Things to Consider Before Getting a Captain’s License.

7 Things to Consider Before Getting a Captain’s License

Written by Diane Byrne
June 29, 2023

Last Updated on June 29, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

Mastering your boat is one thing, but formally being a master of a vessel is another. This worthwhile accomplishment comes with exacting but fair requirements.

If you’re 18 or older, you can obtain one of the most respected credentials available for boaters, a captain’s license. Not only does it ensure you know a lot about safety, but it also lets you operate higher-volume, large yachts.

Additionally, it opens up the opportunity to take paying passengers out on cruises. Whatever your reasoning, you’ll need some strong sea time under your belt, plus meet further qualifications. Here are seven items to consider before getting a captain’s license:

  1. Deciding which license is appropriate
  2. Document the minimum days’ requirement
  3. Boost up on health
  4. The drug test
  5. Complete first-aid training and CPR
  6. Prep makes perfect
  7. License expiration & continued learning

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Sailboat captain.

1. Decide which license is appropriate

The U.S. Coast Guard issues captain’s licenses. They fall into two primary categories, OUPV and Master. Since a Master’s license is for a well-experienced boater, the OUPV likely suits most of you. It stands for Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel.

Also commonly called a “Six Pack” license, it lets you take out up to six paying passengers and crew. Additionally, three different OUPV licenses are available: Inland License, Great Lakes & Inland License, and Near Coastal. Inland refers to all inland rivers and bays.

The second includes those waters as well as the Great Lakes. Near Coastal, meanwhile, means waters no more than 200 miles offshore. All three require you to have at least 360 days of documented deck service aboard boats.

Furthermore, 90 of the days must be within the past three years, on boats within those specific waters, too.

2. Document the minimum days’ requirement

To get a captain’s license, you also need proof that you’ve served time at the wheel or worked aboard. The Coast Guard provides a form, CG-719S, for this purpose. If you own a boat, you can document your days.

Otherwise, have the captain or owner of the boat upon which you work fill it out. Either way, four hours underway in one day aboard a boat of less than 100 gross tons qualifies as one day.

Working on a boat.

3. Boost up on health

Boating is as much about safety as it is about fun. Therefore, the Coast Guard requires passing a physical within 12 months before applying for your license.

4. The drug test

It doesn’t matter if you live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal. Neither does it matter if you have a prescription for medical marijuana. Since it’s illegal at the federal level, you won’t get a license if you test positive.

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5. Complete first-aid training & CPR courses

You must submit documented proof of taking these within a year before applying. The Coast Guard provides a list of approved programs. Ones from Red Cross, for example, meet the requirements. Maritime-training schools often do as well.

Steering boat wheel.

6. Prep makes perfect

Submitting all the above-mentioned documents is just the first step. Obtaining a captain’s license ultimately requires sitting for a written exam. The test covers the Rules of the Road, environmental responsibilities, captain’s responsibilities, and more. Thankfully, study courses and practice tests are available from reputable sources, including maritime-training schools.

7. Expiration date & continued learning

Like other licenses, once you get a captain’s license, it must be renewed. In this case, the period is every five years. Although you won’t need to take a written exam, you do need to fill out a renewal form, plus undergo a physical and take an approved drug test.

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