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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Marine Technician?

As trained here at CFCC since 1964, a Marine Technician can be described as a sea-going generalist trained to be “hands of the scientist” working with and for Oceanographers in the field, in labs, or aboard research vessels at sea. Our curriculum has been designed to offer the science, math, and English background plus the industrial skills required of a marine science support person. Classes utilize our smallcraft fleet for work in the rivers, estuaries, waterways and sounds as well as the marshes and beaches of the Cape Fear region. Field and lab use of biological, chemical, and geological sampling instrumentation and equipment is incorporated into as many of our courses as possible. We have just completed refit of the R/V MARTECH I, a 53 foot catamaran, and have begun use of it as an estuarine research platform. Of course a very unique part of our offering here at CFCC is the shipboard training on the R/V CAPE HATTERAS, our 85 foot ocean-going research vessel. Student training cruises range from 4 to 10 days in length and work offshore generally in the South Atlantic Bight. Our normal cruising schedule calls for mid-week ports in Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, and our Senior wrap-up training cruise to Nassau in the Bahamas.

In general, what types of work do Marine Technicians and Oceanographers do?

CFCC Marine Technicians work with and for Oceanographers in the following areas:
Physical Oceanography, Chemical Oceanography, Biological Oceanography, Meteorological Oceanography, Geological/Geophysical Oceanography, and Hydrographic Surveying, just to mention a few areas of concentration.

Physical oceanographer: Studies water movements, its causes and effects; waves; tides; currents; origin and circulation of water masses; water characteristics (temperature, salinity, density, light attenuation, etc.).
Application: Circulation patterns, Transport lanes, Anti-Submarine Warfare, Geophysics and bathymetric charting.

Chemical Oceanographer: Carries out qualitative and quantitative studies on chemical reactions in seawater; distribution and cycling of chemical constituents; reactions between seawater and the atmosphere, sediments or objects within the oceans.
Application: Marine corrosion, studying the minerals within the sea, aid in determining the age, origin and movements of the water masses and their influence on marine life, mapping distributions of nutrients in the sea and their influence on the distribution and type of marine organisms.

Biological Oceanographer: Studies effects of the ocean on organisms’ distributions; effects of organisms on oceanic chemistry; food webs/chains; reproduction; community dynamics.
Application: Marine Fisheries, Environmental Science, effects of pollutants.

Meteorological Oceanographer: Studies how the oceans affect weather; atmospheric/oceanic relationships; heat budgets; air/sea interface interaction; circulation; El Niño effect; etc.
Application: Weather forecasting, El Niño’s impact on global weather, etc.

Geological/Geophysical Oceanographer: Studies the origin, history, and composition of the ocean basins, sea floor mapping; sea floor spreading; sedimentation; resources (minerals, petroleum, etc.).
Application: Mining, oil exploration.

What High School course work would be most beneficial in preparing me for a career in Oceanography?

It is strongly recommend that students interested in careers in Oceanography, or any science related field for that matter, take as many of the math, sciences and English classes as possible. Oceanography is a very broad and diversified field and the future Oceanographer will need the following in each of the above disciplines:

MATH: Get all the algebra, geometry and trigonometry you can get; also get a very strong background in the metric system. You will need these skills because much of the science related fields use mathematical principles in order to derive or perform necessary scientific experiments. Also, beyond High School you may want to attend a Community College (such as CFCC) or University in which these skills would be required. The math background will help you to better understand the sciences. A strong background in the metric system is necessary because most of the experimental procedures use metrics as the measuring system. For example, in chemical experimentation, we use grams and Liters not ounces and quarts.

SCIENCE: Chemistry, marine biology, zoology, oceanography, physical sciences physics, earth science, geology, etc.). Chemistry teaches you the principles necessary to carry out chemical experiments; marine biology and zoology teach you about the plants and animals you’ll be studying in the oceanographic field. As oceanography is such a diversified field, the type of classes you will need in the sciences is dependent upon which ones in which you would like to specialize. However, all specialties of oceanography are inter-related so you can never take too many of the sciences.

