Captains License - Explorers Guide Maritime Academy

talking about issues effecting captains from oupv 6-pack to masters 100 ton

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There is a lot of misinformation about the USCG requirements for random drug testing for boats used for any type of charter, guiding, etc.

I have been told I was dead wrong. Well lets add a little clarity to the discussion. If you are operating your vessel and charging people to be on the vessel and on federal waters, and are required to have a Merchant Mariners Credential. At this point 46 cfr 16.230 must be followed. It is for both credentialed and non-credential crew (mates)

It starts: 16.230 Random Testing Requirements. 

(b) Marine employers shall establish programs for the chemical testing for dangerous drugs on a random basis of crewmembers on uninspected vessels who:

(1)Are required by law or regulation to hold a license issued by the Coast Guard in order to perform their duties on the vessel;

(2)Perform duties and functions directly related to the safe operation of the vessel;

(3)Perform the duties and functions of patrolmen or watchmen required by this chapter; or,

(4)Are specifically assigned the duties of warning, mustering, assembling, assisting, or controlling the movement of passengers during emergencies.

If you have a mate who is going to help with watch, landing the boat, drive the boat or helps people in an emergency, they need to be part of such a program.

So what? In most cases you may not ever be asked to prove you or your crew are part of such a program. However, if you every have an accident, both the investigating officer and your clients attorney may be asking to prove you were not on drugs or booze when it happened. 

The random is different then the pre-employment drug test needed to get your credentials.

Capt Gary

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We were just informed by Quest Labs of the new US DOT drug testing requirements. These changes help address issues with opiates, designer drug and adulterated specimens.

These changes include:

1) Expanding  the drug test panel to include four Schedule II semi-synthetic opioids: hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone 

According to Quest Labs- “According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), "hydrocodone is the most frequently prescribed opioid in the U.S." Additionally, the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index" data shows that hydrocodone continues to be one of the most detected opiates in the U. S. general workforce. It is commonly known as Vicodin®.

  • Hydromorphone is both a stand-alone drug as well as a metabolite of hydrocodone. It is approximately 8 times more ~ otent than morphine on a per milligram basis. A common brand name is Dilaudid .
  • Oxycodone is a "semi-synthetic narcotic analgesic and historically has been a popular drug of abuse among the narcotic abusing population" according to the DEA. It is commonly known as Oxycontin®.
  • Oxymorphone is both a stand-alone drug and a metabolite of oxycodone. Common trade names are Opana® and Numorphan®.”

If you are on any of these drugs, it is very important to bring you doctor’s prescription with you when doing a drug test. The same for any of the other drugs being tested.

2) Add MDA (methylenedioxyamphetamine) as an initial test analyte.  MDA is short for methylenedioxyamphetamine, an amphetamine-like designer drug.

3) The lower pH cutoff, for both HHS and DOT mandated testing was raised, from 3 to 4 to identify an adulterated specimen on October 1, 2017

A common practice is to buy urine on the black market. When required to do a drug test, tap the sample to the inside of the leg with a hand-warmer attached to maintain proper temperature.

“Collectors at every Quest Diagnostics drug testing collection site are trained and well-versed in the latest DOT policies and procedures.

 These new rules clarified and emphasized that the collector should discard any initial urine collection specimen that was questionable (e.g. due to temperature or suspected tampering) when a shy bladder (the inability to urinate) event develops during the subsequent direct observation collection.”

This is still considered the DOT "5-panel" drug test because there are no new classes, or groups, of drugs. Because all of these drugs are opioids, the test will continue to be referred to as a "5-panel' test.

The other drugs in the “5” panel includes: cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, methamphetamines, and Phencyclidine (PCP).

Due to operational considerations, the laboratory testing for codeine, morphine, hydrocodone,  hydromorphone,  oxycodone,  and oxymorphone will be broken out into three different groups in the reporting.







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People ask me “Why bother to get a captains license? I do not want to be a fishing guide.”

Well there are many other reasons to take the time and cost to get alicense, be it for business or recreation.

