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How to become captain? In an article published on its website, the Port of Montreal answers this question by telling the story of Marc-André Jean, a 19-years-old IMQ student. Here is the article:

How to become a master mariner!

It all started in Grade 9 with a single orientation project turned in to the guidance counsellor. That’s when Marc-André Jean, a teen from Longueuil, chose to explore the occupation of seafarer. Then, his curiosity piqued, in Grade 10 he knocked on the Port of Montreal’s door and got a one-day tour of the port.

The harbour master at the time, Jean-Luc Bédard, and deputy harbour master, Stefan Routhier, gave him the tour of port facilities. “It was impressive. We don’t realize the size of the port and the vessels!” exclaimed Marc-André, now age 19.

He made up his mind: he would become a master mariner.

The upside of being a mariner

“It’s a vocation that lets me be outdoors, and I need that. When I spend two days inside studying, I feel suffocated, I’m lost,” said Marc-André, who is now in his third year at the Institut maritime du Québec (IMQ) in Rimouski. “Plus I define myself as a citizen of the world.”

He is well served in this regard! Though he has not yet completed all four years of his studies, Marc-André has already spent seven months on the high seas. His two sea training practicums – there are three in the program – have taken him to Texas, Angola, France, Algeria, Wales, Curaçao and Singapore. Not bad for a budding sailor who had never set foot on a boat!

One of the aspects of a seafarer’s life that appeals a lot to Marc-André is the pace of work. The periods of navigation at sea are intense, followed by long stretches of total freedom. “I like this clear separation between work and my personal life. At sea, I focus on my work. On land, I’m totally free. My professional life doesn’t intrude much on my private life.”

Lively classes

Before taking over command of a vessel for real, Marc-André Jean still has a way to go. To begin with, the student must complete his program at Institut maritime, which is affiliated with the CEGEP in Rimouski. He also has to pass the Transport Canada exam. The courses are demanding, and that’s logical since they lead to jobs with great responsibility.

What’s it like at Institut maritime? Very strict? Marc-André laughs: “We’re not in the army. The teachers are “normal.” They’re friendly and we laugh with them. “In general, the teachers are from the industry. They’ve navigated and they know what they’re talking about.”

“I was surprised to find that there’s a lot of math in navigation,” said Marc-André, “but I’m pretty good at math. The hardest thing for me is to integrate technical concept while I’m in a class.” That’s why the sea training practicums are so important. Everything comes together and makes sense.

To make it easier to learn the technical aspects, Institut maritime got a navigation simulator, which reproduces a wheelhouse (the vessel’s navigation bridge) with all the instruments found on a real vessel and projections of maritime scenes filmed on seas around the world. Users are literally transported!

What makes a good seafarer?

Good seafarers have developed their rational and logical thinking as well as their ability to make clear and justified decisions. A good naval officer also knows how to established good relationships with others and knows how to adapt to them. “The crew forms a community,” said Marc-André. “We’re like roommates. We eat together and we live together. It’s the crew that makes a ship, that determines the work environment.”

After passing his Transport Canada exam, Marc-André Jean will be able to work on a vessel as a watchkeeper, then as a deck officer, and then captain, the highest rank in the merchant marine. For this, he must complete the required sea time. Considering the fact that an officer will sail between six and nine months per year, it takes four to five years on the job to obtain this rank, usually more. Each rank can only be earned after passing several exams.

One fine day a few years from now, an immense ship will enter the Port of Montreal, and it may well be Marc-André Jean at the helm. He will have made his dream come true.