We continue to get emails concerning USCG issued Captain’s Licenses. Some of these inquiries pose the question, do I need one, while others are curious as to what it takes to get one.
Do I need one? A Captain’s license is only required if you are taking passengers for hire. Section 2101 of title 46, (21a) of the United States Code defines passenger for hire as follows:
A “passenger for hire” means a passenger for whom consideration is contributed as a condition of carriage on the vessel, whether directly or indirectly flowing to the owner, charterer, operator, agent, or any other person having an interest in the vessel.
Section 2101 of title 46 (5a) defines “consideration” as an economic benefit, inducement, right, or profit including pecuniary (fancy attorney word for money) payment accruing to an individual, person, or entity, but not including a voluntary sharing of the actual expenses of the voyage, by monetary contribution or donation of fuel, food, beverage, or other supplies.” Additionally, employees or business clients that have not contributed for their carriage, and are carried for morale or entertainment purposes, are not considered as an exchange of consideration.
Bottom line: If you are a recreational boater, you are allowed to share expenses for a day on the water. Just don’t make payment mandatory if someone wants a boat ride.
How do I get one?
This question takes me back to the time 20 years ago when I sat for my first Captain’s License. I went to the Miami Regional Examination Center (REC) for the testing. As I recall there were approximately 25 people who showed up at 0800 to “get” their Captain’s license. Some of these people had been boating for years and thought the process would be simple. Some didn’t even know that there would be testing involved. At the end of the testing period there were only 4 people who completed all the testing modules. Of those only 2 passed, one of those was me.
The Coast Guard doesn’t require boat ownership as a prerequisite for a license, but they do require that applicants document at least 360 days of sea service on the water for an entry-level, or Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) formerly known as the “6-pack,” license. A “day” would be a trip of at least four hours. Of the 360 required days, 90 must have been within the last three years. If you do own a boat you can self document the time spent on that boat.
With the exception of the OUPV, all applicants must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years old. They must have current first aid and CPR certificates and either be enrolled in an approved random drug testing program or have recently passed a chemical drug test. Applicants must also see a doctor for a physical exam and have a Transportation Workers Identification Credential before they will qualify for a license. Higher-grade licenses have additional requirements, but those are the primary qualifications and hoops someone must jump through before they can get a basic Captain’s license.
To qualify for a license applicants must also pass a written battery of Coast Guard exam modules testing their knowledge and understanding of rules and regulations, first aid, navigation, boat handling, weather, marlinespike, and a whole list of other topics on general seamanship. Usually taking four to five hours to complete, the exam modules are not easy but they are certainly effective at weeding out people who haven’t learned what the Coast Guard feels they should know.
Even though someone with decades of experience on the water might get upset that the Coast Guard doesn’t make it easier for them to get a license, I’m sure most would agree that, if only for public safety, the bar needs to be kept high. The experience of owning a boat and running it to and from the local fishing grounds is a good start, but it doesn’t necessarily mean someone has what it takes to safely take inexperienced passengers out on the water where so many things can go wrong.
For additional information on USCG Licensing visit the USCG National Maritime Center for requirements for the various levels of license, applications and further instructions.