ENGLISH: In most jobs you will be required to write reports, research papers, maybe even give an oral presentation of what you or your co-workers discovered in your most recent research project. You may even become employed by a major university and be required to write grant proposals! At the least you will be preparing and presenting progress reports. Additionally anyone working at the technical level will be maintaining lab and field notes which may have to go to court with him/her some day. So, you need all the English Composition and Technical and/or Business Writing classes available. Some sort of speech or oral communication class will prove to be beneficial as YOU may be required to actually give the presentation!

COMPUTERS: In today’s world, you will become strongly disadvantaged if you do not have at least some computer skills. A basic knowledge of word processing, databases and definitely spreadsheets can be key to whether you get a job or not. It will also be helpful for future oceanographers to have an understanding of the Internet and how to travel in cyberspace (I guess you got that worked out since you’re reading this). Although High Schools may/may not be teaching these sort of skills regarding computers, you will definitely need to take at least one computer familiarization course when you reach your Community College or University.

What courses would be most beneficial to take in college to be prepared for a career in Oceanography?

You will need all of the above in college. The Community College or University you attend basically builds on the information that you learned at the high school level. From there, new concepts are introduced. Each college or university requires different things, but all of them will require math, science, English/writing, and should encourage extensive use of computers.

How much time is required as an apprentice?

No formal apprenticeship program is required for a career in Oceanography. Folks working at sea should of course expect wet socks, fatigue, constant motion and noise and a view of our Earth that most people never get.

Are any licenses or certificates required?

There are no licenses or certificates required to work in the Oceanographic field. However most employers require at least an AAS or BS degree in a Marine Science curriculum. SCUBA and CPR certifications are widely held. You should know how to swim and you should also consider some sort of First Aid training.

What personal attributes are needed?

A lot of oceanographic work is done off-shore on a ship. You will need to be able to endure the uncomfortable conditions when rough seas occur. You will need to be a team player, as in any job, but maybe even more so because of the confines of being on a ship. Remember, the longer the cruise the shorter the boat gets! A sense of humor helps the days pass. CFCC Marine Technicians of course do fill a myriad of onshore jobs, too. It is hard to have a fun field sampling position, a challenging lab job, or a fulfilling shipboard technician position without putting in the time to get the work done. Sampling schedules may be tide and weather dependent, lab samples can’t always wait or be put off until tomorrow, and work at sea is very MUCH dependent on sea conditions. If you don’t want to work long hours, get wet or dirty, a technician’s position may not be for you.

What are the employment prospects for someone interested in Oceanography?

Students graduating with an Oceanography degree can do a variety of things based upon the type degree he or she has. Obviously, the more education one has, the more opportunities one has. Employment is also based on the area of interest that the graduate has. A few of the employers that come to mind would be any Community College or University as an Instructor/Professor, the Government (military), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, State Aquariums, The National Weather Service, Division of Marine Fisheries, offshore petroleum exploration companies, etc. One reality folks should appreciate is that in the marine biology field, a Masters is minimal and a PhD better. Many times CFCC Marine Technology graduates (AAS degree) find themselves head to head with four year university graduates (BA or BS degrees) for jobs, but also find that many times their technical training and experience in CFCC’s M.T. program has helped them get the job!

What are the employment prospects for a CFCC Marine Technology graduate?

See our list of past and present employers of CFCC Marine Technology graduates to see the variety of jobs our graduates have filled.

What wages, benefits, and advancement opportunities are available to CFCC Marine Technicians?

Wages, benefits and advancement are dependent upon several different factors such as your education, the company that you are working for and your geographic location, just to name a few. Marine Technicians usually start off around $24,000 – $34,000 per year. As one continues his or her education this amount can be expected to increase, but not always. A good way to gain advancement is to always strive to learn more about your existing job and the job you would like to have. This can be done through reading journals, magazines, newspapers or even surfing the net to learn all you can about current trends in the industry. And of course, you can always take additional classes at your local college or university. Benefits strictly depend on the particular company or agency that you are working for. Some may offer more benefits and less salary, some may offer more salary and less benefits. And if you’re really lucky, you may find some that offer high salaries with excellent benefits.

Wilmington Campus
411 North Front Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
(910) 362-7000

North Campus
4500 Blue Clay Road
Castle Hayne, NC 28429
(910) 362-7700

Burgaw Center
100 East Industrial Drive
Burgaw, NC 28425
(910) 362-7900

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Monday-Friday: 8:00am to 5:00pm

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Cape Fear Community College does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion, political affiliation or age.