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Water Transportation Occupations Job Outlook

Overall employment of water transportation occupations is projected to grow 20 percent from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations.

Employment of captains, mates, and pilots is projected to grow 20 percent. Employment of ship engineers is projected to grow 18 percent. Employment of sailors and marine oilers is projected to grow 21 percent.

As the economy recovers, the demand for waterway freight shipping will grow, increasing the need for these workers. Job growth is likely to be concentrated on inland rivers, the Great Lakes, and along the coasts. This will be driven by the demand for commodities such as coal, grain, and petroleum. In addition, the need to supply offshore oil platforms will drive growth of supply ships.

However, growth in domestic waterways freight may be limited by an increase in intermodal shipping. Intermodal shipping means that shippers use more than one method to transport a good. An increase in intermodal shipping may send some freight from barges to trains. For some products, rail is a more direct route from the Midwest to a coastal port, saving time and money.

Jobs in deep-sea shipping will likely continue to decline, as more companies use foreign vessels to transport goods internationally. However, there is a limit to the decline because federal laws and subsidies ensure that there will always be a fleet of merchant ships with U.S. flags. Keeping a fleet of merchant ships is considered important for the nation’s defense.

The popularity of cruises as a type of vacation is growing. However, most cruises go to international destinations; and these ships generally do not employ U.S. workers. Nonetheless, because vessels operating between U.S. ports are legally required to be U.S. flagged, a growing interest in cruises to Alaska and Hawaii should lead to more opportunities for domestic workers on cruise ships.

Employment of motorboat operators is projected to grow 15 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Demand for these workers will be driven by growth in tourism and recreational activities, where they are primarily employed.

Job Prospects

Job prospects should be favorable for most water transportation occupations. Many workers leave these occupations, especially sailors and marine oilers, because recently hired workers often decide they do not enjoy spending a lot of time away at sea.

In addition, a number of officers and engineers are approaching retirement, creating job openings. The number of applicants for all types of jobs may be limited by high regulatory and security requirements.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition