The Massachusetts Maritime Academy: A Family Tradition for Paducah’s Vlach Brothers

by | Nov 30, 2023 | People

Paducah Life | The Massachusetts Maritime Academy: A Family Tradition for Paducah’s Vlach Brothers

Not one, not two, but three brothers from Paducah are making the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, one of the most prestigious maritime institutes in the country, a family tradition rooted in discipline, leadership, and knowledge.

In August 2023 twin brothers Owen and Ryder Vlach joined their older brother, Hunter, second class cadet now in his third year, as cadet candidates at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

Located on Taylor’s Point in Buzzard’s Bay near Cape Cod in southeast Massachusetts, the Academy is surrounded on three sides by water. The public university, established in 1891, is focused on maritime-related fields and is the second oldest of six state maritime academies in the United States.

 Josef, father of the Vlach brothers, has worked over 28 years in the industry, setting an example and inspiring his sons to follow in his Merchant Mariner footsteps. All his jobs have been based out of Paducah, and he is currently Vice President of Compliance and Emergency Management at James Marine.

“From the time I could work, I’ve been helping my dad on the river, and I fell in love with it,” says Hunter, McCracken County High School class of 2021.

Now a junior, he is majoring in marine engineering preparing to sail “blue water” on larger ocean-going vessels like tankers and container ships that can handle the open ocean. Upon graduation he will earn his Bachelor of Science and U.S. Coast Guard license, becoming an assistant engineer licensed for Unlimited HP/Unlimited tonnage in motors, internal combustion, gas turbine, and steam turbine operations and propulsion.

 When Josef attended an International Work Boat Show near New Orleans in 2020, he visited a Massachusetts Maritime Academy booth and told his oldest son about it. Hunter considered all of the merchant marine academies in the U.S. before narrowing his choices to three – Texas A&M, SUNY, and Massachusetts Maritime – all of which he was accepted to. Since Mass Maritime also offered football, a sport he had played most of his life, he opted to enroll there to play for the Buccaneers as linebacker #38.

 Class of 2023 McCracken County High School graduates Owen and Ryder also attribute their aquatic affection to their father. “We learned a lot from him and saw him advance in his career, and we look forward to having endless opportunities for growth in the industry like he has,” said Ryder.” Owen added, “And with the Academy’s success rate, we will be able to do just about anything.” Besides the availability of well-paying jobs in this field, Owen says there is “no denying that transportation by water will never die, and that was one of the reasons I chose the Massachusetts Academy.” The school has a rate of 85% career placement within 90 days of graduation (non-licensed graduates), and 100% employment for those who are licensed.

 Ryder will study international maritime business, planning to earn his master’s degree and prepare for a shore- side management position in the industry, while Owen will be going into marine transportation, a more hands-on area, like his older brother Hunter. Owen will pilot boats and focus on navigation, whereas Hunter will work in the engineering department on the systems industry side.

 The brothers selected the school because of its mix of academics and hands-on learning for their majors.

“That’s one of the best things,” Ryder commented. “The three different majors we have chosen incorporate a combination of all aspects of the field. We all would like to come back to Paducah at some point and hopefully work with our dad to contribute to the industry in our home town. With the combined knowledge of the four of us, we can start a business if we want, or we could basically do anything– the options and opportunities are endless.”


The Academy is truly a brotherhood/sisterhood, Hunter explains. “It’s heavily based on discipline. Time management is everything,” he said, “and they preach it from day one as soon as you step on campus.” On a typical day at Massachusetts Maritime, underclassmen wake up at 0530 (5:30 am) to prepare for room inspections. Beds must be made, all clothes folded, no dust present, uniforms ironed and hung with perfect creases, clothing in drawers folded nice and neatly, and students must meet all grooming standards. Morning formation begins at 0700 to gather accountability, make sure the cadettes are awake, on time, and dressed in the uniform of the day. Classes run 0800 to 1600 hours, and football practice begins at 1630 and goes on until dinner. Study hours are from 2000 to 2200 at which time “Taps” is played to say goodnight. Cadettes go back to their rooms and get ready for the next day when it all begins again.

 Weekends are structured differently. For freshmen, “liberty” (time off) starts after their last class on Friday until 1700 hours Sunday night. Upperclassmen have liberty from Friday until Monday at 0700 for morning formation. The majority of students are from around the area and are able to visit home on the weekends. The Vlachs, however, being 20 hours from home, can’t often do that. Hunter has enjoyed accompanying his buddies who live closer to the school. “Everyone has taken me in and I have a lot of respect for my teammates,” he said. “They have included me and made me feel welcome and at home.” He has no doubt Owen and Ryder will experience the same thing with their class’s cadette camaraderie.

 As freshmen, the twins will be required to reside on the floor of their respective company. They are permitted there, the dining hall, and in certain stairwells only. Though the three brothers will be separated during the weekdays, they will reunite on the weekends with Hunter.

 Proud mother Brandi Vlach, although sad that her boys are far away, rests easy knowing they are all together and there for each other. “I am very excited about the opportunities they will have and the things they will learn,” she said. “I couldn’t ask for a better place for them to be.”


“All you have to do is take a leap,” Hunter added. “In four years, you’ll be out to help your community. Paducah is a major river hub, and the industry is so important to our community and can do so much for you. I would like to bring my experience back home to help my community.”



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