Times Spent Outdoors: Priceless!

Are You Qualified To Be a Licensed Captain?

You Might Be Surprised!

First of all, who has to have a Captain’s License?

Captain’s licenses are first and foremost required in order to legally carry passengers for hire. They are also a requirement in many commercial, law enforcement, transportation, charter; fishing; sailing instruction; merchant marine, and large yacht vessel operations.

All kinds of new and used boats, yachts and vessels frequently have to be moved around for many reasons, and insurance companies frequently require a licensed Captain to make offshore vessel deliveries, which also adds to the demand for licensed captains.

O.K. - What are the main personal reasons a person would want to earn a Captain’s License?

There are three main personal reasons one strives to become a licensed Captain - Career advancement; maritime education for vessel operation skills and safety; and prestige. Another reason is that having a Captain’s License often can dramatically reduce insurance costs.

Are there different kinds of Captain’s Licenses?

Yes. There are three basic types of Captain’s Licenses – OUPV/6-Pack (Operator of Uninspected Vessel); Master; and Mate – and there are sub-categories within each of those license categories. We will talk about that much more later on.

How old do you have to be to apply for a Captain’s License?

To apply for a U.S. Coast Guard approved OUPV Captain’s License you must be at least 18 years old; for Master or Mate you must be at least 19 years old.

Do you need a lot of vessel experience to qualify to apply for a Captain’s License?

Yes, but let’s talk about that in some depth, because many people look at the “sea time” requirements and rule themselves out as contenders for a Captain’s License because they don’t realize how much applicable experience they actually have.

It is a fact that even to obtain a U.S. Coast Guard approved OUPV Captain’s License you will need to be able to document at least 360 “days” of vessel experience; 90 “days” of which will have to be within the previous 3 year period; and 90 “days” of which will have to have been on near coastal or open ocean waters. Otherwise, your license could be limited to inland waters.

But before you automatically rule yourself out because you don’t think you have the required experience, consider that you may have never have driven, navigated, or captained a vessel and you still might have the required hours of experience.

How can that be? Well, first, depending on the specific license you’re seeking, you can count your experience all the way back to age 18 or 19.

Secondly, it takes only 4 hours of “sea time” to qualify for a “day” of sea time. (You can’t count multiple 4 hour periods at sea on the same physical day as multiple “sea days” though).

The concept here is that one’s experience performing all sorts of deck, operations, and vessel handling duties has added to your personal knowledge of what it takes to be skillful and safe on the water, and so you have an appreciation for the material you would have to learn to be a licensed captain. (Sorry – sipping martinis on that cruise ship voyage and that Windjammer sail in the Caribbean doesn’t count – none of your sea time can be as a paying passenger).

So think hard on this one. Do you now have a recreational boat or yacht or did you drive a recreational boat when you were young? Do you go out often with friends who have vessels and assist with the lines? Are you or were you part of ship’s company at sea during your military service? Are you were you a deck hand for law enforcement; sport fishing; marine transportation, charter vessels; merchant marine, and large yacht vessel operations? It can add up!

In any event, you will need to document your experience for the U.S. Coast Guard on the appropriate forms or via maritime related company letterhead.

O.K. – Did the “sea time” requirements knock you out of the box? If so, is there any reason I should read on?

Yes! Please read on! Even if you are a recreational vessel owner and have no intention of pursuing a Captain’s License, there are some real benefits to enrolling in the educational courses that are the building blocks of a Captain’s course curriculum.

One potential benefit is a reduction in your vessel’s insurance costs. The main benefit is the education and skills in navigation, on-board safety, and knowledge of the rules of the road you’ll receive.

Next, let’s talk about the difference between inspected and uninspected vessels.

This one’s easy. An “uninspected” vessel is one which is not required to be regularly inspected by the U.S. Coast Guard (The U.S Coast Guard Auxiliary will perform free courtesy inspections of uninspected vessels, however).

Uninspected vessels are usually smaller recreational, charter, or fishing vessels, sailing instruction, but regardless of size, they are not allowed to operate with more than 6 passengers for hire. The OUPV Captain’s License is designed specifically for operators of these types of vessels. Examples of OUPV operators include small charter vessels; small fishing vessels; etc.

Inspected vessels are those that were built to USCG commercial passenger standards. These are inspected during the building process and at regular intervals. The USCG determines the number of passengers that can be carried and the “manning” requirements. The Certificate of Inspection will state the License and crew required when the vessel is operated.

Who decides what kind of Captain’s License I can receive?

The U. S. Coast Guard ultimately decides which license you will receive (if any) based on your experience of time at sea, tonnage of vessel, and your areas of operation. You may also be denied for a license if you have certain criminal background.

