The United States Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA or Kings Point) is a United States service academy in Kings Point, New York. It trains its midshipmen (as students at the academy are called) to serve as officers in the United States Merchant Marine, branches of the United States Armed Forces and the transportation industry. Midshipmen are trained in different fields such as marine engineering, navigation, ship’s administration, maritime law, personnel management, international law, customs, and many other subjects important to the task of running a large ship.
Between 1874 and 1936, diverse federal legislation supported maritime training through school ships, internships at sea, and other methods. A disastrous fire in 1934 aboard the passenger ship SS Morro Castle, in which 134 people died, convinced the US Congress that direct federal involvement in efficient and standardised training was needed.
Originally – and in cooperation with the State of New York, which donated the land – the US government planned to establish a large-scale Merchant Marine Academy at Fort Schuyler, New York; nothing came of these plans. Fort Schuyler would later be used as the grounds for SUNY (State University of New York) Maritime.
Congress passed the landmark Merchant Marine Act in 1936, and two years later, the US Merchant Marine Cadet Corps was established. In that year, the USTS Nantucket (ex-USS Ranger) was transferred from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy to Kings Point and renamed the USTS Emory Rice. The first training was given at temporary facilities until the academy’s permanent site in Kings Point, New York was acquired in early 1942. The Kings Point campus was originally Walter Chrysler’s twelve-acre waterfront estate, named “Forker House” (now known as the USMMA’s Wiley Hall). Construction of the academy began immediately, and 15 months later the task was virtually completed. The academy was dedicated on 30 September 1943, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who noted “the Academy serves the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis the Navy.”
World War II required the academy to forgo its normal operation and to devote all of its resources toward meeting the emergency need for Merchant Marine officers. Its enrolment rose to 2,700 men, and the planned course of instruction was reduced in length from four years to 18 months. To meet the wartime needs for qualified merchant marine officers two additional merchant marine cadet training school sites were established, one located in Pass Christian, Mississippi, and the other in San Mateo, California. (The San Mateo location was closed in September 1947, and the students transferred to Kings Point. The location in Pass Christian was similarly closed in 1950.) In spite of the war, shipboard training continued to be an integral part of the academy curriculum, and midshipmen served at sea in combat zones the world over. One hundred and forty-two midshipmen gave their lives in service to their country, and many others survived torpedo and aerial attacks. From 1942 to 1945, the academy graduated 6,895 officers. As the war drew to a close, plans were made to convert the academy’s wartime curriculum to a four-year, college-level programme to meet the peacetime requirements of the merchant marine. In 1948, such a course was instituted.
Authorisation for awarding the degree of Bachelor of Science to graduates was granted by Congress in 1949. The academy became fully accredited as a degree-granting institution in the same year. It was made a permanent institution by an Act of Congress in 1956. The academy accelerated graduating classes during the Korean War and the Vietnam War. It was involved in such programmes as training US officers for the nuclear-powered merchant ship, the NS Savannah.
Admission requirements were amended in 1974, and this academy became the first federal service academy to enrol female students, two years before the Military, Naval, Air Force, and Coast Guard academies.
During the Persian Gulf War in early 1991, and for many months prior to the war, both academy graduates and midshipmen played important roles in the large sealift of military supplies to the Middle East. Midshipmen training at sea also participated in the humanitarian sealift to Somalia during Operation Restore Hope.
In 1992, the academy acquired its largest campus-based training vessel, the T/V Kings Pointer. After 20 years at the academy, MARAD transferred the ship to the Texas Maritime Academy in Galveston to serve as its new primary training vessel. This was followed by an announcement on 21 August 2012, that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) agreed to transfer the MV Liberty Star to the US Department of Transportation for use as the new training vessel at the academy. Before being redesigned to serve as a training vessel for students, the former MV Liberty Star served as a solid rocket booster recovery vessel for NASA retrieving solid rocket boosters following space shuttle launches. In June 2014, the vessel was rechristened the T/V Kings Pointer, the fifth vessel of the academy to carry that name. The rechristening followed the earlier dedication of the academy’s newly replaced Mallory Pier.
In the 1990s, the academy’s future came into question when it was included in the National Performance Review, chaired by Vice President Al Gore. The report recommended halving the federal subsidy and requiring students to pay half of tuition to reduce costs. Congress, however, soundly rejected the recommendation and voted to continue the prohibitions on charging tuition to students.
Between 2009 and 2014, the Obama Administration invested more than $450 million at the academy, including almost $100 million for capital improvements – the most funding ever secured for physical improvements at the academy.
During the attacks of 11 September 2001, the Merchant Marine Academy assisted in the evacuation of civilians from Lower Manhattan as well as the transportation of first responders and supplies to and from Ground Zero. Midshipman, faculty, and staff from the academy, within hours of the attack, were using boats from the waterfront and sending them to the city. Members of the Merchant Marine Academy participated in the relief efforts for nine days.
Merchant Marine Academy midshipmen and graduates have been involved in many facets of the war in Iraq. Many graduates were involved in the transportation of supplies during the build-up to the war in 2003. Many graduates in the US Navy Reserve have been called to active duty to serve supporting naval roles in ports in Iraq and Kuwait. Graduates who have entered other branches of the service have had more direct roles in Iraq. Aaron Seesan, a 2003 graduate and US Army first lieutenant, was the first Academy graduate since the Vietnam War to be killed by enemy action. Since that time, two additional graduates, Lieutenant Junior Grade Francis L. Toner, IV, USN (class of 2006) and 1st Lieutenant William N. Donnelly, IV, USMC (class of 2008) have both given their lives while serving their country in Afghanistan.
Because of the service of midshipmen in every major conflict the country has been involved in since World War II, the regiment is privileged to carry a regimental battle standard. The Merchant Marine Academy is the only federal service academy granted the right to do so, and the standard is carried with the colours at all times. Campaign ribbons from all the conflicts in which midshipmen have taken part help to dress the battle standard.
On 19 June 2006, President George W. Bush gave the commencement address at the academy, the first sitting president to visit the academy.
Since 2016 the academy has come under public scrutiny and sharp criticism from lawmakers for alleged sexual assault and harassment within its “Sea Year” programme. The programme, which places students on commercial vessels, was temporarily suspended in 2016 and again in 2021 for multiple allegations of sexual assault in the programme. Following both suspensions, the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration implemented new safety standards and reforms.
In addition to requiring strong GPA and SAT/ACT scores, to be eligible to enter the academy a candidate must:
- Be of good moral character.
- Be at least 17 years of age and must not have passed his or her 25th birthday before 01 July in the year of entrance.
- Be a citizen of the United States either by birth or naturalisation, except for a limited number of international midshipmen specially authorised by Congress.
- Meet the physical, security and character requirements necessary for appointment as midshipman in the US Navy.
- Obtain a Congressional nomination to the academy from a member of Congress.
- Submit a completed application; and
- Qualify academically.
Medical/Physical Clearance – Candidates are required to pass a DoDMERB (Department of Defence Medical Examination Review Board) physical, and take the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA) to assess physical fitness.
Security Clearance – In order to receive a commission at graduation as an officer in the US armed forces, candidates are required to complete a security clearance upon enrolment at the academy.
The academy is administered by the United States Maritime Administration, and has a budget of $82.3 million (FY20) from the United States Department of Transportation.
The entire student body is referred to as the Regiment of Midshipmen and is subdivided into three battalions and six companies (as of 2017). The 1st and 2nd Companies form the 1st Battalion, the 3rd and Band Companies make up the 2nd Battalion, while the 4th and 5th Company make the 3rd Battalion. Company assignment is random, although candidates with experience of playing a musical instrument are highly considered for joining the Band Company. The United States Merchant Marine Academy Regimental Band serves a dual purpose as both the Academy’s Marching Band as well as the official band of the United States Merchant Marine, often playing in official events alongside the other bands of the Armed Forces as well as representing the US Merchant Marine at official events around the country and overseas.
