The Rev. Mark Nestlehutt, president and executive director of the Seamen’s Church Institute, speaks at the Inland Marine Expo.

Young Leaders Called To Embrace Challenge, Adventure Of Industry

To wrap up the 10th annual Inland Marine Expo (IMX), held this year in Nashville, Tenn., Rev. Mark Nestlehutt, president and executive director of the Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI), called those in attendance—particularly young leaders chosen for this year’s 40 Under 40 awards—to embrace the challenge and adventure of a career in the maritime industry, and to do so with excellence.

The call to the maritime life has always held a certain mystery, wonder and danger. From early circumnavigators like Sir Francis Drake to authors like Joseph Conrad, Herman Melville, Patrick O’Brien, Mark Twain and Joy Jackson, all lived and told of the ups and downs, joys and sorrows of life on the water.

The same remains true today for those working along the inland waterways of the United States.

“For inland mariners, it comes with extended separation from family and friends, long watches, limited sleep and challenges like high water, low water and the occasional hurricane,” Nestlehutt said. “Conversely, the rewards include a good income, extended periods of time at home with family, close relationships with fellow crew and the chance to do something that most people can only dream of doing. And this work, this industry, is one of the things that I believe has made this country great.”

Nestlehutt then referenced “The Accidental Superpower,” a book by Peter Zeihan, who tied the rapid development of the United States and its impact on the rest of the world to its inland waterways, including the Ohio and Mississippi river systems.

“As such, you, those who move the country’s and the world’s commerce on this river system, are what make America great,” Nestlehutt said. “Your labor, your industry, your hard work and intelligence, benefits all of us in this room today. That is what you honorees and others gathered here today give to us.”

Supporting mariners throughout their work on the nation’s ports and waterways is SCI, Nestlehutt said, through its three key missions.

“First, we do pastoral support, mental health support and crisis response, and we serve as chaplains for mariners on board vessels and for shoreside support staff,” Nestlehutt said. “We do this 24/7, 365 days a year.”

SCI chaplains on the inland waterways and Gulf Coast include Tom Rhoades, David Shirk and Christine Brunson, along with a team of chaplain associates.

SCI also has a pair of campuses that make up its Center for Maritime Education, one in Houston and another in Paducah, Ky. Besides training space and simulators at those campuses, SCI also has online learning programs, Nestlehutt said.

“And third, we support mariner advocacy around issues of physical and mental health and suicide awareness and prevention,” he said. “More specifically, we partner with other organizations like Yale Medical School, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Southern Illinois University and others on studies analyzing human factors including occupational health and mental health and wellness. We also work with the U.S. Coast Guard’s MERPAC and MEDMAC bodies to support U.S. mariners, as well as with the International Maritime Organization in London and the International Labor Organization in Geneva to support the wellness of international seafarers.”

Through every interaction, Nestlehutt said he gets a glimpse of the passion people bring to the maritime industry.

“Thank you for the work you have done and continue to do that brought you this recognition,” Nestlehutt said to this year’s 40 Under 40 recipients. “Thank you for choosing to contribute your talent and energy to this amazing industry. And thank you for your part in making this country great and for making sure that all of us have the things we depend upon to support our way of life day in and day out.”

The closing ceremony also featured congratulatory remarks from Patrick Sutton, chief operations officer for American Commercial Barge Line.

Winners of this year’s 40 Under 40 awards were then each recognized for their contribution to the industry thus far in their careers. The award honors people under 40 years of age who have made significant contributions to the inland marine transportation industry and collectively promise to play a big role in shaping its future. The award is open to anyone working on towboats, passenger vessels or other commercial craft, along with shoreside personnel working at ports, terminals, shipyards or fleets. Furthermore, those providing professional services to the maritime industry, such as surveyors, brokers, engineers and consultants also qualify for the award.

For the next 10 weeks, each issue of The Waterways Journal will feature four 40 Under 40 award winners. A full list of 2023 winners is available on the IMX website,

Caption for photo: The Rev. Mark Nestlehutt, president and executive director of the Seamen’s Church Institute, speaks at the Inland Marine Expo.