approval
- Sailing as a merchant marine officer aboard U.S.-flagged vessels.
The primary method by which graduates are expected to provide this service is through employment as a merchant marine officer sailing aboard U.S.-flagged vessels. Such employment is automatically approved by MARAD and does not require special permission or documentation.
To receive credit for a good year of sea service towards the five (5) years owed, graduates must sail a minimum of 150 days per service year – with a service year calculated as 12 month increments from a graduate’s individual date of graduation. Proof of a graduate’s sea days (i.e., letters of sea service or discharge certificates) should be provided when the graduate submits their annual reports.
- Active duty service.
Each year, approximately 20-25% of new graduates choose to fulfill the service/employment portion of their service obligation by serving as commissioned officers on active duty in one of the Armed Forces of the United States or in the NOAA Corps or USPHS Corps. As with service as a merchant marine officer sailing aboard U.S.-flagged vessels, active duty service is automatically approved by MARAD and does not require special permission or documentation.
In addition to satisfying the service/employment portion of the service obligation, those graduates who provide five (5) years of honorable active duty service are statutorily excused from the requirements to maintain a USCG MMC and a reserve commission.
Please note that graduates serving on active duty still must submit all of the required annual reports to MARAD. This includes providing employment information (duty station, address, etc.) since MARAD does not receive this information from the services.
Graduates who serve on active duty for less than five (5) years are still responsible for maintaining the other components of their service obligation.
- Alternatives That Do Require Special MARAD Approval
The following employment categories require special approval from MARAD before any time spent working in a given position will count towards fulfillment of the five (5) years of service/employment owed by all graduates.
- Sailing opportunities other than as a merchant marine officer aboard U.S.-flagged vessels.
- Sailing aboard U.S.-flagged vessels in an unlicensed position
MARAD recognizes that the career path for some afloat careers in the maritime industry begins in an unlicensed billet (e.g., employment as a Steersman while working towards becoming a Pilot on a towboat). For those graduates intending to pursue such a career path, MARAD approval for that time spent in an unlicensed billet is possible. However, the position must be aboard U.S.-flagged vessels, and must be part of a recognized career path or ladder that will lead to a position that requires an officer endorsement to a USCG MMC.
- Sailing aboard foreign-flagged vessels as a merchant marine officer
A graduate’s first priority is to sail aboard U.S.-flagged vessels. However, if a graduate has fully exhausted the possibilities for U.S.-flag afloat employment, MARAD may approve that graduate to pursue foreign-flag afloat employment.
Note that given the current and projected employment opportunities for graduates aboard U.S.-flagged vessels, employment aboard a foreign-flag vessel will only be approved if a determination has been made by MARAD that the graduate conscientiously sought an afloat position as an officer aboard a U.S.-flagged vessel and that such U.S.-flagged afloat employment is not available to you.
When MARAD evaluates a graduate’s request to pursue foreign-flag employment, the thoroughness of the graduate’s job search is the primary consideration given to determining whether or not the graduate conscientiously sought afloat employment aboard U.S.-flagged vessels. Among the information that MARAD reviews when making this determination is the list of employers to which the graduate applied; whether the graduate attended and how many of those employers who were present at the USMMA career fairs received applications from the graduate; and the nature of and number of times the graduate sought the assistance of USMMA’s career services department for help in finding a qualified job aboard U.S.-flagged vessels. In considering whether a conscientious job search has occurred, MARAD looks beyond the mere number of applications to the quality of the job application effort. In this connection, it is important that graduates keep and provide MARAD records of their efforts, including when and who they contacted at each employer. These materials are reviewed to document that the graduate made a sincere effort to find qualifying employment. Merely mailing a resume is not sufficient.
- Maritime-related shoreside employment opportunities
- As an employee of the Federal Government
Graduates may be approved to work as an employee of the Federal Government in a shoreside position, so long as the position is significantly maritime-related and serves the national security interests of the United States.
Please note that this option is only available to graduates seeking to be hired directly by a Federal agency. Employment as a contractor in support of a Federal agency does not qualify for consideration under the above criteria. Contractors are employed by private companies and as such must satisfy the criteria for shoreside, non-Federal employment listed below.
- As an employee of a private company
Again, graduates are reminded that their first priority is to sail aboard U.S.-flagged vessels. However, if a graduate has fully exhausted the possibilities for U.S.-flag afloat employment, MARAD may approve that graduate to pursue maritime-related shoreside employment with a private company.
As noted above with respect to foreign-flag employment, given the current and projected employment opportunities for graduates aboard U.S.-flagged vessels, maritime-related shoreside employment with a private company will only be approved if a determination has been made by MARAD that the graduate conscientiously sought an afloat position as an officer aboard a U.S.-flagged vessel and that such U.S.-flagged afloat employment is not available to you.
- Requesting MARAD Approval of Alternative Employment
To request MARAD approval of any alternative employment option, a graduate must submit an Employment Determination Request (EDR) form, along with all of the supporting information and documentation needed to prove that the graduate has met the criteria established for approving a position in a particular category of alternative employment. A PDF copy of the EDR form, which includes a set of instructions outlining what information and documentation is required, can be downloaded from MARAD’s Maritime Service Compliance System (MSCS) website (https://mscs.marad.dot.gov).
For more information or assistance in preparing and submitting an EDR, please contact the MARAD Office of Maritime Labor and Training directly via telephone at (202) 366-7618 or email at email@example.com.
