Mental Illness and becoming a USCG Licensed Mariner?
February 25, 2011 7:32 PM   Subscribe

How is diagnosed but treated Bipolar I viewed by the US Coast Guard and Dept of Homeland Security when seeking MMC and TWIC? How about maritime employers?

I was hospitalized over 5 years ago and have been consistently on medication since without any significant incident.

I really like the ocean and sailing and am considering career opportunities as a mariner. But I need to know if the Bipolar diagnosis will be an unavoidable and insurmountable barrier. Are you a mariner or do you know someone who had Bipolar or similar mental illnesses? How was that handled on the various Coast Guard Physicals etc? How have employers handled that (or were they informed at all?) Did it entail a ceiling to career advancement?

If it matters, I'm honestly drawn more to something in the traditional tall ship sailing or sailboat-eco tourism arena. However, as I understand, even that will likely require at least a OUPV license eventually. So the question still remains, how does the Coast Guard View bipolar for these type of licensing?

Additionally--even though my end goal is to sail a traditional sailing ship--a career aboard a commercial/industrial/MSC/tug or similar job seems like it would be a good way to some sea going experience, probably with relatively better pay and more direct career options available. That and it does hold it's own unique appeal and opportunity for adventure to me as well. So I would be sad if that avenue were foreclosed.

Also, I don't feel I should have to defend who I am, but I do take this seriously. I've been in a life or death situation on the water in the past and handled it well, with mental clarity, and everyone lived. With proper training I feel I could perform any stressful seaborne job that I am otherwise capable of. to be sure, I don't ever expect to test that with something like catching king crab on "The Deadliest Catch" or do something outrageously dangerous like that :)

Thanks for the advice! Please feel free to PM me if more comfortable.
posted by DetonatedManiac to Work & Money (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
If you haven't gotten to know the Coast Guard's National Maritime Center yet, it's a good starting place.

According to the MEDICAL AND PHYSICAL EVALUATION GUIDELINES FOR MERCHANT MARINER CREDENTIALS (PDF) it's a medical conditions subject to further review. Psychiatric disorders are one of the Top 5 medical conditions they see. According to the above document they'll want to see: Psychiatrist or clinical psychologist clinical status report documenting the diagnosis (DSM Axis I) and addressing any disturbances of thought, recurrent episodes, and psychotropic medication(s) to include documenting the period of use, name and dosage of any medication(s) and side-effects.

At the bottom of the page linked above there's both a phone number and an email address to contact the Coast Guard with questions on credentialing.

Anecdotally, I've heard of someone who served with the MSC while on bipolar meds but I didn't know them personally so I can't confirm for sure.
posted by macfly at 9:04 PM on February 25, 2011

Not to be cynical but on the waterfront you'll fit right in... ; -) To get a a captains license you need to have the hours on the water, pass the written test and drug test. I guess check to see if your prescription meds would possibly trigger the test for illicit, but that is really unlikely. Do start fist fights or arguments *on* the boat and you'll be a welcome crew member. For sea work recording your sea time hours is the biggie.
posted by sammyo at 4:41 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Not to be cynical but on the waterfront you'll fit right in...

Yeah, no, not being any less cynical here but the way it works is that you only officially have any kind of illness if you have a diagnosis, and to do that you have to go and see a doctor, probably multiple times, and really, what kind of person (oh hai wait someone who lives in a house all the time) can manage to get to multiple appointments when you don't even know what country you'll be in on that date, so it's not like you can book the morning off work, etc, and anyway, who goes to the doctor if there's no imminent risk of losing anything larger than half a finger or so and there's no risk of bleeding to death?

(I only know a guy with bipolar who passed his medical in another country, but that's the basic medical that meets international standards so it's not automatically going to be turned down immediately, it's entirely possible that YMMV from case to case, lots of things are allowed if well controlled by medication or other medical aids (like, you used to have to pass the eyesight test unaided, then contacts came in and people sneaked through while lying about them, so now you're allowed to wear glasses)).
posted by Lebannen at 5:12 AM on February 26, 2011

I have a few acquaintances with captain's licenses, and am under the impression that more than one of them had histories of treatment and/or were on psych meds, and it wasn't a problem. In my own limited experience with a low level DHS security clearance, I worried about that a lot, and then finally disclosed... and they couldn't have cared less. I like the advice to talk with the folks above, but from everything I've heard it's about skill and hours. Good luck!
posted by ldthomps at 4:39 PM on February 26, 2011

« Older Kingdom of Plaice?   |   What can I do with an unecpected, 4 lb. bag of... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.