Longtime mariner talks career milestones, diversity, and more

Written by Heather Ervin
Willie Tuggle III - long-time mariner

Willie Tuggle III

As Marine Log continues to meet and bring to you interesting and notable members of maritime, we want you to meet Willie Tuggle III.

Tuggle, owner and operator of A-Y2K Marine Survey of New Orleans, La., has worked in the maritime industry for more than 40 years. With some bumps in the road along the way, Tuggle has overcome any hurdle that has come his way and made a name for himself in the industry, including some industry firsts. Here’s more:

Marine Log (ML): Tell us about your maritime career. How did you get your start and what are you doing today?

Willie Tuggle (WT): My parents owned a couple of small boats that they fished from. I fell in love with the little tiny life jacket they would put on me. I never thought I would become an expert swimmer many years later at Lawson State Community College in Birmingham, Ala., after graduating from Brighton High school in Brighton. In 1973, I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard and performed search and rescue, Aids to Navigation, and law enforcement duties.

After a medical retirement from the Coast Guard, I became a Merchant Mariner in 1980. I got my first license as a Merchant Marine Officer in 1984, while being employed in the mineral and oil industry. I’ve attended several schools paid for by companies I worked for. The subjects I took were for upgrades and advancement in the maritime industry. Today, I work in the recreational boating industry. I also have a team of professional mariners: Capt. Calvin Gains (Laborde Marine); Capt. Kevin Jackson and Capt. Robert Montgomery (Marquette Towing); Chief Engineer Cordell Jackson (Hornbeck Offshore); and Capt. Tripp Tolbert (owner of the Island Vibes superyacht and the Island Resort Destin, Fort Walton Beach, Fla.), who are involved in the future of educating people of color about getting involved in the maritime industry.

Tuggle onboard the Harriet II riverboat.

ML: You have had some significant milestones in your career. Can you tell us about those?

WT: Some of those significant milestones you are referring to are threefold. They are world, national and local histories. Working backwards, in 2021, I became the first person of color (POC) in the world to operate a tour vessel, the SipnCycle, in the state of Alabama.

I’m also an independent contract captain for the Harriet ll riverboat in Montgomery, Ala. In 2008, I received a government contract from the USDA’s Farm Service Agency to appraise oyster harvesting vessels. This was the first time in the history of this U.S. government department a marine surveyor’s company was used. The purpose was to determine the condition and value of the vessel for collateral for a farm loan.

Also, in 2008, my company received a nominee award for Innovator of the Year from New Orleans CityBusiness.
In February 2000, I graduated from the famous Chapman’s School of Seamanship as the first black American in the world to become a certified marine surveyor from that school during Black History Month. I then established A-Y2K Marine Survey LLC.

A few of my credentials include: USCG 1,600-Ton Mate NC, Captain 200-Ton Uninspected Vessels, Captain 100-Ton Vessels Inspected, Dynamic Positioning Operator, Vessel Security Officer, and Vessel Safety Officer. I also hold an STCW 95 and a Permanent GMDSS Operator Certificate. Other credentials include Licensed and Ordained Minister and a Certificate in Public Theology.

In 1996, I entered and completed a 12-month recovery program because of addiction to mind altering substances. We do recover. I’m always in a substance abuse consortium because I’m an independent contractor in the maritime industry. Currently, I’m on contract to operate four vessels in the state of Alabama. I’m in high demand. I thank our Creator for such opportunities and my team, and I stand ready to help others to get involved, whether they are a POC or not. There is room for everyone. This is diversity.

ML: In your experience, has there been challenges to being a person of color working in maritime?

WT: No, not for me. My credentials make room for me, not my color.


ML: Do you see things changing in the way of diversity in the maritime workforce?

WT: Yes. I see an upward trend in diversity in the maritime industry. Diversity, training, and operational procedures are industry assets, and they increase profits that enhance benefits. There are many in diverse communities that have no idea of the impact working in the maritime industry has on them until they get hired. Many still don’t know that they can break the chains of economical bondage by giving a good day’s work and receiving a great day’s pay plus benefits in the maritime industry.

ML: What do you want people to know most about working in the marine/maritime industry?

WT: I would like to see the increase in diversity continue for all people. It’s great that women and people of color are continuing to reach professional levels in the marine environment and companies that serve the maritime industry. However, many of those not in the maritime industry are not aware that they can have a future with this industry. Recruitment is vital.

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