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Archive for the ‘license renewal’ Category

As you may have read in previous posts I wanted to try the “online experience” for my radar renewal.  It did not go well.  I signed up paid $225.00 and received my study material and then proceeded to work myself back up to a passing proficiency for rapid radar plotting.  I took a couple of months, made an appointment at the nearest Prometric Testing center and believing I was ready, scheduled and sat for my renewal.   All went well up to this point.  The facility is clean, well organized and strict.  I arrived early and was processed quickly.

The exam was straightforward enough.  Once you get settled in at your exam station, the computer program is loaded and a timer promptly begins with your radar scenario.

There was the first part of roughly ten questions regarding theory and then the plots.  I had no difficulty with theory and scored 100%.

You get two shots at the plotting section.   It’s a normal three target screen, you need only identify the “most dangerous target” and proceed with your plot.  I must add the timer is a bit unnerving.  If you fail the first time it gives you the opportunity to select and proceed with a second chance/ different set of plots and you fly or fall at the end of the scenario.

I failed both my attempts on the exam and felt more than a bit embarrassed seeing as I had never not passed what we’ve all come to see as a less than useful skill since the advent of A.R.P.A. and modern radar systems.

I must admit that the failure was likely my fault due to my time management (or lack thereof) and perhaps a careless error.

The plots are “time sensitive” and you’re only allowed three minutes to solve for NTCPA and new course.  I overran the time limit first time out.  After the exam I noted in the instructions on this particular exam that there was no specific time for MX expressly indicated.  The instructions for MX or “time of execution” were included in the practice instructions but absent in the actual exam instructions.

This isn’t an excuse, since after the fact I  found the instructions in the practice material clearly indicated that the exam’s execution point was to be at 12 minutes.  I missed that somehow.

Okay, so I failed.  I was more than a bit upset, I have never failed this recert but I guess there’s a first time for everything.

No amount of post failure negotiation was sufficient to convince the proctors of the center to help, and the online school was adamant that in order to retest I’d have to pony up another $225.00 and reschedule.   I didn’t elect to take them up on it.

Instead I called SUNY Maritime and scheduled my one-day renewal at a “brick and mortar ” school.  I paid the fee ($325.00) and practiced the material they sent and showed up in the Bronx for the recert like I’ve done in the past.

The experience was easier in that I had an instructor on site that understood the material.  He could see which of us in class were comfortable and possessed the skill set and helped guide those who were a bit shaky during the morning practice session and boosted their confidence level.  That alone means a lot to anyone who’s uncomfortable in exam situations.

You’re not handed the cert,  it’s challenging and you earn it.  But that said, having the class in a place where it’s a familiar curricula helps.  Online courses are fine, but you’re strictly on your own at the center.  After you are scanned, frisked and asked to empty your pockets no one can or may assist you in any way.

I passed SUNY’s recert program as expected and left to deal with the gauntlet that is the NY area’s traffic to get home.

In closing, if you’re absolutely certain and speedy with rapid radar plotting you should give the online experience a go.  If you’re like me, go to a school where an instructor can kick you back inside the lines of competency and get you through this “every 5 year P.I.T.A.”.  I have a couple more times I have to submit to this ordeal and you can be sure it will be at a “brick and mortar” school from here on.

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I’m beginning my radar renewal process a bit early this time using the Calhoon MEBA Engineering School Distance Learning Program.
When I wrote the last article describing this new way to handle training and re-certification I said that I would be giving this a try as my renewal date approached.

I should say that my first attempt at finding and registering for the course was slightly side-tracked by the fact that I thought I would be using the Prometric portal.  Well let’s say that after a few calls to an endless loop of phone menu items and toll free calls including one to somewhere in southeast Asia, I found my way by calling  the Calhoon MEBA School directly and spoke to a nice young woman named Lisa Mc Neil.  (410-822-9600 ext 322).  I was able to ask all my questions and get answers from a real human being and I was set right in short order.

So here’s the deal as I understand it;

Any mariner can apply for their radar re-cert with this school, you do not have to be a member of MEBA.  Follow this link to their home page, hover your mouse over the “Online Courses” menu item and check out the drop-down menu.  Read everything then fill out your application, select your course and pay the lady.  You’ll receive an email with confirmation and then you’ll have to allow a day for processing the order.  You will receive an email confirming your registration and access to the study material and also (more importantly) your login and access to the instructors for any questions you might have (via email).

