NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - In some industries you must learn by doing. Texas A&M Galveston is the only maritime academy on the Gulf Coast, and its cadets are docked here in New Orleans this week for a training session.
In Louisiana, it's all about the water, but that's true for a lot more of the country than some might think.
"About 80% of the things that we use in this country come into country or are transported around this country by ships," according to Col. Mike Fossum the chief operating officer of Texas A&M Galveston.
Ships that need captains, mates and engineers to get them where they have to go. Fossum once flew missions with NASA; now he directs students.
"For me, a ship on the water, there's a lot of corollaries," he said. "We call the space station a ship; we called the shuttle a ship for a reason. It's self-contained. You have to be ready to fix things when they break. You have to be ready to take care of each other as a crew. You learn to work through emergencies as a crew."
That's what cadets like Jack Stencil are learning on this summer training cruise on the General Rudder.
"It's very different," Stencil said. "We go to school regular semesters, but every summer we ship out."
Learning everything from navigation to maintenance, the students may be running the bridge or helping out in the galley.
"We're always busy we are always doing something. It is a floating classroom," said Stencil.
As a hub for maritime transportation, many of the school's students come from Louisiana and then return for work in the region, but there is a shortage of trained sailors.
"A lot of people don't think about the maritime industry," Fossum said. "They're down on the waterfronts. They're gritty. They're dirty. They're noisy, but they are jobs."
Often with six-figure starting salaries and the opportunity to travel.
"I've worked on tankers in the past and I'd love to work on an oil tanker and I'd love to cross oceans and see more of the world," said Stencil.
There are the obvious negatives.
"I think it's a little more isolating to be on the space station for six months, but I did have the ability to do a video conference with my family every weekend, and these guys are going out across the ocean doing long hauls like that, they don't have that luxury." Fossum said.
Stencil said, "If this is the industry you want to work in, it's something you will have to adapt to."
Part of training for life at sea.Cadets must spend a total of 365 days on the water to qualify for their license. This is one of only six programs of its type in the country and as part of Texas A&M University it follows the same admissions requirements.