How Do I Get a Captain's License?

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  • Written By: Lori Kilchermann
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 16 May 2018
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If you want to obtain a captain's license, you will typically be asked to take and pass an exam as well as meet other requirements. In the United States, a captain's license is awarded by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), and other countries commonly have similar licensing agencies. In order to get your captain's license, you will often be required to take several tests administered by the local authority and you must meet certain health and physical requirements. Once you have satisfied all of the prerequisites, you will receive your license.

In many countries, you are not required to posses a captain's license to operate your own boat, regardless of size, unless you plan on using your boat to take paying passengers out on the water. In the United States, many people seeking a captain's license are instead awarded an operator of uninspected passenger vessel (OUPV) license. This OUPV license allows you to charter a vessel with up to six passengers. In order to get the OUPV license, you must be 18 years of age, have a minimum of 360 days of service at sea with no fewer than 90 days at sea occurring in the last year.


Along with written testing, you typically must pass a drug screen, physical and eye exam as well as be fingerprinted and posses a driver's license. You may also be required to provide character references, a first-aid certificate and proof of maritime safety training and bridge teamwork competency training. You may wish to enroll in a captain's license preparation course to assist in your pre-test studies. Many areas also require a prospective captain to possess a radio operator's certificate and a radar-based navigation course certificate in order to obtain the title. Lifesaving skills training and sufficient boat handling and maneuvering training are also common requirements of a potential captain.

The captain's written test may include maritime law, rules of the road while at sea and universal distress code identification. Also potentially included on the test are problems involving shipwrecks, pirate encounters and methods of negotiating a blockade. Basic rules of command, such as crew discipline methods, proper rationing of supplies when in dire straits and proper methods of boarding of a ship while at sea, may also be tested. Once all required data is collected, the materials will often be sent to the local governing authority to be graded and verified. When all of the information has been deemed satisfactory, the captain's license is often mailed to the applicant.



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