In the information link it states you have a month, but the conversation I had with Ms. McNeil made it clear that I could study longer if necessary and not have any problem.  Ms. McNeil can offer more info if you need more time.

Once you have registered and been accepted you will be given the key to the online course material and practice with it as often as you like.  The online course and testing material comes from the same source used at the Prometric Center on your exam day.
Clipboard01Okay so you’re ready to test.  The scheduling process is email based and finding the exam near your home becomes your next step.  Here’s where the Prometric System comes into play through the Calhoon website.  
Select “Locate a Test Center” and follow through the menu to filter it down by country, state, etc…

Select the course;

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Search the nearest test center;

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Select the center you want;

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Check for available dates

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So that’s what I’ve got so far.  I will report back after I’ve completed the process and let you know how it went.  So far I’m on track.

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The industry continues to drag itself into the modern age when it comes to licensing and renewals for the certificates we all need.  I recently read of a course offering that will save some money and make a radar renewal a bit more convenient, I hope.

Calhoon MEBA Engineering School has announced a program that will allow you to study online for your radar re-cert and then travel to a satellite exam center to test.   As far as I know, it is available to all with payment, not just the MEBA membership.  I have no direct knowledge of how well this works or doesn’t.

I just had a chance to look this over this morning and believe I may take advantage of this in 2014 when I’m up for renewal.  Presently the quoted $235.00 price is reasonable when you factor in the ever dwindling amount of brick and mortar schools that offer this course in reach of most candidates.   I know I’d rather avoid a five hour round trip to my nearest maritime academy for what amounts to a 10 question quiz.

We all know the one day radar renewal course is actually a practice session in the morning and an exam after lunch.  You have to show up ready to test, you either pass or fail.  If you fail you’re given a price for the extended renewal course and you’ll need to re-test at the end of that.  Add three days plus expenses to the total.

The USCG REC’s do not offer the tests anymore and haven’t for quite a while.  You’re forced to pay and attend an approved “school” and get your cert.  The classes offered invariably run from the full five day soup-to-nuts class to variations of the renewal curriculum anywhere from one to three days.  Add lodging, meals, gas and tolls and it can add up to a sizable chunk of change.

The online course touts its unfettered access to instructors and the benefit of studying online at your leisure.  The course provides a nice radar emulator which does a good job of presenting a radar screen and target advance in real time.  All the forms you’ll need for plotting are available and are shipped within a day of payment.

This is what sells the program; You then can schedule the test near your home using the Prometric Center Locator.

You make an appointment and can show up ready to test without feeling rushed or unprepared.  Not everyone will have the benefit of a testing center inside of fifty miles, but a lot of us will.  If nothing else, it’s an option.

To see if the offering will be convenient for you, check your proximity to a testing center , select “locate a test center” and select radar observer re-certification online.  Select your location from the drop-down menu to find a test center.

Just thought it sounded like something worth checking into.  Anyone with direct first hand knowledge is welcome to add what they feel is relevant.

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The National Maritime Center in West Virginia has finally gotten itself to the point where it has some breathing room.  Enough room to issue the latest news item regarding “Legacy Documents”.  You know what they are, that’s how the NMC refers to our traditional licenses, “legacy documents”.  When the new MMC was instituted the great din that rose up lamenting the loss of our “license” for a little red passport book was deafening, but it seems someone was listening, albeit not very closely…..

The NMC sent out a note today informing the masses that the license we all earned will once again be available for free.  Well free is good, yes?  Um yeah, except it’s not a license it’s just a facsimile of one.  It doesn’t count as a valid certificate, it is for framing and hanging in your den.  It’s not for the pilothouse license board.

Issue #7

Some noteworthy things are missing.  There is no “issue” number.  The fancy wording we all grew to love will not be included for practicality’s sake.  It will be one page that will include all of your ratings and endorsements.  I wonder how the guys with a bazillion miles of pilotage are going to make out?

It’s a step in the right direction, even if it’s just baby steps.  I am thankful we’re making any progress at all.

