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Meet the Crew: Matt McFarland, Chief Boatswain

Matt McFarland holding a large fish.

NOAA's professional mariners play a key role in improving our understanding of the ocean and atmosphere. They also bring a mariner's know-how to NOAA's scientific research by directly participating in the operation and handling of scientific gear in the tumultuous ocean environment. Meet Matt McFarland, Chief Boatswain on NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada

What is your role at NOAA and what do you do?

My position is Chief Boatswain aboard NOAA Ship Bell M. Shimada, which is homeported in Newport, Oregon.

I was hired in 2009 as an Able Seaman and worked my way up the ranks through the years. As boatswain my daily duties include training and supervising the deck department, as well as shipboard maintenance and vessel upkeep. I am looked upon to ensure the ship is seaworthy prior to leaving the dock and at sea.

Bell M. Shimada is a Fisheries Survey Vessel and our primary mission is collecting scientific data through means of midwater, surface and bottom trawling. When conducting operations, I am responsible for the safety and efficiency of the crew on deck and the gear we deploy. 

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Gloucester, Massachusetts, which is America’s oldest fishing port. 

Where did you get your training and experience before joining NOAA? 

My journey working on the ocean began when I was about 14. I worked aboard charter fishing/party boats during the summer months and weekends. Later, I worked on boats bottom trawling, lobstering, longlining and rod and reel fishing for giant bluefin.

What inspired you to work for NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations?

NOAA was a great option for me because I knew working on the ocean is where I wanted to be. Declining fish stocks made it harder and harder to make a living fishing commercially, but I wasn’t ready to give up my involvement in the industry.

This career allows me to continue working at sea with a better sense of security, and share my knowledge I’ve acquired through the years to ensure optimal performance of the ship and the scientific operations we conduct.

What was one of your favorite missions or experiences?

One of my favorite missions aboard Shimada is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) project we conduct in the fall on the West Coast.

Its objective is to survey/explore untrawlable (not fishable with a net) habitats. We will send down a ROV into reefs along the coast where it takes live video footage and collects biological samples. The live feed is usually piped up to the ship's TV system so the crew can see what the science team is observing from anywhere onboard (staterooms, lounges, mess deck etc.). I found this to be fascinating as it serves as an alternative means of collecting fisheries data. 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work for NOAA?

Whether you’re new to the maritime industry or a seasoned sailor, NOAA is a great option to further develop your career. There are 15 ships throughout the fleet based all over the coastal United States, so most likely you can find one that regionally works best for you.

Good pay, benefits, training, travel, time off and job security are all perks that have kept me around for 15+ years, along with the fact that I get to pursue a career in the field that I started in at a young age.

What do you like to do outside of work?

When I am away from work I travel a decent amount with my wife and kids up and down the Oregon coast. I enjoy camping and boating/fishing and the Pacific Northwest has a robust offering of both.