So let’s answer this in two parts

First why get it and second, how can I use it.

Why get a captain’s license. Main reason is safety. Captain’s classes cover many of the basic items to ensure mariners are safe on the water. Rules of the Road, navigation procedure, responding to emergencies, understanding aids to navigation, use of publications to stay up to date on their waterways and more. Active captains are part of drug testing program. In many cases, you are able to get boating insurance at a lower rate. Others have a higher level of respect for someone who took the time to get the credentials.

What can I do with a captain’s license? It opens up opportunities for jobs both on federal waters and nonfederal waters. When an opportunity arises, it’s a little late to try to get the needed license. It takes a minimum of eight week’s from the start if you are working with the right school. Otherwise plan on 3 to 6 months to get it.

When operating private boats, most insurance companies will not let you operate it without a captains license. They want someone with the needed experience to minimize risk.

So what opportunities are available? Being a captain is normally not a 9 to 5 job. You work when people need you. Also you work weekends when people want to play on the water.

Opportunities, just to name a few.

Fishing Guide/ Charter Operator; your classic walleye, muskie, salmon, ocean species trip. However, there are others: Teaching people fishing methods for specific species; Mother Daughter/Mother Son trips; Flyfishing for northern pike, fly fishing in Alaska back waters; A growing sport of bow fishing for Asian carp, we have a number of captains doing this full time.

You need to think outside the box.

Small group tours. What is unique in your area that others may find interesting? They may be common to you but interesting to visitors; back waters on intercoastal; pelicans on Green Bay; backwaters on the Mississippi River; personal water craft tours. I am sure you have such areas in your backyard.

Transportation water taxi. While having seven or more people require an inspected vessel, six or less does not. Doing a UBER in your area, running a water taxi.

Working for others: Driving a parasail boat, hydro boarding, custom dive trips, private yacht services.

In summary, there are many opportunities for a person with boating experience and a captains license; such as teens young just out of high school or those nearing retirement or looking for a career change. The opportunities are there if you have your captains license.


Here is a link to a podcast I did on why get a captains license


Fair Seas and  Following Winds.

Capt Gary

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Funding Options with Explorer’s Guide Maritime Academy


Obtaining your initial captain’s license or upgrade can be pricey. First there’s the cost of the training itself, then there’s the other items you need to acquire and pay for, as required by the USCG for your license – such as application fee, TWIC card, physical, drug testing, and first aid/cpr training.


Explorer’s Guide Maritime Academy tries to keep your costs under control. Our classes are priced very competitively compared to many other schools. Instruction, books, supplies, and final exams are all included in the tuition cost. Payment is usually done with a credit or debit card, PayPal, check, or (in some cases) cash. We can’t do anything about the add-on charges for application fee, TWIC card, etc. But we do offer options to assist in paying for your training.

  1. Explorer’s Guide Payment Plan – Deposit down, balance before class start date. You can secure your spot in an upcoming class by enrolling and paying a $100 deposit. The balance of your course fee is due typically one week before the first day of class. That gives you a little bit more time to come up with the funds. (If the class is cancelled due to lack of enrollment, the deposit is refunded).
  2. PayPal Credit – A secure pay-over-time payment plan set up by PayPal. Here’s how it works. You enroll online for one of our classes: Enter in your name, address, etc. Under Payment Options, choose PayPal Payment, check the box “I accept the Terms of service for this event, and Register. You will be transferred over to the PayPal site. If you don’t have a PayPal account, you’ll need to create one. You can then pay your balance in full by the payment due date to avoid any interest charges or just make the minimum payments until you’ve paid off your purchase. Easy-peasy.
  3. VA Funding – In Wisconsin only (Appleton, Milwaukee, Sturgeon Bay classes). Not available for online courses or classes outside of Wisconsin. If you are a Veteran and have GI Bill or Post-911 benefits, you are eligible. As government bureaucracy tends to be on the slow side, please allow yourself time to apply for and acquire this benefit. Don’t choose a class that is starting in less than a month. Seriously.
    1. The First step in the process is to apply for benefits using They will issue a certificate of eligibility (COE). This step typically takes 3-4 weeks, so plan ahead. We absolutely need this document to certify your enrollment for payment.
    2. Second, call Brenda at Explorer’s Guide Maritime Academy (920-733-5500) to enroll and tell her you are using your VA education benefits. A $100 deposit is required to hold your classroom seat until the benefits are approved. When you receive your COE from the VA, send it to Brenda.
    3. Finally, attend the class in Appleton, Milwaukee or Sturgeon Bay.