O.K. – Tell me about the requirements for the Operator of Uninspected Vessel Captain’s License (Commonly referred to as the OUPV/6-Pack license)

To qualify for the OUPV/6-Pack Captain’s License the following requirements apply:

- You must be at least 18 years old and have a minimum 360 “days” experience in the operation of a vessel.

- 90 days of the 360 days must be on Near Coastal waters or the license will be restricted to Inland waters.

- If you’re not a U.S. Citizen the license will be restricted to undocumented uninspected vessels of 5 gross tons or less.

Note: The OUPV/6-Pack Captain’s License is somewhat limited because it is valid for uninspected vessels only. Reputable maritime schools now offer a Captain’s License curriculum which meets the qualifications for both the OUPV and Masters’ License. In other words, why limit yourself to a 6-Pack License if you can have a Masters for the same level of effort and sea service.

O.K. – Tell me about the Master’s Captain’s License

There are two basic types of U.S. Coast Guard Master’s Captain’s licenses – Master’s License Inland, and Master’s License Near Coastal (Out to 200 miles).

For the Master’s Island Inland Captain’s License you must be at least 19 years old and have 360 “days” of experience on “any waters”. As the name implies, this license allows you to operate only in inland waters.

The advantage of the Master Inland Captain’s License is that you can operate inspected vessels (ferries, sport fishing boats, harbor cruises, dinner cruises, tour boats) and carry up to the number of passengers the vessel is certified to carry (COI).

Also, with the Master Inland Captain’s License, you can operate uninspected vessels up to 100 tons (6 passengers or less) for fishing, sailing instruction, harbor cruises, limited tour guides, etc. This is what we were referring to when in the previous paragraph we said that the Master’s Captain’s License also carries all of the privileges of the OUPV/6-Pack License.

For the Master’s License Near Coastal you must be at least 19 years old and have 720 “days” of experience; 360 days of which must be on near coastal waters.

O.K. – Tell me about the Mate License

Similar to the long range aircraft, a second qualified captain is required to be at the controls of a vessel at all times, so the Mate License satisfies that requirement. A Mate is a qualified Licensed Captain just like the Masters Near Coastal except that he/she has 360 “sea days” experience whereas the Master’s Near Coastal requires 720 “sea days” experience.

For the Mate License you must be at least 19 years old and have 360 “days” of experience; 180 days of the 360 days must be on Near Coastal waters or the license will be restricted to Inland waters.

Are there any other U.S. Coast Guard requirements for a Captain’s License I should know about?

Yes – You will need to fill out the necessary application form of course, but you will also need 3 letters of reference; proof of citizenship; and take a drug test or participate in a random drug testing program.

Do I have to be a U.S. Citizen to get a U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s License?

No – U.S. citizenship is not required for undocumented 6-Pack vessels of less than 5 gross tons.

O.K. – I think I’m Qualified! What do I do next?

That’s great! The next thing you should do is to give us a call here at the Maritime Institute at 888-262-8020 and tell us about your experience. One of our qualified staff will interview you and help you decide if you do have the required experience to apply for a Captain’s License. There is no obligation or charge for this service.

Then, if you have the necessary sea time, we hope you’ll enroll in one of the Maritime Institute’s two week Captain’s Courses. Upon successful completion of the course, which includes the U.S. Coast Guard test, your application will be processed by the Coast Guard. As we mentioned earlier, you can apply for any Captain’s License you like, but the U.S. Coast Guard has the final say in which (if any) license you will receive.

One last note. After you take the course and pass the test, you have up to one year to ask the U.S. Coast Guard to process your certificate and issue you a license. So if you are close to having the required “sea time”, you could take the course and have up to a year to accumulate the rest of your required time.

On a similar note, if your are almost old enough to apply for your license, you could for example start the Captain’s Course at age 18 and then wait the year until you are 19 to ask the U.S. Coast Guard to process your certificate and then issue you a license.

U.S. Coast Guard Captain’s Licenses are good for 5 years at which time you will have to renew your license to continue to hold it.


We hope you have benefitted from this document. The Maritime Institute welcomes any comment or input you may have on what you have read.

Our next 2-week Captain’s Course begins on March 4th, 2013 at our San Diego campus, or if you can’t make that one, we teach the course many times a year at many other locations in the U.S.

For complete information about all of our maritime education courses, please visit http://www.MaritimeInstitute.com or email us at info@maritimeinstitute.com.

Thank You! It’s been a pleasure visiting here with you. Call us today at 888-262-8020 to discuss your maritime career, and remember - The key to safe boating is education; so let's get educated!

Best Regards,

Captain H. G. "Rags" Laragione, President and CEO, Maritime Institute


Reader Comments(0)

Rendered 07/18/2024 12:36