Yes, You Can Call Me “Captain!”

Author: USCG OUPV Captain Emory Heisler – 

Sure, we throw the word “Captain” around a little loosely in the boating community.  I mean, one way to achieve the title of “Captain” is to buy a boat, invite some friends aboard and declare yourself “Captain.” Aye! Aye! Captain!  If you’re reading this blog you’ve probably already done that a time or two. But we’re not talking about that usage here. We’re talking about being a LICENSED Captain. A very competent sailor.


So why become a licensed Captain? Sometimes it’s as simple as a being a way to increase and validate your boating competency.  But most often it’s because you want to get PAID TO SAIL!

Want to drive a small charter boat or teach sailing on the ocean or a bay of the ocean (on waters under USCG Jurisdiction-see 33 CFR 2)?  If so then you will probably need a license through the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Whatever your reason, if you’re thinking about getting a USCG license it’s interesting to note that you don’t have to actually have prove that you can even drive, sail, or dock a boat. It’s all a documentation and testing process.  The detailed requirements are pretty lengthy, but the major effort is in these two areas:

  1. Sea Service Time Documentation:  Properly signed Sea Service forms are often the most difficult hurdle for this requirement.  Imagine getting a signed form for every vessel you were on since you turned 16, or however far back you need to go to document 360 Sea Service days.  This is why some folks say, “never mind.”
  2. Examinations: Ads for USCG Captains License Exam Prep courses are all over the internet, for prices ranging from about $400 to over $1200.  For the OUPV license the USCG requires you pass examination tests in these four areas of seamanship with 90%+ score for Rules of the Road and 70%+ for the others:
  • Rules Of The Road
  • Deck General
  • Navigation
  • Chart Plotting

For many sailors the “entry level” USCG Captains license is the OUPV-Operator Uninspected Passenger Vessel (i.e. 6-pack):  This license only requires 360 Sea Service days for the “Inland Lakes/Near Shore” version, with 90 of those 360 “outside the boundary” for the “Near Coastal” version.  The OUPV allows the holder to serve as Captain for hire on uninspected vessels up to 100 gross tons (up to about 75-90 feet long).  That probably covers 99% of the vessels most of us will ever board. The OUPV license is also limited to vessels carrying up to 6 paying passengers plus crew, thus the nickname “6-pack”.

So, are you longing to be called Captain?  Buy your boat and make your declaration! Or if you want to get paid to be called Captain, you’ve probably got some paperwork to start collecting.  

First step, start logging your sailing time for entry on your Sea Service forms:  Vessel Name, Registration No., LOA, Beam, Draft, Date(s) aboard.  Location (i.e. Lakes / Shoreward, Seaward of “the boundary”, or Great Lakes).  With that information you’ll be able to start tallying you your Sea Service time, making plans for how to get to 360 total so you can be called CAPTAIN!

For more information see USCG Auxilliary or Google “USCG Captains License” and you’ll get more than an ear/eye full!

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