Created by the United States Congress in 1933, National Maritime Day is a holiday that both honors and celebrates the Merchant Marine. (It also commemorates the first steam-powered transoceanic voyage—the American steamship Savannah set sail from the port of Savannah, GA on 1819). What is the Merchant Marine, you ask? Think of it as the understudy to the Navy; it doesn’t get first billing, but it steps in when there’s a crisis and saves the day. Even when things are running smoothly, Merchant Mariners are working quietly behind the scenes to help make certain that the show goes on — and that the U.S.’s imports and exports get where they need to go. Today, the celebration of National Maritime Day has expanded to include the entire maritime industry and domestic waterborne commerce, as well as the brave men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving aboard a Merchant Marine ship. So celebrate these courageous Americans this May 23!
Why We Love National Maritime Day
A. It reflects our identity as a nation
There’s something exciting about the very word “maritime.” Our country was founded by those who risked life and limb during treacherous sea voyages, and it has been defended ever since, during war and peace, by Americans at sea.
B. It celebrates collaboration between civilians and the military
During peacetime, the Merchant Marine uses a variety of seagoing vessels — including ferries, towboats, tugboats, and charter boats — to transport cargo and passengers between nations and within the United States. In addition to supplying goods, the Merchant Marine also provides humanitarian assistance and supplies in support of civilian research projects in far-off locales.
C. It honors lesser known military personnel
The Merchant Marine plays an important role during times of war, as well. It is charged with delivering personnel and material to the military, and its officers can be commissioned as officers of the military by the Department of Defense. Without the Merchant Marine, the military would not function as smoothly as it does.
K-12 teachers can contact the U.S. Propeller Club to find out how their classroom can adopt a ship. That ship’s crew will correspond with the class throughout the year. Students can explore a variety of topics, including geography, history, math, science, transportation, and foreign and domestic trade, through the lens of life aboard a Merchant Marine ship.
2. Attend a commemorative service
If you live within striking distance of a port city, chances are you’ll be able to attend a memorial service or other commemorative event. Bring a picnic and enjoy the soft sea breezes as you learn about the importance of the maritime industry to our nation. You may even be able to tour a ship or speak to people who have served aboard one.
3. Visit a museum
Head to Kings Point, N.Y. to visit the American Merchant Marine Museum, which offers displays related to all things maritime — including the history of the Merchant Marine program, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, and the proud heritage of seafaring Americans.