Department of Public Safety
The USMMA Department of Public Safety is a full-service law enforcement agency responsible for campus safety and security. The Academy has mutual-aid agreements with multiple agencies in both Great Neck and Nassau County, including the Kings Point Police Department, Great Neck Alert Fire Department (fire and rescue coverage), Great Neck Vigilant Fire Department (EMS coverage), and the Nassau County Police Department, as well as investigative support from the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Department Head is assisted by two federal police officers and two federal guards, with contract security guards utilised to meet minimum manning requirements. Federal police officers, federal guards, and contract guards wear distinct uniforms and perform access control, foot and motor patrols, respond to transmitted fire and security alarms, address safety and security matters, direct traffic, and enforce parking and traffic regulations. The police officers have full arrest authority under federal law (Title 40 United States Code Section 1315), and may also issue federal and New York state summonses, protect persons and property, prevent breaches of the peace, and enforce rules and regulations for the protection of property at the academy. The guards have no arrest authority other than that of an ordinary citizen.
Admitted appointees enter as “candidates” in early July, and begin a two-and-a-half-week indoctrination period, or “indoc”, run by upperclass instructors and supervised by United States Maritime Service officers of the Commandant of Midshipman’s staff. It is a high-stress, intensive introduction to regimental life at the academy including physical training, history, customs and courtesies, and drill and ceremony. After indoc, the candidates earn the title of “plebe candidates”. The academic year begins in late July, and on Acceptance Day in September, plebe candidates are sworn into the US Navy Reserve and join the regiment as plebes. As plebes they are subject to stringent rules that govern daily life until the following spring, when they are recognised as midshipmen, fourth class, with eased restrictions and additional privileges.
The following academic programs (Bachelor of Science 4-year degree programmes) are offered at USMMA:
- Marine Transportation
- Maritime Logistics and Security
- Marine Engineering
- Marine Engineering Systems
- Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management
These five majors can be grouped as follows:
- The two “Deck Majors” are Marine Transportation and Maritime Logistics and Security. Marine transportation students learn about ship navigation, cargo handling, navigation rules and maritime law. These majors grant midshipman a Third Mate license for work on steam or motor vessels of unlimited tonnage.
- The three “Engine Majors” are Marine Engineering, Marine Engineering Systems, and Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management. Marine engineering students learn about the function of the ship’s engines and its supporting systems. These majors lead to the issuance of Third Assistant Engineer (3 A/E – Engineering Officer) licenses for steam and motor vessel of any horsepower. Marine Engineering Systems, and Marine Engineering and Shipyard Management, graduates are also qualified to sit for the Engineer in Training (EIT) examination administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
For portions of their sophomore (third-class) and junior (second-class) years, midshipmen serve as cadets on US merchant ships. Midshipmen are typically assigned as pairs to a ship, an engineering cadet and a deck cadet, and operate as part of the crew, gaining hands-on experience as well as the opportunity to travel abroad to foreign ports; the average midshipman travels to eighteen countries during the three-hundred-day training period. This practical training results in an extended academic year that runs from late July to mid-June.
A note on titles – Are they called “midshipmen” or “cadets”? The title “midshipman” is a naval rank and refers to the four classes (or grades) of student at the Academy. Midshipmen 4th Class are freshmen, 3rd Class are sophomores, etc. The title “cadet” refers to a student officer/apprentice billet on a merchant ship in either the Deck or Engineering Departments. To place this in context – “Midshipman 2nd Class Smith is sailing as Engine Cadet on the USNS MERCY for the next two months.”
Toward the end of 1st class (senior) year, midshipmen prepare for US Coast Guard exams for a mandatory license as Third Assistant Engineer (steam and motor unlimited HP) or Third Mate (any gross tons, oceans).
