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5 Different Types of Captain Licenses

An old but veteran Naval Captain sightseeing the sea while holding the steering wheel of his ship.

Once, Sabrina, the MIT-trained boat engineer, had replaced the Family Jewels’ boat battery and steering system, and given the vessel a thorough and satisfactory service, I finally was able to take it into open waters and do a spot of fishing.

It was while out on one such occasion, that, to my surprise, I found a vessel belonging to the U.S. Coast Guard coming alongside the Family Jewels. Annoyed that they were chasing all my fish away, but also hoping that they had stopped only to ask for directions and nothing more, I forced a smile and approached them. 

After requesting permission to come aboard, one of the guards boarded the Family Jewels and approached me.

“Nice boat you got here, sir!” commented the Guard before proceeding to ask for the boat’s registration and insurance. Thanking my lucky stars, I had remembered them, and I promptly handed the documentation over.

“Sir, are you the owner and captain of this here boat?” enquired the Guard, as he flipped through the documents I had just handed.

“Yes, yes, I do believe I am officer. Why, is anything the matter?” I responded, a little unsure whether that was the right answer.

“Good, so do you mind showing me your Captain’s Licence then, sir?” commanded the  burly Guard, his eye on my fishing gear

“Captain’s Licence! What’s that? I didn’t know it existed! May you tell me more about them, please, officer?”

And that’s exactly what the Coast Guard dived into, as the Family Jewels rocked to and fro on the calm blue ocean. 

For Your Information (FYI), since you are boating fishing in these here waters, a Captain’s License is……

A man navigating his own small fishing motor boat in heading towards Monument Island.

Operators/boaters and, to some extent, fishermen need a license for both boats and catch fish in the ocean and also in fresh waters.

The Captain’s License is a certificate that proves an operator/boater has completed a course and has passed the exams. You need to be at least 18 years old to apply for this license, pass a vision and hearing test, as well as a written examination.

To obtain a captain’s license, you’ll need to complete an appropriate USCG-approved captain’s course. The USCG does not host courses or proctor exams. It only provides a listing of approved course providers and approved courses on its National Maritime Center (NMC) website.

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The type, of course, you are required to take depends upon the type of boat captain’s license for which you are applying. Classes may be offered online or at a training facility.

In the approved course NMC online database, you can select the type of endorsement you seek for a listing of appropriate approved courses. The cost will depend on the type of license and, if not online, where the applicant lives.

A captain’s license is usually good for up to three-plus years. But normally, the license lasts for 5 years. However, if you’re over the age of 65, you’ll need to renew it every 2 years.

Once you pass the requirements of the tests, the Captain’s License will be issued by the U.S. Coast Guard. Initially, the Coast Guard will issue a Temporary Merchant Mariner’s Document to you the applicant while you wait for your license to be processed.

With a Captain’s License in your pocket, you’ll be able to safely and legally operate your boat, yacht, or ship. That is, you’ll be able to captain your vessel, from small powerboats to a luxury yacht

It is the license that you need to prove that you’re capable of taking charge of a boat and its crew. The captain’s license is a boat driver’s license for vessels that have a gross weight of at least 25 tons.

And what types of Captain’s Licenses are there?

There are FIVE types of Captain’s License. Of these, TWO are the most common captain’s licenses. These licenses are split between those who have a sailing or power boat starting from 25 Tons to about 100 Gross Tons.

Secondly, those who are in charge of commercial, larger, more expensive vessels, and the largest amount of responsibility for their ship.

This captain’s license is one of the most important licenses that someone can get because it can lead to a very rewarding maritime career. It allows its holder to take command of any ship that they are licensed to captain.

The uninspected passenger vessel operator-

1. OUPV Inland (6 PAK) Captain’s License

Explorer Guide Maritime on how to attain a 1. OUPV Inland (6 PAK) Captain's License.

 This is for the captain/operator of a small vessel weighing up to 100 Gross Tons. Operator/captain requirements and authorizations are that s/he:

  • must be aged at least 18 years and above
  • must be a US citizen when operating a documented vessel for hire over 5 net tons.
  • can be a non-U.S. citizen if you operate a vessel of less than 5 net tons, around 26ft
  • be in possession of a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC Card)
  • carry a maximum of 6 paying passengers plus crew
  • Operating within the US Coast Guard dedicated boundary lines
  • Time is not required outside the US Coast Guard dedicated boundary lines to obtain the license.

2. The similar but different uninspected passenger vessel Operator -OUPV Near Coastal (6 PAK) Captain’s License

This is also for the captain/operator of a small vessel weighing up to 100 Gross Tons. Operator/captain requirements and authorizations are:

  • must be aged at least 18 years and above
  • and must be a US citizen when operating a documented vessel for hire over 5 net tons.
  • can be a non-U.S. citizen if you operate a vessel of less than 5 net tons, around 26ft
  • be in possession of a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC Card)
  • carry a maximum of 6 paying passengers plus crew
  • Operate vessels inland and up to 100 miles offshore
  • STCW training could be required when operating in international waters and traveling to international ports.
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3. The 25, 50, OR 100 GROSS TONS  Master Inland Captain’s License

An example of 25, 50, OR 100 GROSS TONS  Master Inland Captain's License for the US Merchant Marine Officer..

