When the idea of the nautical tourism business first starting coming to life I started researching and realized that the first step in making this dream a possibility would be obtaining a US Coast Guard Captains license. I also found I had to research a lot to find the information I was looking for as it wasn’t all accurate or simple to find. So here is an overview of the most important general information pertaining to the USCG Captains licenses (as of 2015) without getting into too much minutia of all the nitty gritty details of the variety of licenses (as it can be an overwhelming amount of detail), for anyone who may be interested.
The most common license sought for the purpose of charters is the OUPV license- Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels that is commonly referred to as a “six pack”. This license allows the Captain to take up to six paying passengers aboard plus crew and you can do so using the lowest tonnage of 25 tons up to 100 gross tons. (Currently in the USVI under amendments of section 319 in 2015 OUPV license can carry up to 12 passengers under the UK code of practice). These are usually smaller vessels that engage in charter fishing, SCUBA diving, or tour cruises.
The most noteworthy piece of information regarding any Coast Guard license is that you need to have significant time on the water-underway and your experience is proven via signed logs. Most mariners keep a log for this purpose. The log reflects the name, type, and size of the vessel, the date, the water-ways, and are signed by the captain or owner of the vessel.
The waterways that you have experience on are important because they will determine what license you are given per the USCG criteria to include one or more of three options; OUPV Inland, OUPV Great Lakes & Inland, or OUPV Near Coastal licenses. Ninety days of the time reflected needs to be within the past three years and also you must be older than 15 years of age at the time. You do not need to be operating the vessel though. You can be a deckhand or a mate on the vessel but you need to have spent the equivalent of 360 days on the water prior to qualifying for that portion of the prerequisites for a Captains license. One day means at least 4 hours underway. If you own a vessel (over 17′) and have the title or proof of ownership, you may sign your own logs for history of your time on the water.
The size of the vessel will determine the tonnage that your USCG license qualifies for; a 25 ton, 50 ton, or 100 gross tonnage and greater.
Vessels that are “uninspected” by the USCG don’t undergo the stringent safety inspections and regulations during the building process and after, that are required for vessels to be transporting large groups of people such as a ferry. The vessel must of course abide by all laws and regulations and may be boarded and inspected at anytime by the USCG just doesn’t go through the meticulous and costly list of regulations that a vessel carrying more passengers must go through.
The license for more than 6 passengers (12 in the USVI) requires a Masters license, which requires an additional 360 days (720 day total) minimum of experience on the water. The Masters license has additional training and testing material as well, including more extensive fire training, laws regarding employment of crew, and is overall more extensive.
The other requirements for any USCG Captains license require a Transportation Workers Identification Credential ((TWIC card) which is a background check including finger prints to gain access into US ports), must be at least 18 years old, pass a Physical Examination, DOT drug test, CPR/First Aide certification, three character references, must pass a USCG approved OUPV course (or you may study on your own, register, and test at a USCG Regional Exam Center REC), and then submit a completed USCG Original License Application Package. There are several options for learning the navigation skills and all the material pertaining to the license such as rules of the road, fire fighting, regulations etc. One can take the course in person in night classes, some offer weekends, and some are daytime courses. Or you can use an online program if you are a self motivated learner.
I chose to do the program online and used MARINERS LEARNING SYSTEM.
With the Mariners Learning System program I completed online, you must pass all the online module tests with 90% or higher and register for the test at one of their testing centers in your state. You then go in person to the testing center, prove your identity, bring proof of having passed all the modules, and then sit for the test, which, you have up to four hours to complete and your pass/fail status is given immediately after completing the test. There are four sections for the OUPV license; Navigation General, Plotting, Rules of the Road, and Deck General. Each section of the exam is a different length and could be done in any order you choose. Once you pass the exam your diploma is mailed to you for submission with your Original License Application Package you send into your nearest USCG REC.
You can start out applying directly for the masters license, as well, if you have the necessary time logged, and in addition to the aforementioned tests there’s also an additional test. You can also upgrade your OUPV/”six pack” license to a
masters license at anytime after fulfilling the additional time on the water-underway requirements, taking and passing the masters test, and submitting the necessary documents and fees to the USCG. An additional piece of information regards endorsements that you can add to your license such as towing or sailing endorsements that also require additional experience, criteria, tests and fees. The last piece of important information, apart from the cost, is that you must renew your Captain’s license and TWIC card every 5 years. For a checklist of the necessary requirements and documents for renewal click here.
Cost: OUPV- $1,105
Masters Upgrade Total Cost: $1430.00
USCG approved CPR/First Aide Certification-$55, Physical Exam-$100, DOT 5-Panel Drug tests- $65, TWIC card-$130, Online OUPV Mariners Learning System online course- $595, Masters Upgrade online-$325, Notary for Oath-$20, Original license fee $140.