Since obtaining his license in 2015, Goldner has gained a wide range of experience piloting boats on both the West and East coasts. He began in the ever-changing conditions of the San Francisco Bay, where he drove large passenger vessels for Hornblower Cruises & Events.
He earned extra responsibilities as a port safety officer and regularly instructed crew on safety procedures, drills and Coast Guard inspections. Next, he traveled to Southeast Alaska to transport tourists to a remote glacier for the summer.
Originally from the Northeast, he returned to the East Coast in 2017 and landed in North Carolina, where he now works operating the passenger ferries for Bald Head Island Transportation. He recently started coursework to obtain his Master of Towing license in order to pilot the island’s tug and barge.
ML: Please tell our readers about your involvement and/or highlights in the maritime industry.
Tom Goldner (TG): I feel very fortunate to have had so many great experiences since I first began working in this industry nine years ago. What began as a summer job for a small water tour company in Key West, Fla., has evolved into piloting passenger ferries and apprenticing on the busiest tug and barge operation in North Carolina.
Along the way, I’ve worked on dinner and event cruises, a glacier excursion tour boat, an ash scattering and funeral service boat, a water taxi, boat deliveries along the Pacific Coast, and I just recently obtained my 200-ton license.
Of all the experiences I’ve had in this industry, the ones that stand out most are my time operating on the San Francisco Bay and in Southeast Alaska. Both locations allowed me to pilot boats in challenging, yet beautiful conditions and I am grateful for the experience.
ML: What are some of the biggest challenges for the new and next generation in the ferry and passenger vessel industry, and how have you responded to them?
TG: In my opinion, the biggest challenge is the lack of jobs that afford you the cost of living in the coastal areas in which they operate. There are few high paying positions, and they have a very slow turnover.
The majority of positions available pay a much lower wage leading to greater turnover rates and provide little incentive to enter the industry. I’m grateful that Bald Head Island Transportation Inc. has worked hard to provide a clear pathway for career development for those joining the ferry service team.
I’ve also learned it can be difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance, especially if you have a family. Many maritime positions operate over nights, holidays and weekends or require employees to be at sea for weeks at a time. I’ve tried to gain as much training, seniority and experience to better position myself to get a more favorable schedule, but it is still a moving target for me.
Making a Career Choice
ML: How did you obtain your license, and what made you decide on this career?
TG: I gained most of my sea time working on 100-ton vessels that provide dinner and event cruises on the San Francisco Bay. I didn’t grow up in a family of mariners, so I never thought of this as a career when I was young.
After the startup that I was working for in San Francisco was bought out and laid everyone off, I took a part-time job doing the event cruises. With the help of some inspiring captains and their encouragement, I realized how fulfilling a career on the water could be.
Working on a Vessel Vs. Shoreside
ML: Do you prefer hands-on work aboard a vessel or a more shoreside part of the industry?
TG: At this point, I prefer the more hands-on work aboard vessels. I feel the most fulfilled meeting the challenges that arise from piloting boats and continuing to improve my skills as a captain. Working onboard also takes you to amazing environments that you otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to experience. I do believe it is important to participate in shoreside operations, though, and by doing so, it can make you a better boat operator.
Maritime—An Attractive Career
ML: What makes the maritime industry an attractive career for the NNG?
TG: The marine industry offers a diverse range of positions all around the world, and there truly is something for everyone. With the reliance on a global industry of shipping goods, procuring natural resources and transportation, boats have become an integral part of the world economy and offer job stability and growth. The work environment can be challenging and rewarding.
ML: What is the most valuable piece of knowledge you have learned from your experiences so far?
TG: A captain once told me, “I know a lot, but I don’t presume to know all the answers.” He taught me that you should never stop learning or trying to improve. It doesn’t matter if you have 25 years of experience like he did or you have two. The biggest mistake a captain can make is to become complacent. I think anyone who can recognize this will undoubtedly be successful in their maritime career.