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In a previous post I pondered my renewal process and promised an update.  To recap, starting in January I submitted my documents and hoped for the best knowing the NMC was just in its rookie year.  The time frame I anticipated was about 4 to 5 months.  I was starting well before my license was to expire and I didn’t believe I had any issues that might slow the process.   All my paperwork was accepted through the Boston REC and after some wrangling over semantics (the new “dateless” radar endorsement) I had a completed set of renewal documents on their way to West Virginia.  The NMC had my package by February 18th.

As the weeks dragged by I noted little progress.  While the paperwork was definitely in West Virginia, its status had remained a mystery…..the MEB thing was taking too long.  On March 10th I was checking the NMC site for progress when I noted the good folks at MEB needed more info.   I called to try and get some detail and was eventually able to discern that a procedure I had 4 years prior (and reported on my annual 719k) was creating a problem.  Luckily the supervisor on watch sent me an email detailing exactly what was needed rather than make me wait for the snail mail.  I was able to schedule most of the appointments prior to returning to work.  The snail mail notice didn’t arrive for 7 more days. After a couple of weeks of work and  a battery of tests at my doctor’s office, I submitted 15 pages of documents to the good people of MEB.  Luckily they were true to their word that I would be moved along to the top of the pile now that they had the necessary info.  It was now April 4th.

After progressing to the next level I was informed that PQEB could take a couple of weeks before they even looked at my folder, it was then I began to  sweat.  Once I cleared MEB I thought I was home free, but facing this new information and a delay that was encroaching on my expiration date I asked for special consideration by sending an email to the staff supervisor at NMC requesting (politely) that my situation be given special dispensation.  (I wouldn’t have known to ask  if an operator at the NMC had not suggested the option was available.)  To my surprise, special dispensation is exactly what I got.  My paperwork was accelerated through the maze and I received my new license, MMD, and STCW in the mail in short order.  I was printed and issued on April 15th.  The whole thing took a mere 86 days from the day I sent my package to my License Consultant.

Now as if that wasn’t enough, the regulations regarding the VSO endorsement came into the picture.  My outfit wanted all of  its Masters so endorsed.  This endorsement is only required if you are the designated security officer on a vessel over 200 gross tons that sails past the Demarcation line.  Your MMC needed to carry the USCG endorsement and it needed to be done by July 1st, 2009.(this deadline has since been extended due to the high volume of mariners submitting  for the endorsement)

I sat through a 3 day CSO,VSO, FSO course at Kings Point MMA and submitted my paperwork yet again.  My license consultant doesn’t handle STCW endorsements, so I spoke with the NMC which directed me to send my stuff to the center and that I would have my endorsement in due course.  Of course this information was completely wrong.  I found out after 4 days that I needed to reclaim my paperwork and submit it via my REC of choice, REC Boston did my stuff before, so Boston it is.  After speaking with Boston and confirming my requirements for submitting (turns out I’ll be issued the new MMC for no charge) I sent my documents to Boston. After being approved at my favorite REC, it was on to West Virginia and within 3 weeks my new MMC was in hand.

That would be a great ending but nooo……..since I was at work when my new MMC arrived, I wasn’t able to read it to be sure it included all that it should.  Well, there you go…..

The Master’s ticket I sat for in 1984 was no longer included in my “credential” even though it is prominently listed on my recently issued “legacy document”.  Jeez, now I called the NMC and asked why it was omitted from my license and was promptly handed off like a hot potato.  I would have to speak with a supervisor, gee d’ya think? BUT, the supervisors have all gone home for the day, call back tomorrow.

Today (July 18th) I call the center and speak with said supervisor who agrees I have been shortchanged and now will send a note to my evaluator so they can dig my files out of the archives.   I was told there is only one guy at the NMC that handles these kind of errors…….I’ll let that one sink in.  One guy.

Anyway, I sat down after that call expecting another week or two of wrangling the system to get what I needed.  Later that day I made a followup call on the off chance that I would catch someone “in the know” before they headed for the coffee machine, but it was “no joy”.  I had all but accepted my fate.

Then the damnedest thing happened, my original evaluator called me and after apologizing for the omission promised to send out an endorsement sticker for the MMC to make everything right.  Her explanation for omitting the endorsement was credible, she didn’t want to mess up my pilotage and in focusing so very hard on that, my Inland Master’s AGT endorsement was overlooked.