The USMMA Mariners compete in Division III of the NCAA, as a member of the Skyline Conference in all sports (men’s sports include baseball, basketball, cross country, lacrosse, soccer, swimming & diving, tennis, and track & field; women’s sports include basketball, cross country, lacrosse, swimming & diving, track & field, and volleyball) except in football, where they are an associate member of the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, and collegiate wrestling, where they are a member of the Centennial Conference. The USMMA was a member of the Skyline Conference until the 2006-2007 season; the USMMA returned to the Skyline Conference for the 2016-2017 academic year. The academy was also a charter member in the Landmark Conference from 2007 until 2016.
The Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal is the highest award which can be bestowed upon members of the United States Merchant Marine and is the service’s equivalent of the Medal of Honour. Since mariners serving in the US Merchant Marine are not directly employed by the Department of Defence, they are not eligible for the Medal of Honour.
Since USMMA opened in 1943, eight midshipmen have been awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal.
- Midshipman Francis A. Dales
- Midshipman Elmer C. Donnelly
- Midshipman Carl M. Medved – Awarded posthumously
- Midshipman Edwin Joseph O’Hara – Awarded posthumously
- Midshipman Walter G. Sittmann
- Midshipman William M. Thomas, Jr.
- Midshipman Phil Cox Vannais
- Midshipman Frederick R. Zito
Post-Graduation Service Obligations
Midshipmen at Kings Point have a wide variety of options upon graduation. Unlike the nation’s other federal service academies, graduates of USMMA are required to fulfil their service obligation on their own by providing annual proof of employment in a wide variety of occupations as approved by MARAD for a specified period of time.
Graduates may elect to fulfil their service obligation by working as licensed officers on US-flagged merchant vessels, as civilians in the maritime industry, or as active duty officers in any branch of the military or the uniformed services of the United States, including Public Health Service, and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. Regardless, graduates are required to maintain their US Coast Guard-issued merchant marine officer’s license for a period of at least 6 years.
Those graduates electing to enter the civilian work force in the maritime industry, and those sailing in the Merchant Marine, are also required to maintain their Navy Reserve commission (or another reserve component commission in the Army National Guard or Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Air Force National Guard or Reserve, or Coast Guard Reserve) for a period of at least 8 years after their commissioning as officers, and are required to serve in the maritime industry for at least 5 years following graduation.
- On average about 1/3 of each graduating class goes to sea working in the Merchant Marine serving with the Military Sealift Command (part of the US Navy) and the National Defence Reserve Fleet or on various US-Flagged ships in international trade, inland & near-coastal transportation, research vessels, and other types of vessels.
- Another 1/3 generally go to work in the US maritime industry ashore working in commercial shipping, ship broking, ship repair, intermodal logistics, marine engineering, maritime law, maritime insurance, or defence contracting.
- About 1/3 enter the military as active duty commissioned officers in the Uniformed Services. Of those going on active duty, most enter the Navy as naval aviators, naval flight officers, surface warfare officers, submarine officers, or occasionally even as SEALs. Many midshipmen enter the Coast Guard, while others enter the Marine Corps, Army, Air Force, United States Space Force, and their Reserve or National Guard components. Midshipmen may also apply for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with the NOAA Commissioned Corps.
- Those graduates who sail in the US Merchant Marine or work ashore in the US Maritime Industry will receive a Navy reserve commission as Strategic Sealift Officers.
A graduate from USMMA receives upon graduation:
- A Bachelor of Science degree,
- An Unlimited USCG License as a Merchant Marine Officer, either 3rd Mate or 3rd Assistant Engineer, and
- A Commission as an ensign in the US Navy Reserve Strategic Sealift Officer Programme, or if accepted on Active Duty, as an ensign in the US Navy, US Coast Guard, or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Marine Corps, US Army, US Air Force, or US Space Force. Graduates who choose military service must serve at least five years in the active duty force of their respective service.
