Every year on May 22nd the United States of America celebrates National Maritime Day. Many countries have their own version of National Maritime Day, including the Philippines, Mexico and India. So why is maritime day in the USA celebrated on this date and what is the history of this day of observance?
National Maritime Day in the USA is a day on which the importance of the maritime industry in the United States is recognized.
It was declared by Congress back in 1933 and was originally celebrated on the 20th of the month. However it was moved to the 22nd in order to commemorate the date in 1819 that the Savannah, an American steamship, set out for England on what would become the first successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean using steam propulsion.
Needless to say, the port that she sailed from was from the Port of Savannah in the Southern state of Georgia. Fast forward to today and Savannah is a major seaport and as of 2021 was the third busiest in the United States.
How is National Maritime Day celebrated in the USA?
Celebrations differ from year to year and from state to state. For example, there may be memorial services and ceremonies in which wreaths are tossed into a river to honor fallen seafarers.
Other, less somber, events may include boat tours, family gatherings, reenactments and even maritime career fairs.
What is the theme of National Maritime Day 2023
The theme for this year is “Mariners Move the Nation! Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow" highlighting the historical and ongoing importance of the industry to the United States.
Now in the spirit of all things USA and all things maritime, let’s look at some facts and stats about the maritime industry in the United States.
The U.S. maritime industry: facts and statistics
- The United States officially has 95,471 miles of coastline according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA.)
- During World War II almost 250,000 seafarers working on merchant vessels served as part of the U.S. military, helping to transport personnel and supplies.
- The American writer and director Oliver Stone, famous for such movies as Platoon, Natural Born Killers, Wall Street and The Doors, worked for a short period as a Wiper on a merchant ship.
- The U.S merchant fleet consists of approximately 182 vessels, which, given the size of the country, is a small percentage of the some 50,000-strong global fleet. However, this figure does not include ships that operate exclusively on the Great Lakes and inland waterways or ‘special’ vessels such as channel ships, icebreakers, cable ships, and merchant ships owned by military forces.
- There are approximately 7,500 professional seafarers employed by commercial companies in the U.S.
- Students at the United States Merchant Marine Academy spend a year at sea - otherwise known as 'Sea Year' and get to experience life as a merchant marine first hand, while visiting an average of 18 different foreign countries.
- Celebrated Beat Generation author, Jack Kerouac, best known for his novel On the Road, served in the United States Merchant Marine, completing his first novel at the same time.
- The United States’ merchant marine fleet consists of both privately-owned ships, as well as those owned by the federal government.
- There are currently seven maritime academies in the USA. (See the list below.)
- Seafarers working on merchant vessels can’t receive the Medal of Honor or other military decorations, however, the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal is awarded by the Department of Transportation to those who show "outstanding conduct or service in the line of duty."
Maritime academies in the United States of America
Whether you’re at the point in your life where you need to choose a future career or you’re looking for a change of direction from your current line of work, maybe a job working at sea might be for you.
A word of warning, however, seafarer jobs are not an easy route to take and you will need to be certain that a life at sea is for you before you invest time and energy into training and studying to become a merchant marine.
We have a couple of resources here to help you make up your mind:
Your Guide to Seafarer Jobs & Joining the Merchant Navy (or merchant marines in the case of the States!)
Joining the merchant marines isn’t as simple as it was back in the olden days when boys and young men would simply run away to sea, and these days the most typical route to finding your way onboard a container ship, cargo ship, tanker or bulk carrier is to attend a maritime academy.
If you’re in the United States, you have seven schools to choose from. They are:
The United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, NY
USMMA is funded and operated by MARAD AKA the Maritime Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation agency responsible for America's waterborne transportation system.
The United States Merchant Marine Academy is MARAD's flagship merchant marine academy, built from the ground up to train and educate merchant marine officers.
The following maritime academies receive limited Federal assistance and training vessels and are four-year undergraduate programs which operate as colleges within state universities.
- California State University Maritime Academy in Vallejo, CA
- Great Lakes Maritime Academy in Traverse City, MI
- Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, ME
- Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Buzzards Bay, MNA
- SUNY Maritime College in Throggs Neck, NY
- Texas A&M Maritime Academy in Galveston, TX
All that leaves us to say is that if you’re thinking about a career at sea, we wish you the very best of luck, and to all of the existing seamen and women out there, thank you for your hard work and happy National U.S. Maritime Day!
Disclaimer: all facts and figures were believed to be accurate at the time of writing and come from various sources including the following:
Eve is Martide's content writer and publishes regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea.