3rd Mate Chart Test Scores… ‘The Rest of the Story’

This is from a reader in response to the article last Thursday on really bad 3rd Mate chart test numbers, really giving some more details as to the “why.” The [brackets] are redactions for privacy.

I can’t help myself but weigh in here. This is my wheelhouse literally. I am captain of a tug boat and a graduate of [one of the six maritime colleges].

The rumor is that USCG decided to change up the chart plot (one of seven exam sections) because they found out that cadets were memorizing the answers. All of the test questions are in the public domain. Around 2009 or so they exempted the test questions from the FOIA but the majority of them are older than that.

In the case of the chart plot, you must use a chart that is frozen in time from 1984 commonly known as a training chart. You receive a 10 or 15-question exam based on a position you derive from this chart. So there was no way to randomize the questions because you have to plot all the positions in order.

So as a cadet you only had about 10 or 12 possible exams that you could receive. So it was not that hard to memorize the answers and recall them when you figured out which exam you had.

So someone at the USCG decided to make a new chart plot question. According to people that have seen the question, some actually had it on an exam. The question was done by someone with fat fingers, meaning its not precise. Not nearly as precise as what a cadet would plot. If you get the first position wrong you get all of them wrong.

Its not nearly the first time USCG has put out bogus questions and answers. On my second mate exam coming out of [one of the six maritime colleges] I received a question on the breeches buoy. The last breeches buoy rescue was in the 1930s. The USCG has long since surplussed the equipment. However, the question remains on the exam.

The USCG has repeatedly ignored requests to modernize the exam. They offer a working committee to look at the problem but you have to travel to and lodge in West Virginia at your own expense to participate.

Ironically most of the skills that this chart plot is designed to test is stuff we don’t do anymore. I started on my first cutter in 1987 when we still did navigation the old fashioned way, and most of this stuff was obsolete back then. Heck now the USCG doesn’t even correct their charts anymore. It remains to be seen how long NOAA will continue making paper charts.

Sorry, you had to read all this. I just wanted to give you some industry insight into what was reported in the article.

Keep those cards and letters coming, folks!

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