American Merchant Marine Museum
The USMMA in Kings Point, New York is the home of the American Merchant Marine Museum. The museum houses:
- A learning centre which is open to the regiment and the public
- The academy’s collection of maritime art and artifacts
- Exhibits, including:
- The only known back-acting engine still in existence, that of the former gunboat USS Ranger
- The National Maritime Hall of Fame (the only permanent exhibit of its kind in the nation), which honours people and ships important to American oceanic, coastal, inland waterways, and Great Lakes shipping. Inductees into the Hall of Fame must be deceased, or sunk or scrapped, for at least five years. Only one person and one ship are inducted into the Hall of Fame each year. The Hall inducted its first set of members in or about 1982.
Among the museum’s many items are the world’s largest collection of navigation and nautical instruments, and the only extensive selection of ship’s of China, on display anywhere in the world. In addition, one of the five surrender swords presented by the Japanese to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur at the conclusion of World War II is housed there.
Congressional Board of Visitors
In accordance with 46 USC § 51312, The Board of Visitors to the United States Merchant Marine Academy provides independent advice and recommendations on matters relating to the United States Merchant Marine Academy to the President of the United States and the United States Congress. The 19-member board is composed of members of Congress, academy alumni, and stakeholders from the federal government and the maritime industry. Specifically:
- 2 Senators appointed by the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation;
- 1 Senator appointed by the Vice President of the United States from the Senate Appropriations Committee;
- 3 members of the House of Representatives appointed by the chair of the United States House Committee on Armed Services;
- 2 members of the House of Representatives appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, at least 1 of whom shall be a member of the House Appropriations Committee;
- 5 individuals appointed by the President, at least 2 of which shall be graduates of the academy, at least 1 shall be a senior corporate officer from a United States maritime shipping company, and 1 or more may be a Senate-confirmed presidential appointee, a member of the Senior Executive Service, or any officer of flag-rank who from the US Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), or any of the military services that commission graduates of the academy; and
- 6 ex officio members:
- the commander of the US Navy Military Sealift Command;
- the Deputy Commandant for Operations of the US Coast Guard;
- the chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation;
- the chair of the United States House Committee on Armed Services;
- the chair of the USMMA Academic Advisory Board; and – the member of the House of Representatives for the congressional district in which the academy is located, as a nonvoting member – Chairmanship is rotated on a biannual basis between a member of the House of Representatives and a member of the Senate.
Meetings of the Board
The board is required to meet at least quarterly, in accordance with their charter, including at least 1 meeting held at the academy on a date selected by the board in consultation with the Secretary of Transportation and the Superintendent of the academy. However, board members, in cooperation with the Superintendent, may make other visits to the academy in connection with the duties of the board. While visiting the academy under this subsection, members of the board shall have reasonable access to the grounds, facilities, midshipmen, faculty, staff, and other personnel of the academy for the purpose of carrying out the duties of the board.
Responsibility of the Board
The board shall inquire into the state of morale and discipline, the curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, and academic methods of the academy, and other matters relating to the academy that the board decides to consider.
Not later than 60 days after each annual visit to the academy, the board shall submit to the President of the United States, a written report of its actions, views, and recommendations pertaining to the academy. If the members of the board make other visits to the academy, the board may prepare a report on such visit; and if approved by a majority of the members of the board, submit such report to the President not later than 60 days after the date of the approval. Any report submitted to the President will be concurrently submitted to the Secretary of Transportation, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate, and the Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives.
(Pub. L. 109–304, §8(b), 6 Oct. 2006, 120 Stat. 1575; Pub. L. 113–291, div. C, title XXXV, §3504(a), 19 Dec. 2014, 128 Stat. 3905.)
Notable Alumni and Faculty
- Christopher D. Thayer (1983) Director, Maritime Operations at Military Sealift Command (MSC), 1986 – present
- Edward S.G. Dennis (1967) Assistant US Attorney General, Criminal Division (1988-1990)
- Lane Kirkland (1942) US labour union leader who served as President of the AFL-CIO for over 16 years.
- Robert H. Scarborough (1944) First graduate to become a vice admiral in the United States Coast Guard; Vice Commandant of the United States Coast Guard; inducted into USMMA Hall of Distinguished Graduates in 1997.
