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Military Academies

U.s. Merchant Marine Academy

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is one of five federal service academies. It is operated by the Maritime Administration, an agency of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Merchant Marine Academy is located on an eighty-two-acre waterside campus in Kings Point, New York, about twenty miles from New York City on the north shore of Long Island. The academy is commonly referred to as Kings Point. It offers a four-year program leading to a bachelor of science degree and is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools. The academy includes the Global Maritime and Transportation School, which was established in 1994 to meet the continuing education and training needs of professionals from the commercial and military maritime transportation industry.

Each graduate of the academy is awarded a license as a third mate or third assistant engineer in the U.S. Merchant Marines; academy graduates are also commissioned as ensigns in the U.S. Naval Reserve. In 2001 the student body numbered about 950, with approximately 750 in residence at Kings Point and the rest in training aboard ships at sea. The academy was established to prepare young American men, and later women, for careers as deck or engineering officers aboard ships of the U.S. Merchant Marine. One of the conditions for admission is the signing of an agreement to serve as a licensed officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine for at least five consecutive years after graduation.

The U.S. Merchant Marine consists of all commercial U.S. flag vessels and crews engaged in the foreign and domestic transport of cargo and passengers. Although the ships are owned and operated by private shipping companies, they provide logistics support to the U.S. military services in times of emergency; accordingly, the U.S. Merchant Marine is often called the "fourth arm of national defense."

Each Kings Point graduate joins a ship as a fully qualified junior officer and immediately takes charge of a watch on the bridge or in the engine room. Deck officers are responsible for navigation, cargo handling, vessel maintenance, and shipboard safety. Engineering officers are responsible for maintaining and operating all the ship's machinery, including propulsion, auxiliary, refrigeration, and deck equipment.


The educational program of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy consists of three years ashore at Kings Point and one year spent at sea aboard merchant ships. Each academic year is eleven months in duration, with a rigorous program of study in order that professional and degree requirements may be met within the three-year period ashore. The academy's academic year is divided into three trimesters.

Students at the Merchant Marine Academy are called midshipmen, a term that applies to both men and women. Midshipmen can select one of seven major programs of study: marine transportation, marine operations and technology, logistics and intermodal transportation, marine engineering, marine engineering systems, marine engineering and shipboard management, or dual license. Each program leads to a bachelor of science degree. The challenging dual-license program, available only to top students, combines marine engineering and marine transportation studies and leads to licensing in both specialties. This program was pioneered by the academy in 1965, in anticipation of technological changes in the industry that would call for highly trained officers possessing both deck and engineering proficiency.

At the end of their fourth year of study, all midshipmen must pass a comprehensive written examination, after which they are licensed as either deck officers or engineering officers, depending on their major. In addition to the attainment of maritime professional excellence, midshipmen are provided with mathematical and scientific knowledge and a basic general education that includes the study of history, English, business, economics, and humanities. Such a broad education prepares midshipmen for executive positions when they move ashore after careers at sea.

Students majoring in marine transportation, logistics and intermodal transportation, or maritime operations and technology study a curriculum that includes such professional subjects as seamanship, communications, navigation, naval architecture, meteorology, safety of life at sea, cargo handling, gyrocompass principles, electronics, international law of the sea, and marine transportation. Students in one of the three engineering majors study such technical subjects as machine shop, engineering graphics, marine machinery repair, statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, strength of materials, hydraulics, internal combustion engines, marine refrigeration and air conditioning, electrical engineering, and marine engineering. Each curriculum also includes a certain number of hours in mathematics, physics, chemistry, English, history, foreign languages or comparative culture, business and economics, maritime law, labor relations, marine insurance, ship's medicine, physical education, and naval science. Each curriculum is composed primarily of required courses, though a midshipman with the necessary academic standing may add one elective course each trimester.

Transfer credit may be awarded for any course completed at another college that is equivalent to a course offered at the academy. Validation credit may also be awarded in certain subjects upon passing an examination administered at the academy. A student may then substitute courses from the list of electives to complete the academic program.

Because the U.S. Merchant Marine operates with the U.S. Navy in time of war, an understanding of naval procedures by its officers is essential to successful cooperation. Candidates for admission to the Merchant Marine Academy must meet the qualifications for naval reserve midshipmen. All midshipmen take a prescribed program of naval science courses, taught by naval officers, which leads to a commission, upon graduation, as an ensign in the Merchant Marine Reserve/U.S. Naval Reserve. The graduate is then under obligation to remain in the naval reserve for eight years and to maintain his status by completing correspondence courses and undergoing training duty.

