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.
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?