- Theodore “Ted” Taylor (1944) author of over 50 fiction and non-fiction books; best known for his 1969 novel The Cay.
- Russell B. Cummings (1945) Texas state representative from Harris County (1963-1967).
- Dean White (1945) Chairman and CEO of Whiteco Industries, Inc, Hotel/display sign magnate, Member of Fortune 500; philanthropist; the Dean and Barbara White Admissions Centre at USMMA is named in his honour; inducted into USMMA Hall of Distinguished Graduates in 2006.
- John Diebold (1946) Author of the book Automation (1954); established DieBold Group in 1961 designed and installed the first electronic banking network. Inducted into USMMA Hall of Distinguished Graduates in 2003.
- Thomas William McNamara (1948) United States Navy rear admiral
- Elliot See (1949) Project Gemini astronaut; killed in training; inducted into USMMA Hall of Distinguished Graduates in 1999.
- William B. Morgan (1950) Distinguished naval architect and marine engineer who revolutionised propeller design; 50-year career with the US Navy David Taylor Model Basin; inducted into USMMA Hall of Distinguished Graduates in 2008.
- Romulo Espaldon (1950) First rear admiral of the Philippine Navy; First commander of the Philippine Southern Command; First governor of Tawi-Tawi province; First congressman of Tawi-Tawi; First regional commissioner of Western Mindanao; First minister of Muslim Affairs; Ambassador to Egypt and Saudi Arabia; Inducted into USMMA Hall of Distinguished Graduates in 1995.
- Albert J. Herberger (1955) First graduate to become a vice admiral in the United States Navy; Administrator, US Maritime Administration under President Bill Clinton; inducted into USMMA Hall of Distinguished Graduates in 2000.
- George Oster (1961) Professor mathematical biology, University of California; MacArthur Fellow; member National Academy of Science
- Robert Kiyosaki (1969) Author of the Rich Dad, Poor Dad books; Marine Corps helicopter gunship pilot during the Vietnam War
- Skip Prosser (1972) Men’s basketball coach at Loyola (Md.), Xavier University and Wake Forest University
- Joe Rizzo (1973) “Orange Crush” Denver Broncos linebacker; starting Broncos linebacker in Super Bowl XII
- Mark H. Buzby (1979) Rear admiral, US Navy; Administrator, US Maritime Administration (2017-2021); Commander, Military Sealift Command; former Deputy Director Expeditionary Warfare; Commander, Joint Task Force, Guantanamo; Commanding Officer, USS Carney (DDG-64) and DESRON-31
- Sean Connaughton (1983) Administrator, US Maritime Administration (2006-2009), Virginia Secretary of Transportation (2010-2013)
- Morgan Reeser (1984) Silver medallist, 1992 Olympics – Sailing, 470 Class; National Champion Multiple Times; Two-time College Sailor of the Year (1983, 1984)
- Mark E. Kelly (1986) US Senator; Captain, US Navy; pilot, STS-108 Space Shuttle Endeavour, STS-121 Space Shuttle Discovery, STS-124 Space Shuttle Discovery
- Sean Marshall (1987) Former child actor, star of Disney’s Pete’s Dragon
- David “Dubs” Wright (2004) Laser sailor, 2002 National Champion. All American 2003. Represented Canada in 2012 London Olympic Games
- Benjamin Nicholson (1993) Rear Admiral, US Navy, US Indo-Pacific Command Representative, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of Palau/Commander, US Naval Forces, Marianas/Commander, Joint Region Marianas
- Jennifer Boykin – President of Newport News Shipbuilding, Vice President of Huntington Ingalls Industries
- Andrew Card – Former White House Chief-of Staff
- Henry Way Kendall – Nobel Laureate in Physics (1990)
- Gray H. Miller – Senior United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas
- Carroll O’Connor – Actor – portrayed Archie Bunker on All in the Family
- Martin Lewis Perl – Nobel Laureate in Physics (1995)
- Clark G. Reynolds – Historian; professor of history and head of the USMMA Department of Humanities (1976–1978)
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