Okay, so now I’ll carry a slightly disorganized MMC for the next five years. When the endorsement sticker shows up and if I don’t mess it up sticking it, I won’t have to deal with the NMC again until early 2014….right?  I’m pretty sure I could push the issue and demand a new and correct MMC, but by doing that even I would think I was just busting balls.

So, in a nutshell here’s the smart thing to do.

Start early, 6 months is the least amount of time I would suggest you allow.

Check your status frequently on the NMC website, have your mariner’s number handy.

Know your options; you can get things expedited if you write (email) and ask (politely).  You’ll get the consideration if they can give it.  I was fast approaching my expiration and unemployment, I asked and was moved along.  All my issues were already settled so it was just that I was at the bottom of the PQEB pile, and that pile was 2-3 weeks deep.

Don’t freak out because its taking so long.  It doesn’t speed things or people up, it just makes you and everyone else miserable.

Don’t hesitate to write an email, ask for a supervisor and demand an explanation from the NMC, just do it politely.  These folks have enough of us to deal with and I found that if I was quietly persistent, I got listened to.  Almost every person I dealt with by phone in the REC Boston and the folks in West Virginia did as good a job for me as the circumstances allowed.  I don’t doubt there are some huge hurdles facing the working stiffs down there in Martinsburg, I can only hope the command structure is taking care to retain the talent and not abuse the folks that are trying to do a good job.  I spoke with enough of them to believe they want to make us happy.

In 4 years I hope to be able to renew online from the comfort of my kitchen table and have it take nary a week to clear and receive my new license.  And of course, my next letter to Santa will ask for just that…….

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My advice to every freshly licensed Mate I have ever trained has been; “You should never renew a Mates ticket“. While that statement may sound counter-intuitive, the idea behind it is to put in your time working as a Mate and then upgrade to Master as soon as you’re qualified (time-wise) to do so.

It’s not like deep-sea tickets that require advancing 3rd through Chief Mate before you can sit for your Master’s ticket.  Lower level licensing basically has three steps; A.B., Mate, then Master. Realistically, a lower level Master’s ticket can be in hand within the 5 year term as a mate/pilot if one is determined enough to do so.

For the two years or so after you get the Mate ticket you’ll be working on your T.O.A.R. anyway, so an effort should be made to stay current with your studies.  You’ve done all the work to get the Mate’s ticket, retaining the skills is a matter of revisiting the material on a regular basis. After you’re working as a Mate/Pilot the only thing necessary is to accumulate the sea-time working under the authority of your license.

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It’s no secret that it gets harder to do as time goes by. When I was working on license and pilotage years ago I had to set aside time away from my day-to-day household responsibilities so I could focus on my studies (at the cost of precious time with my wife and young child). Both understood my need to bury myself in the study materials and I was fortunate that they were patient with me. The time was well worth the effort and I acquired my Master’s ticket using home study (thanks Capt. Murphy).

I, like many of us, didn’t attend an academy or have the luxury of being able to afford and then spend two or three weeks at school since I had to earn a living and pay bills. But, I did have the advantage of working with others who were “studying license” at the same time. Whenever I got jammed up, there was usually someone around who had overcome the issue I was struggling with and saved me some heartache in the exam room.  The internet would have been as widely embraced as a study aid if it existed then.

Young families are distracted with working and building their lives. Children, mortgages, family obligations and such throw many stumbling blocks in the path of an aspiring Master candidate. These distractions need to be ignored for the greater good and the time to “git’er done” is while your study skills and practice from the mate’s exam are still fresh. The material is going to be pretty much the same with a few exceptions, and once the big ticket is in your pocket you can relax and enjoy your young family with the knowledge that you’re set to accept that promotion fully documented when the opportunity presents itself.

The day after you have enough sea-time, file the application. Sit for the exam as soon as you can and see where your weaknesses lie. There’s no shame in failing a section or so, if that happens you’re lucky to have found where you need to focus your efforts to overcome the difficult parts and pocket the easy stuff.

Get the license as soon as you can. You’ll be glad you did while you’re spending time teaching your kid how to fish, ride a bike, or tie his shoes. If you wait, you’ll have all the distractions and none of the advantage of starting while it was still reasonably fresh in your head.

So, what are you waiting for?

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