GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Students from the South's only maritime academy are making a stop in Gulfport in their quest to learn to safely navigate large commercial and military vessels. Texas A&M students are in the middle of a 60 day trip to get practical experience on the water. They found out when it comes to running a ship no job is too big or too small.
Students are learning everything from navigation to how read the weather patterns. Once they complete a four year degree program and pass a Coast Guard exam, they'll be licensed as third mates, but they're being trained on every job from captain to deckhand.
"It's harder to give somebody an order as a third mate to go chip the deck or something if haven't ever done it yourself," said Seadon Jackson, student. "They're not going to respect you if you haven't done it. You need to have that experience with you to know what to tell to do and how to do it if they're not sure."
Texas A&M Galveston takes the cadets on 60 day summer voyages to help students apply what they've been reading in their text books.
Captain Jack Smith is an instructor. "They learn by actually doing it and they see what happens. As an example last night we had a cold front come through here. The wind was blowing 50 miles an hour. The kids were learning what you do when you have a very strong wind and the vessel is being blown around and other vessels are on the radio with may days and they're in trouble."
The students who will one day be operating cruise ships, tanker ships and military vessels said before they hit the water in the real world they're happy for the chance to make a dry run.
"That's what they stress to us a lot. Make your mistakes here,"said Andrew Johnson, student. "Because we can fix them immediately instead of going out into the fleet or out into the job world and getting in trouble out there and get a lawsuit instead of a chewing out by one of the captains or the mates."
Students said it is much harder nowadays to start as a deckhand and work your way up as captain of a large vessel. So getting a degree and coming on board as a third mate is a faster more lucrative route.
Captain Smith said it's great to prepare the cadets for those lucrative paying jobs.
"I enjoy teaching. It's a lot of fun for me personally," said Captain Smith. "I also feel like I've been very blessed in my career. This is just a way to give back to Texas A&M University Galveston some of what my peers gave to me, what they taught me. When I was these kids' age I was taught very well what to do and what not to do. I had a good career as a result of it and now I can pass that on to this generation of cadets and hopefully some day they'll come back and do it themselves."