Please note that MARAD approval of an EDR is strictly limited to the specific employment for which approval was sought. This means that such approval remains in effect only as long as the graduate maintains the same employment as specified on their EDR. If the graduate changes positions with their existing employer, or if they change employers, they will need to submit a new EDR and obtain MARAD approval for each new position before the new position will be counted towards the five (5) years of service/employment portion of the obligation.
Lastly, the approval of an EDR does not exempt a graduate from the other elements of their service obligation. Graduates working in an alternative job category under an approved EDR still must comply with the USCG credentialing, Reserve duty, and reporting elements of their obligation.
- Non-Maritime-Related Employment Will Not Count
Note that all of the above alternatives are maritime-related. Non-maritime-related employment will not count towards the five (5) years of service/employment owed under a graduate’s service obligation. A graduate who willfully pursues non-maritime-related employment may be deemed to be in breach of their service obligation contract and face the consequences of their actions.
- MAINTAINING YOUR USCG MMC
Graduates who are not on active duty for the requisite five (5) year period following graduation must maintain a valid USCG MMC with an officer endorsement and a Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) endorsement for six (6) years following graduation. Graduates must also maintain a valid Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) for six (6) years following graduation and maintain a valid USCG medical certificate for employment on vessels where STCW applies. Graduates must also maintain the appropriate national/international endorsements and certifications required by the USCG for service aboard domestic and international vessels.
This means that all graduates must renew or upgrade their MMC at least once. Maintaining a document of continuity does not fulfill this portion of the obligation and there is no grace period.
- MAINTAINING YOUR RESERVE COMMISSION
Graduates who are not on active duty for the requisite five (5) year period following graduation must apply for and accept, if tendered, an appointment as a commissioned officer in one of the Reserve Components of the U.S. Armed Forces. Individuals who signed their service obligation contract before June 2016 must maintain their reserve commission for at least six (6) years after graduation. Due to a change in the law, those individuals who signed their service obligation after June 2016 must maintain their reserve commission for at least eight (8) years after graduation.
Graduates are also strongly encouraged to apply for a Reserve Billet in a Selected Reserve (SELRES) unit. If you have elected to request a recall to active duty in one of the Armed Forces and your request is approved, your service on active duty will satisfy this requirement as well as the service/employment portion of your obligation for the time period during which you remain on active duty.
- ANNUAL REPORTING
All graduates – including those on active duty as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Armed Forces or with NOAA or USPHS – must submit annual reports to MARAD detailing their actions during the previous calendar year to demonstrate that they were in full compliance with the requirements of their service obligation. These annual reports must be filed with MARAD between January 1 and March 1 of each year, beginning the year after graduation and continuing until all portions of the service obligation have been fulfilled.
For instance, a graduate from the Class of 2017 must file their first report between January 1 and March 1, 2018. This report is referred to, and filed as, that graduate’s 2017 report because it reports what they did during the prior calendar year -- meaning in this case the time between that individual’s graduation in June 2017 until December 31, 2017.
All graduates are encouraged to file their compliance reports using the web-based Maritime Service Compliance System (MSCS) at https://mscs.marad.dot.gov.
Graduates who are unable to access the MSCS website should contact the MARAD Help Desk at (202) 385-4357 for assistance.
Graduates who experience any difficulty using MSCS, or have questions about the annual reporting process or specific annual reports, should contact the MARAD Office of Maritime Labor and Training by telephone at (202) 366-7618 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MARAD staff are available to help graduates submit the required reports accurately, completely, and on time. Lastly, any graduate who knows that they are not going to have reliable access to the internet during the standard reporting period should contact the MARAD Office of Maritime Labor and Training prior to or during the standard reporting period to make alternate reporting arrangements.
Potential for a Waiver or Deferment of Your Service Obligation
- REQUESTING A WAIVER
If a graduate is unable to fulfill their service obligation because of an undue hardship or impossibility of performance due to accident, illness or other justifiable reason, they may apply to MARAD for a waiver of all or a portion of their service obligation. Applications for such a waiver must be submitted to MARAD in writing with supporting documentary evidence of the underlying hardship or impossibility that forms the basis of their request.
- REQUESTING A DEFERMENT
In exceptional cases, a graduate may be allowed to defer all or a part of their service obligation to pursue a marine or maritime-related graduate course of study approved by the Maritime Administrator or to pursue studies as the recipient of a scholarship or fellowship of national significance. Deferments shall not exceed two (2) years in length, and are only available to graduates who are considered to have superior academic and conduct records while at the USMMA.
Applications for a deferment must be submitted to MARAD in writing, with supporting documentation of the individual’s acceptance into the applicable marine or maritime-related graduate course of study, or of the individual’s award of the applicable scholarship or fellowship.
For more information and instructions on submitting a waiver or deferment request, please contact the MARAD Office of Maritime Labor and Training, by telephone at (202) 366-7618 or email at email@example.com, to obtain a copy of the necessary form(s) and instructions on submitting physical or electronic copies of said form(s).
Consequences of Non-Compliance
MARAD takes the fulfillment of its graduates’ service obligations very seriously and has pursued, and continues to pursue, legal action against a number of individuals who have failed to meet their service obligations. Failure to comply with all of the requirements of the service obligation may result in a finding by MARAD that the graduate is in breach of their service obligation contract, which may lead to the graduate’s involuntary recall to active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces, as determined by the Secretary of Defense, or a requirement that the graduate reimburse the Federal Government for the cost of their education at USMMA. The cost of a standard four years of education at the USMMA is currently calculated to be over $250,000.
Questions/Help Requests/Contact Information
Any graduate who has questions about any portion of their service obligation is advised to contact the MARAD Office of Maritime Labor and Training, by telephone at (202) 366-7618 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.