One final note about enrolling online and paying for your courses: under Payment Options on the Enrollment Sheet, if you choose “Offline Payment”, you will need to call Brenda at 920-733-5500 to make arrangements for payment. UNLESS WE RECEIVE AT LEAST A $100 DEPOSIT, YOU ARE NOT ENROLLED!

Hope this helps. As always, if you have questions, call. We’ll be happy to help.

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While we call it a captain’s license, it is really a Merchant Mariner Credential, with an Officer’s Endorsement.

When do I need this?

If you are working on federal waters, and are being paid for that work, you need your credentials. There are several different credentials with varying limitations. To determine the type of license you will need, you first need to determine where it will be used and how many passengers you will carry.

  • OUPV: If you are planning on being a guide (fishing, waterfowl hunting, etc), being a charter captain for day trips, or running a water taxi with not more than six passengers you need an Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel (OUPV) also commonly called a 6-pack license. This captain’s license allows you to take up to 6 paying passengers, of which at least one is paying to be on your vessel.
  • MASTER OF VESSEL: If you are operating a vessel that is approved by the USCG to carry more than 6 people, this is an inspected vessel and requires a Master’s License.

In a nutshell, these are the two types of captain’s licenses. However, both of these types of credentials are further broken down into one of three different routes, depending on your sea service (time on the water). These include Inland waters, Great Lakes waters, and Near Coastal waters.

  1. Inland OUPV route lets you carry up to 6 passengers on any federal waters that are not considered Great Lakes or on near coastal (ocean).
  2. The next level up is the Great Lakes route which includes all of the Great Lakes, plus all of the inland waters.
  3. The next one is the Near Coastal route, which includes all waters off the US coast out to 100 nautical miles, with the last level being ocean. It also covers the Great Lakes and Inland waters.

Sea Service Requirements:

  • For an OUPV, you need 360 days of sea service, of which 90 days are in the last three years (called “recency”) to get a license. This is the minimum.

To get either a Great Lakes or Near Coastal endorsement, you will need at least 90 days of the 360-day total to be in operation of a vessel on the Great Lakes or Near Coastal waters. This is a recent change in the law.

  • The Masters has the same routes, with some difference in sea service requirements.
    • Sea service for Inland and Great Lakes Masters is the same as the OUPV, or 360 days, of which 90 days are in the last three years.
    • However, the Near Coastal requires 720 days of sea service, of which 360 must be either on Great Lakes or Near Coastal waters.

Tonnage Requirements:

There is now also a tonnage requirement for a Master. This goes from 25, 50, 100, 200, 500 and more gross tons. This is not based on the weight of the vessel, but rather, the volume. The vessel determines which license is required.

Each level has a sea service requirement which includes days on the vessel and tonnage. For example, for a 100-Ton Masters license you need at least 180 days on a vessel over 51 Tons or 360 days on a vessel over 34 Tons. It is best to look at the NMC check list for a specific tonnage.

If you have read this far into the article I have two tips for you.

  1. Under the pre-March 24, 2014 law change, you can get your 50-Ton Masters license with just one day on a vessel over 5 Tons. After January 1, 2019, you will need a minimum of 180 days on a vessel 17 GRT or more for the Inland/Great Lakes 50-Ton Master license.
  2. Until January 1, 2019 you can upgrade your oupv Great Lakes to near coastal with a 50 question rules exam by using pre March 24, 2014 Deck exams. Afterward it is a one day class and two exams.

I hope this was helpful. Check out our classes at


Capt. Gary Kulibert

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