No Experience Needed To Dive Into A Marine Services Career

One Woman’s Deep Dive Into the Marine Services Industry

The ‘unknown’ is something we often fear and are wary of. We often find the familiarity of our comfort zone safe and secure, but what happens when you step outside of the lines and stretch what you thought you were capable of? Sometimes you can do it on your own, but other times you need a little, and sometimes a lot, of support to learn how to navigate uncharted experiences.

The support I needed to pursue my goals that exist in ‘the unknown’ was shared with me thanks to Diversified Marine Services (DMS) and the generous opportunity they gave me to become an apprentice through the Marine Trades Association of Maryland (MTAM) On-the-Job Training program.

The author learned how to maintain, restore, and fix boats through the Marine Trades of Maryland's On the Job Training Program. Photo by Ashley Caitlin Photography

While I have several years of experience working on snorkel and dive charter boats, I didn’t possess the knowledge of how to maintain, restore, and fix boats. My love of the water and its wildlife has drawn me to positions that are typically on or underwater, as a diver or working with marine animals in the wild or at an aquarium, not in the engine rooms or working with carpentry or fiberglass. 

Now my aquatic passion inspires me to chase my dreams of owning my own sailboat and sailing the world as a singlehanded, queer, Asian-American, female sailor. As much boating experience as I have, I do not have experience sailing on long passages or deliveries, and I haven’t singlehandedly sailed anything larger than a Dyer dinghy in sailing school when I was 11.

Marine service mentoring at Diversified Marine Services off Back Creek in Annapolis, Maryland, on the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Ashley Caitlin Photography

Pair an out-of-practice sailor with a lack of mechanical, electrical, and structural know-how, and I may not seem like the ideal candidate for a global solo sailing circumnavigation; but that is exactly what I have set my sights on.

I am determined to learn how to independently operate and maintain my own sailboat, crossing oceans and raising awareness for underrepresented communities of womxn, Asian-Americans, and LGBTQ+ in marine industries.

I discovered this apprentice program thanks to Rob Sola, the president of DMS, who was the only person to respond positively when posed with my proposition of, “I honestly don’t know much about marine systems, but I am incredibly motivated to learn all of it!” It’s a hard sell, but when Rob answered that he had just the place for me, I truly couldn’t believe my luck!

The author learns boat maintenance at Diversified Marine Services in Annapolis. Photo by Ashley Caitlin Photography

The apprenticeship program is quantified at six weeks or 210 hours of participation, whichever comes first. DMS has three divisions: restoration, technical, and maintenance. Each department encompasses an amazing collection of skilled individuals from different backgrounds, who were all extremely warm and willing to share their knowledge with me as I shadowed a variety of DMS technicians throughout the program. 

A characteristic that truly stands out to me about the DMS team is their humility to know that every day brings a new lesson to learn. Even after extensive time in the industry, they always see something for the first time and devise a unique way to tackle it. 

Matt Jones, the leader of the restoration division, was assigned as my point person. With 21 years of experience in the marine industry and a soft spot for nurturing incoming talent, he always made sure that I comprehended the wealth of information he shared with me through demonstrations and hands-on opportunities.

As a sailor, this on the job experience gave Co insights into how to maintain her own boat, when she has one! Photo by Ashley Caitlin Photography

From my time spent with Matt and the restoration team, I learned how to identify and restore rotten cores, do yacht carpentry and brightwork, and work with fiberglass, gel-coat, and a variety of tools and materials used on a daily basis. I couldn’t believe how if you weren’t careful, a mixed container of epoxy can smoke and even burst into flames! 

As a naturally creative person, I savored the craftsmanship and finesse involved in restoration work, as well as the wealth of understanding it gave me about the construction of boats. When the time comes to buy my sailboat, I will have a more trained eye to structural issues that might be overlooked. 

I also had the privilege of shadowing the technical team, particularly Colleen Moore, the lead of the mechanical division. Witnessing her mechanical prowess, her friendly humor, and undeniable ability to show the boys how it’s done continues to inspire me to continue rising above the status quo that the marine industry, especially for mechanics, is a man’s realm. 

The author also learned about how engines work and how to maintain them. Photo by Ashley Caitlin Photography

Collen patiently taught this very non-mechanically inclined individual a great deal about engines, how they work, the different parts, and how to fix all the ways they can fail, which are far more than one should be able to imagine. 

I learned how to do spring commissioning on a variety of power and sailboats, which helped me garner a better understanding about how marine systems operate and are designed on each boat. I also spent time learning skills involved with stepping a mast and electrical wiring.

There is an air of the wild west throughout the marine industry, but companies such as DMS are on the forefront of including and uplifting women and interested newcomers. There is a definite need for incoming talent in the marine industry; young and not-as-young are welcome to fill the demand for more technicians. 

If your instincts are calling you towards the water, even if it may be a completely new industry than your previous careers, with the right support and guidance, you can make your passions into reality, no matter how uphill the journey may seem. Just remember that everyone started learning something for the first time before they were able to gain the experience and know-how that they have now.

I have a lot of planning, projects, and preparation ahead of me to be ready to take on this challenge, but I’m determined to fulfill my dreams of sailing the seven seas and developing connections with other like-minded individuals trying to inspire the next generation of marine technicians.

Learn more about MTAM’s On-the-Job Training Program here.

About the Author: Keep up to date with Chelsea Co as she prepares for her journey sailing around the world to empower underrepresented communities in the marine industry: Instagram @deepbluechelsea.