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I was in a similar position a few years ago, although slightly older than you. Speaking from a European perspective here, working in the maritime industry is hard - the working hours are crazy and the money is, well, so so, at least at the beginning... Personally I did that for a few years and then realised that I would be better off doing something else and sail in my free time. In some European countries you can be a professional boat owner (if you can afford that) and rent out your boat for a few months, specially in the summer. You don't get rich but you can make a decent living and - very important for some of us... - be independent, have time to spend with your kids etc...
 

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I am a graduate of the US Merchant Marine Academy (Kings Point), sailed as a engineer on cargo ships after graduating, worked for a engineering firm designing ships for the US Navy and then spent almost 28 years teaching marine engineering at Kings Point. So I think I know something about the maritime academies and work in the commercial marine industry. Some comments:
1. Working on ships is NOTHING like sailing a small sailboat.
2. Pay is good. The maritime academies typically are near the top in surveys of average graduate pay right out of school and after 10 years.
3. Women do well, assuming they adjust to the life. It's not easy.
4. I would not consider going the unlicensed route. Get a license and become an officer.
5. Look at the state academies - New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Texas, California. Easier to get into than Kings Point and a variety of programs, some in the cadet corp, others not.

You first posted almost 2 weeks ago and got lots of good info. No second post. Time to respond to let us know you are not a troll.
 
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