Sea Year

After one year at the academy, during which midshipmen take introductory courses in all areas of study, they are assigned to several different types of U.S. flag merchant vessels for three nonconsecutive trimesters during their second and third year of training. Midshipmen who are interested in a naval career may also train aboard U.S. Navy ships. This is a unique work-study situation in which the ship serves as a laboratory. Midshipman are introduced to life at sea, and they become familiar with the work done aboard ocean vessels. In addition, they are issued a sea project manual containing assignments that they must complete and forward to the academy for grading. Midshipmen also receive voluntary instruction from ships' officers while observing and performing some of the duties of a junior officer. Academy training representatives in New York, New Orleans, and San Francisco assign midshipmen to the ships and oversee their progress.

Regimental Life

The academy is military in character, and midshipmen are organized into a regiment. The regimental program provides an opportunity to practice leadership as midshipmen officers, a system of strict discipline in which infractions of regulations incur demerits and punishment, and the standing of watches. Regimental life is considered essential to the development of leadership ability, self-discipline, a sense of responsibility, and the ability to adapt to the rigorous life at sea.

In addition to participation in the military routine of the regiment, the Kings Pointer may take part in student government and such extracurricular activities as publications, musical groups, special interest and hobby clubs, debates, and social affairs. An arts and world affairs series brings a program of cultural activities to the campus throughout the year. Participation in religious activities and attendance at services in the Merchant Marine Memorial Chapel are voluntary. In addition, there are intramural athletic programs and scheduled intercollegiate competitions. Liberty is granted as a matter of privilege.


The academy selects 266 men and women for admission annually. Candidates for admission must be U.S. citizens between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five. Appointment to the academy begins with an application to the appropriate nominating authority, usually a U.S. senator or representative from the candidate's home state, who officially requests that the applicant's name be submitted in nomination to become a candidate for admission. A candidate must meet general and scholastic requirements, including high school graduation or its equivalent and qualifying ACT Assessment or SAT score.

Candidates are ranked in order of merit by an objective evaluation of all credentials. They are then competitively selected to fill academy vacancies through a quota system based on each state's representation in Congress. The candidate must then pass a physical examination conducted by the U.S. Navy for appointment as a midshipman in the U.S. Naval Reserve, and must also meet security requirements. The academy also admits up to thirty students from Latin America and certain other foreign countries.

The U.S. government bears the major portion of academy costs, including tuition, quarters and subsistence, and medical and dental care. While at the academy, each midshipman receives a yearly allowance for required uniforms and textbooks. During the sea year, a monthly salary is paid by the shipping companies.


The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy was developed from a program of merchant-marine officer training that began in 1891 when the federal government authorized the assignment of cadets aboard ships receiving mail. When the handling of training by shipping companies proved unsatisfactory, the federal government passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, which provided for the establishment in 1938 of the U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps. The training program was conducted solely aboard ship at first, but temporary shore facilities were soon established. Construction of a permanent academy was begun in January 1942 at the Walter P. Chrysler estate, whose thirteen acres form the nucleus of the present campus. The academy was dedicated on September 30, 1943. In his dedicatory message, President Franklin D. Roosevelt summed up the purpose of the academy: "This academy serves the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis serves the Navy."

During World War II, the academy berthed at one time as many as 2,700 cadets taking an abbreviated curriculum that included training aboard ships in combat zones. The academy graduated 6,634 officers during the war. The four-year course was instituted with the class entering in September 1945, and authorization to grant a bachelor of science degree was granted by Congress in 1949. A 1956 act of Congress made the academy a permanent institution.

The academy accelerated training to supply officers during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. The academy was also involved in training officers for the country's first nuclear-powered merchant ship, the Savannah. In 1974 the Merchant Marine Academy became the first federal service school to admit women. Before and during the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict, academy graduates and midshipmen aided the extensive sea-lift of troops and military supplies to the Middle East. Academy midshipmen and graduates also provided support for military actions in Somalia and Haiti during the 1990s.


BUTLER, JOHN A. 1997. Sailing on Friday: The Perilous Voyage of America's Merchant Marine. Dulles, VA: Brassey's.

KAPLAN, PHILIP, and CURRIE, JACK. 2000. Convoy: Merchant Sailors at War, 1939–1945. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.


U.S. MERCHANT MARINE ACADEMY. 2002. <www.usmma.edu>.


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