Involuntary Vacation

Last month I had a bit of an issue with my merchant mariner credential (MMC) renewal. The renewal process is, to put it bluntly, a huge pain in the ass, as we all know. It happens every five years and I, for one, forgot that it needed to happen until only a few months before it was due. I rushed around and got all the classes I needed, which I now have to take on my own because my little company doesn’t do annual training like Foss and Crowley did, (FYI those classes are advanced firefighting revalidation, which is a bit of a joke, and basic safety training revalidation, which covers all the actual fighting of fires in bunker gear and jumping into the pool in a survival suit, etc.) and then gathered up the forms and sent in my application.

One thing I had forgotten is that I took ECDIS years ago (apparently in 2015) and I had never submitted that certificate to the coast guard (as I remember, the NMC told me at the time I could submit it when it was time to renew). So when it came time to renew the STCW elements of my MMC, they needed that ECDIS cert as well as my LMS (Leadership and Managerial Skills) certificate, which I had also gotten years ago in 2016 and would need to submit with renewal.

But I submitted, and then off I went on vacation (which was amazing, more on that later). Meanwhile, my renewal was held up without the ECDIS certificate and the NMC thought it would be great to send me a letter in the mail to let me know what I was missing – fat lot of help that does anyone, especially someone who is working offshore (not me, but plenty of others out there) or someone who lives or travels away from the place where they get mail. At last, they followed up with an email a couple weeks later, and it was time for me to panic. I had to ask someone on the boat to scan my ECDIS cert – which I keep with all my other documents in my state room on the Billie – and send it to me so I could email it to the NMC, and then all I could do was cross my fingers and wait.

All going well, I would have gotten my renewed document while on vacation and then come home to head back to work with MMC in hand, but it did not go that way…

In the end, it was all on me to start early and get it right, and I failed. I was miserable, especially as it became clear that I was not going to get my renewed document in time to return to work as planned. I dreaded telling my boss, and viciously berated myself for days. The most painful part of it was thinking about how much money I would lose by not working for a week; money which I really needed after taking a hitch off for vacation. I had to give myself a break at last and stop beating myself up. I was miserable, but no one was judging me as hard as I was judging myself.

I learned a lot from this ordeal. Some things I took away from it were 1) obviously, put that shit in your calendar to show up every five years in perpetuity, with a 6-month advance notification, 2) my self-worth and identity are wayyyy too tied up with what I do for a living, and that can’t be healthy, can it? 3) people will laugh at you for fucking up but quite a few of them have done the same, so no one really cares. I even know someone who has sailed on an expired license without telling anyone, and I must say it was tempting and I’m not one to judge, but in the end I couldn’t have managed the stress of doing that, not to mention the consequences if something bad were to happen and you got caught. Yikes.

I fessed up to my boss and the document was issued literally the next freaking day, though I wouldn’t get it in time to go back to work that hitch, so I spent the week enjoying the world around me: hanging out with my mom in beautiful Napa, doing odd projects I had been putting off for years, spending time with my best friend, and surfing. It was great.

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