There are many reasons, professional and personal, to get a United States Coast Guard Captain’s License. In many cases the recreational mariner doesn’t need a USCG license, but would like to have one to improve their sailing resume, cement their knowledge of maritime rules and regulations, and pave the way toward sailing professionally.
For sailing instructors, the USCG license can often be essential. While your ASA training and certification are what prepare you to be an excellent teacher of sailing, most instructors are also legally required to have USCG captain’s license. This is due to strict rules related to carrying passengers, skippering for hire, and the type of boat involved. We created a handy chart to help determine which instructors are required to have a USCG license. In short, if you receive any compensation, if the boat has auxiliary power, and if you’re operating in USCG waters, you MUST have a captain’s license.
Whatever the reason, if you’re interested in getting a license, how do you go about it?
The most common type of license is called the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV). This allows you to operate a vessel of 100 tons or less with as many as 6 paying passengers on board. For that reasons, it’s often referred to as the “6-pack license.”
To get your license, you need two things: time and knowledge.
“Time” means logging experience on the water. This means you need to have a record of your time spent on the water in the type of vessel that fits the license you’re applying for. If you want to be a charter sailboat captain, log your time in a comparably sized sailboat! For the 6-pack license, you need 360 days since your 16th birthday, with a day constituting at least 4 hours on the water. 12 hours or more can be logged as 1.5 days. Time spent on the water with ASA courses or flotillas counts, naturally, and if it’s a liveaboard trip, so much the better!
“Knowledge” refers to the test you must take in order to get your license. Be warned: this test is no walk in the park. Serious study and preparation is needed to pass it, as it will test your knowledge of seamanship, rules and regulations, navigation, and more. Taking a course is highly recommended. Select ASA schools offer USCG classes in addition to ASA curriculum. Check with the schools in your area to see if they do – if not they may be able to make a recommendation, as their instructors probably have USCG licenses!
Getting your USCG captain’s license is not easy, but if you achieve it, along with ASA certification, you will be part of an elite group of sailors with the experience and training to get the most out of the sailing lifestyle. Best of all, everyone will have to call you captain!