For people looking for a challenging and rewarding career on the water, deckhand training classes continue this fall on the Hinds Community College Vicksburg-Warren Campus.
Kristin Blackledge, 33, of Vicksburg, is among those taking the final steps toward permanent job placement working on barges on the Mississippi River. She’s making the jump from serving in the U.S. Coast Guard for nine years to a life on the river.
“I’m looking at it as a way into a long-term career,” Blackledge said in a Hinds CC statement. “I want to be a chief engineer and be in the engine room, working on the engines. That’s already my background from being an aviation maintenance tech in the Coast Guard.”
Blackledge and seven others participated in a deckhand training course that met 12 hours a day for just over a week, in which students learned every aspect of working on a barge – from throwing and securing a line and operating a johnboat, to rigging and other practical skills. The course followed classroom sessions with hands-on sessions and ended with a comprehensive written test.
Since its inception in 2014, the course has supplied companies with job-ready workers without interrupting workflow. River barge deckhands make about $20,000 to $30,000 annually to start. With successful advancements through the ranks, the earnings potential rises to about $65,000 as trained tankermen.
“Once they get on the water, they’ll be handling barges carrying, in some cases, 220,000 pounds of either dry or liquid cargo,” said instructor Dennis Creel. “I’m teaching them everything they’ll see on river and the correct ways to do things.”
Hinds partners with several barge companies for the class, including Golding Barge, Maritime Services of Louisiana, Yazoo River Towing, Big River Shipbuilders and Magnolia Marine.
“I hope this class (accelerates) my career and helps me work my way up,” said Austin Nance, 20, of Philadelphia, Miss., who along with Blackledge passed the final test and hopes to start a new career versus just having a job. “I’ve done some work in logging, mechanical, electrical and carpentry. I’m basically a jack of all trades, but now I’m learning a new one. It’s a totally different world once you step out here.”
For complete information about the deckhand training program offered in Vicksburg through Hinds Community College, contact Marvin Moak, vice president for Hinds’ Vicksburg-Warren Campus, at 601-629-6805.