Readers may remember that this column/blog began during summer cruise of 2013 from Maine Maritime Academy. It’s only February, but we are already preparing for the summer semester at sea.

Why do we do these summer cruises and internships with cargo ships and tugboats and tankers? Why is so much of our school year devoted to their preparation and presentation?

The first reason is that hands-on experience is ten times as valuable as classroom lecture. One can go on until blue in the face about maneuvering a ship, but until a student gets out there and actually takes command of a vessel, the real value of the learning is lost.

The second reason is that the U.S. Coast Guard requires these sea terms for us to qualify for licenses. Ordinary sailors who start at the bottom must work hundreds upon hundreds of days at sea before they qualify for a mate’s license or an engineer’s license. Because of our combined classroom time and training cruise curriculum, we can accelerate through the process and qualify in only four years with no previous experience.

So what is everyone doing this summer for their sea term?

The fourth-class (the freshmen) are preparing for their first training cruise on the Training Ship State of Maine. This preparation involves drawings of both engine and deck systems, from cooling water to fuel systems to the layout of deck machinery.

It also requires that certain classes receive passing grades; a student who fails Fundamentals of Engineering or Ocean Survival does not have the qualifications to cruise at all. The students who do take the voyage will learn about watch-standing, vessel security, line handling, confined-space entry (such as into a tank), search and rescue and dozens of other subjects that are imperative to the success of any mariner. The juniors (second-class) will accompany them and mentor them in this process, all the while learning more advanced subjects themselves.

The sophomores, or third-class (like myself) will go on “cadet shipping” or “co-op,” which in simple terms is an internship with one shipping company or another. Here we will go into the real world of shipping and learn directly from current professionals, and more importantly, get a real feel for what the industry is like. I asked many of my classmates what they hoped to do this summer:

As we prepare ourselves, we also have to keep on top of the academic semester. All of these ends to keep tied make for a busy schedule, and everyone struggles to find a little time off. But the excitement of the upcoming summer warms us even when that silly Arctic vortex cuts across Maine and deep-freezes everyone in their coats.

Everyone knows that summer is coming!

Midshipman Third Class Benjamin Stevens of Islesford is a sophomore at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.