VICKSBURG – Deckhand training classes continue this fall on Hinds’ Vicksburg-Warren Campus for people who might be looking for a challenging, yet rewarding career.

Among those making the final cuts toward permanent job placement working on barges on the Mississippi River is Kristin Blackledge, 33, of Vicksburg, who’s making the jump from being in the Coast Guard for nine years to a life on the river.

“I’m looking at it as a way into a long-term career,” Blackledge said. “I want to be a chief engineer and be in the engine room, working on the engines. That’s already my background, from being an aviation maintenance tech in the Coast Guard.”

Blackledge and seven others participated in a deckhand training course that meets 12 hours a day for 7 ½ days, in which students are instructed in every aspect of working on a barge – from throwing and securing a line, operating a johnboat, rigging, among other practical skills. Hands-on sessions are conducted after classroom session. The course ends with a comprehensive written test.

Since its inception in 2014, the course has supplied companies with job-ready workers without interrupting workflow. Deckhands in the industry make in the $20,000 to $30,000 range annually. With successful advancements through the ranks, the earnings potential rises to about $65,000 as trained tankermen.

student tossing a rope

Kristin Blackledge, foreground, tosses a 12-foot mooring rope during deckhand class at Hinds Community College Vicksburg-Warren Campus on July 29, 2019. (Hinds Community College/Tammi Bowles)

student tossing a rope

Austin Nance, 24, of Philadelphia, Miss., tosses a 12-foot mooring during deckhand class at Hinds Community College Vicksburg-Warren Campus on July 29, 2019. (Hinds Community College/Tammi Bowles)

students in deckhand class

Ned Warwick, 20, of Chattanooga, Tenn., tosses a 12-foot mooring rope during deckhand class at Hinds Community College Vicksburg-Warren Campus on July 29, 2019. (Hinds Community College/Tammi Bowles)

“Once they get on the water, they’ll be handling barges carrying in some cases 220,000 pounds of either dry or liquid cargo,” said instructor Dennis Creel. “I’m teaching them everything they’ll see on river and the correct ways to do things.”

Hinds partners with several industries on the class, including Golding Barge, Maritime Services of Louisiana, Yazoo River Towing, Big River Shipbuilders and Magnolia Marine.

“I hope this class excels my career and helps me work my way up,” said Austin Nance, 20, of Philadelphia, Miss., who along with Blackledge passed the final test and hopes to start a career versus just having a job. “I’ve done some work in logging, mechanical, electrical and carpentry. I’m basically a jack of all trades, but now I’m learning a new one. It’s a totally different world once you step out here.”

For information about enrolling in the deckhand training program offered in Vicksburg through Hinds Community College and class dates, contact Marvin Moak, vice president for Hinds’ Vicksburg-Warren Campus, at 601-629-6805.

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