 A licensed captain holding this license is often required for deliveries and relocations by insurance companies. This is also for the captain/operator of a small vessel weighing up to 100 Gross Tons. Operator/captain requirements and authorizations are that s/he:

  • must be a US citizen to obtain and hold a Master’s license
  • must be a minimum of 19 years of age to be an operator
  • be in possession of a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC Card)
  • Operating vessels are permitted to carry more than 6 passengers with the maximum number of passengers regulated by the vessel certificate of inspection.
  • Based on experience, the US Coast Guard assigns the tonnage rating
  • The vessel must be operated within the US Coast Guard dedicated boundary lines.
  • Time is not required outside the US Coast Guard dedicated boundary lines to obtain a license.
  • STCW training could be required when operating in international waters and traveling to international ports.

4. Yet another 25, 50, OR 100 GROSS TON  /  OUPV Endorsement Master Inland Captain’s License

Within the OUPV portion of this Master Inland Captain’s license, your vessel is good for up to 100 gross tons. This is also for the captain/operator of a small vessel weighing up to 100 Gross Tons. Operator/captain requirements and authorizations are that:

  • must be a minimum of 19 years of age to be an operator
  • must be a US citizen to obtain and hold a Master’s license
  • Vessels are permitted to carry more than 6 passengers with the maximum number of passengers regulated by the vessel certificate of inspection.
  • Based on your operation of the similar vessels you’ve operated in the past three years
  • The US Coast Guard assigns the tonnage rating
  • The vessel must be operated within the US Coast Guard dedicated boundary lines.
  • Within the authorization of OUPV endorsement, uninspected vessels can be operated up to 100 miles from shore.
  • A UPV vessel can carry up to 6 paying passengers and a crew
  • A licensed captain is often required for deliveries and relocations by the insurance companies.
  • STCW training could be required when operating in international waters and traveling to international ports.
  • be in possession of a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC Card)

5. Last but not least, the 25, 50, OR 100 GROSS TON  /  Master Near Coastal Endorsement Master Inland Captain’s License

A ship captain and an assistant captain on the navigating room of a ship discussing about the status of their coordinates.

 This is also for the captain/operator of a small vessel weighing up to 100 Gross Tons. Operator/captain  requirements and authorizations are that:

  • must be a minimum of 19 years of age to be an operator
  • must be a US citizen to obtain and hold a Master’s license
  • be in possession of a Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC Card)
  • carry more than 6  passengers with the maximum number of passengers regulated by the vessel certificate of inspection.
  • Operate vessels inland and up to 100 miles offshore
  • STCW training could be required when operating in international waters and traveling to international ports.
  • Hold the same authority as the Master Inland / OUPV
  • allows the operator to act as a mate on inspected vessels up to 200 miles offshore.
  • and also allows the holder to operate uninspected vessels up to 200 miles offshore.
  • Master Near Coastal 25, 50, or 100 Gross Ton
  • Based on experience, the US Coast Guard assigns the tonnage rating
  • A licensed captain is often required for deliveries and relocations by insurance companies.
  • Both inspected and uninspected vessels can be operated inland and up to 200 miles offshore.
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…and which type of captain’s license do you recommend I require or get? As a….. Recreational boater just out to have some fun?

Although it is always recommended that you seek the highest level license that you can qualify for. Options will depend on your age, vessel, your purpose for your vessel, citizenship status, and boating experience.

Most recreational boaters, like you, often opt for the OUPV captain’s license. Also known as the Six-Pak or Pack, as some would like to call it. This license is not required for recreational boaters, but simply for boaters with no intention of operating a commercial vessel.

The OUPV captain’s license allows you to brush up on safety and navigational skills. You can also go for your Master captain’s license as a recreational boater, and you can get this license without first holding an OUPV/Six-pack license.

Charter boat Captain on the lookout for chatty charter customers….

A charter boat named Viking Star with passengers and the captain sightseeing the sea.

If you want to work as the captain of a charter boat with more than six passengers, a Master license is required. As a captain of a charter boat with six or fewer paying passengers, you need an OUPV/Six-pack captain’s license at most.

A terrific Tour boat captain

For you to be a tour boat captain, you first need to acquire a USCG-approved captain’s license before you can work as the captain of a commercial tour boat.

For small tours with up to six paying passengers, the OUPV/Six-pack license is sufficient. However, for tours with more than seven or more passengers, you will need a Master captain’s license.

A simple Sailboat captain

A simple young man is a sailboat captain wearing orange longsleeves navigating his sailboat through the steering wheel.

To be able to sail your sailboat OUPV/Six-pack license is good for both power and sail. However, if it is to have seven or more paying passengers, then the  Master level captain’s license with a sailing endorsement is required.

Rather than just coming straight out and telling the Coast Guard that I didn’t have a captain’s license, I asked him for some captain licenses  FAQs.

Captain’s Licenses Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) 

Do you need a captain’s license to be a fishing guide?

Yes, if you want to be the captain of a fishing boat with paying passengers, you need a USCG captain’s license. To be a fishing guide for up to six passengers, you can obtain an OUPV/Six-pack captain’s license. To be the captain of a ship with more than six paying passengers, you will necessarily need a Master’s license. 

How best can I learn navigation skills?

Taking a captain’s license course is the best way to learn navigational skills. A course for the OUPV/Six-pack license covers all the basics you need to know! The navigational information in the course encompasses piloting dead reckoning (DR), and electronic navigation.

Mariners Learning System’s lessons include tons of material about navigating at sea, whether you need a license to operate a commercial vessel or want to increase your knowledge.

How much does it cost to get a captain’s license?

The most popular captain’s license course, the OUPV/Six-pack course, costs $600.00 for a deluxe edition. The Deluxe Master Captain’s License course costs $700.00