Voices of the Bay: Captain Jeffrey MacDonough

An East Providence sailor’s journey to finding his sea legs and inspiring others to do the same


Captain Jeff MacDonough, instructor of nautical science at Northeast Maritime Institute in Fairhaven, Massachusetts, credits Kickemuit Middle School’s Young Mariners program for setting his course for a career on the water. As a middle schooler in Bristol, MacDonough learned how to sail for free at the Herreshoff Marine and Museum, which was a pathway to eventually becoming the head sailing instructor. He graduated from Mount Hope High School in 2014 and attended Roger Williams University to study cyber security for two years, though his love for the sea kept calling him back to the water. Taking a chance on his passion, he enrolled in the Northeast Maritime Institute where, these days, the East Providence resident finds himself on its faculty.


The Voyage: I wasn’t connecting with my classes at RWU. I always kept coming back to wanting to do something on the water. I have a color blindness issue, which prohibited me from pursuing more traditional routes like United States Merchant Marine or Massachusetts Maritime academies. It was at this time I recalled a conversation back when I was at Herreshoff with a captain of a big yacht – I asked how he got his license, and he mentioned Northeast Maritime Institute.


Sea Legs: I had two internships at the Northeast Maritime Institute; one was working 98 days on a 1,000-foot-long ConocoPhillips Polar Tanker based out of Houston carrying over a million barrels of crude oil. I didn’t like the big boats, so for the second internship I stayed close to home working as a deckhand on the Prudence Ferry for a summer. I graduated with my 100-Ton Master and 200-Ton Mates licenses. I was hired and worked for about a year as the captain of Prudence Ferry and then for Sea Tow, which is like AAA for boats. 


Nautical Appeal: I like the ship handling aspects of driving the boats and the camaraderie with the crew. I’ve always been one to shy away from commotion. When you’re out on the water, it’s very peaceful – it’s you, the water, fish. You can see the weather changing on the horizon.


Oh Captain, My Captain: I never thought teaching would be my career path, let alone at a college program. Come December it will be three years. It has been such a reward. We can take someone with zero boating experience – who might not have had the best grades in high school or dropped out of college – and teach them to truly know the material. There are multiple parts to our school; there’s academics but almost half of it is our three tenets to success – honesty, integrity, and hard work. We can shape each student who comes out of Northeast Maritime to make them professional mariners. That is what is so exciting for me.  


Know someone who might be a good fit for Voices of the Bay? Email Nina at YourHomeWithNina@gmail.com


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