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On the Job

He wrote the book on naval rules and regulations

Captain Joseph S. Murphy, an instructor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, is seen as an expert on US Coast Guard licensure exams, based on a lifetime of navigating on tankers and carriers.
Captain Joseph S. Murphy, an instructor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, is seen as an expert on US Coast Guard licensure exams, based on a lifetime of navigating on tankers and carriers.(Paul Drake for The Boston Globe)

In the maritime world, he’s the epitome of a big fish.

At a recent seafaring seminar, Captain Joseph S. Murphy was besieged by sailors wanting his autograph. After all, Murphy literally wrote the book that is a deck officer guide to naval rules and regulations.

Murphy, an instructor at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, is seen as an expert on US Coast Guard licensure exams, based on a lifetime of navigating on tankers and carriers. Murphy has laid his anchor in Buzzards Bay now, but he’s passing on his love for the ocean to thousands of cadets.

“I wanted to come ashore and give back to young folks getting ready to go to sea,” said Murphy, also an academy alumnus. He spoke with Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene about life at the bayside academy.

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“Waking up the next day in a different port somewhere else in the world. This was the reason students like me came to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy. Today, it’s the allure of high-paying jobs. The emphasis has changed, but our school’s unique education model remains the same.

“The regiment of cadets is a critical component; it’s often referred to as the ‘leadership simulator.’ Freshmen at the bottom of the pile work their way up the ranks till they become officers that run the unit. The regimen is not designed to make or break a person but to teach them how to give and take orders.

“Many students decide to leave school after the first month because they didn’t realize what the demands would be. Cadets learn the chain of command, how to wear the proper uniform, the importance of timeliness. These are all things that employers around the world recognize and value; that’s why our graduates are so heavily recruited.

“Students learn about marine transportation, engineering, international maritime business, and other specialities. It’s not just knowledge and understanding but demonstration of skills on training ships.

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“Can you issue a rudder command and execute it properly? Do you have the understanding of the principles of stability and trim? Can you compute the stability of the vessel in various conditions of loading?

“I myself was the master of a 125-thousand-cubic-meter LNG ship. But after years of oceangoing experience, I’ve spent the last few decades here at the academy; I wrote my books based on years of extensive experience. Now I look out my office window at the waterfront and still feel a commune with the ocean.

“And when the sun sets? In all the years I’ve gone to sea, when the sun goes down, everyone on the boat just stops and watches.”


Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy.atoji@gmail.com.