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Pittsburgh, PA
Marine electrician
Hello, I'm a fake electrician. I work on commercial steel hull boats. I've done this for about five years. It's something I just kind of fell into.

Before this I did a little bit of residential work. I always tried to do the best job I knew how to. But, I've learned entirely on the job, and marine electric isn't quite the same. Uses different cable, different standards. Very often devices get hull grounds instead of dedicated panel grounds (this scares me)

I've worked on a wide range of equipment, from 480v 3 phase motor control centers to staterooms in floating hotels, from low voltage alarm systems to VFD drives and generators. 90% of what I do is troubleshooting. But that 10% of new installations is starting to grow, and I want to know the best way to do things.

I am constantly faking it. I do the best job I can with the knowledge I have, but I see new things every day. I am frequently humbled.

I would like to learn the best way to do things. Maybe even sit for a test and try and join a union hall, if they'll have me. I am definitely going to buy one of these massive education packages - and a DVD player! But I'm not sure if I should even aim to sit for the exam.
Here are my questions

In Pittsburgh the "Test" is a Pearson Vue F-16 (uses NEC 2014 handbook) or W-16 (uses NEC 2011) handbook.

1. Should I just learn the 2020 code if I plan on sitting for the test?
1.1 How often do cities/municipalities update their code standard to the current NEC?

Both these exams are masters exams, and that's the "entry level" exam, which doesn't really make sense to me, if journeymen exist in the world.
2. How can this be?

3. Do any states have reciprocity between them for licensing? Of course it will be easier to sit for a national exam the second time, but - besides that, does it get any easier?

4. I see on the NFPA website that the 2020 code is available as Code or Handbook. Their price for the handbook is $211. Is there any reason NOT to just buy it on a site where it's half the price?
NFPA purchase
amazon purchase

5. How do I find out if my hours working in shipyards and boats qualifies as "relevant job experience"?

6. If I manage to turn into a real electrician, what's the possibility of joining a local union hall without having to start at the bottom? I have no idea how these things really work - I've been sold the pitch that "you test in at your level and are paid accordingly". It cannot be that easy. I was on an apprenticeship waiting list for two years (and moved three times) in my 20s.

Thank you for reading.

PS I read the evisceration of this guy. No, I don't think I'm qualified to become a master, but that's the only test available here as far as I can tell.
PPS My primary motive is self improvement, my secondary motive is I would love to stop traveling and have regular hours.

tom baker

First Chief Moderator
Staff member
Long post.
I can answer #3
Yes, its different groups of states. OR reciprocates with WA only for journeylevel, and must be graduate of apprenticeship progtam.
#5. In WA you could get one year credit. Don't know about about others.


Senior Member
I have some similarity. I worked on Nuclear Submarines for 10 years before starting on land based electrical work. Theory is theory whether on water or land, the rest is a completely different world. You will find that some very complex things on land are simple for you and you may be far advanced from the average conduit and wire electrician. Other things will make those around you wonder if you were born in a barn :). Most union halls are going to make you start on the bottom. With the lack of help today, try to find a little guy that will hire you as a side job on the weekends. Get your feet wet per se.


Senior Member
Fort Collins, Colorado
Electrician, Contractor, Inspector
The OP is referring to a city issued license from Pittsburgh. That won't recip with any state. It will probably recip with some other cities in PA. PA has no state issued license.
Pittsburgh, PA
Marine electrician
The OP is referring to a city issued license from Pittsburgh. That won't recip with any state. It will probably recip with some other cities in PA. PA has no state issued license.
Thanks, I didn't realize this.. How does PA regulate its electricians if there's no state license???


Senior Member
Being a licensed engineer on ocean going boats pays well. My brother was one. But that is out if you want to stay at home. On the other hand, when you do come home, it is usually for a week or two. You would need to learn a bit about a lot of things but it is heavy on electrical/generators/controls.

The elevator union is strong in many states, has great benefits, and nice pay scale. Again heavy in electrical but you will need to be well rounded in general mechanic skills.

Chiller mechanics get paid well too. Another multidisciplinary field. Expect a lot of overtime.

I work at hospitals. The pay is just okay 20-30 an hour range depending on state. If they require a licensed stationary engineer it could be more. Your bigger plants, like GM/Intel are going to be paying a lot more but the learning curve would be steep.

Personally I would be bored bending conduit and pulling wire. Figuring out why things aren't working is a lot more fun, but potentially a lot more stressful.

James L

Senior Member
Kansas Cty, Mo, USA
#6 testing at your level and being paid accordingly.
Bull crap.

I'm not in PA but I went in with 14 years experience and they offered me 3rd year apprentice at 1/3 less than I was already making.

I wouldn't trust anybody at the hall as far as I could throw them