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Capt Gary Lead instructor and course developer at Explorers Guide Maritime Academy

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What Captains License Do I Need?

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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 Explorersguidellc.com

 

Capt. Gary Kulibert

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Comments

  • Guest
    Rob Faro Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    I have a 6 pack. But need to be able to take 15 people on the boat. It's only a paddle boat 25ft what license do I need

  • Guest
    Capt Gary Tuesday, 02 October 2018

    Hi Even though the boat is only 25 ft you need a masters 25 ton license. No big deal easy to get. However, the boat itself need to be inspected and approved with a certificate of inspection. You need to contact the USCG prevention people to get the done. Operating without it will be very expensive. If yu need more info give us a class at 920-733-5500
    Capt Gary

  • Guest
    John Riegel Thursday, 06 December 2018

    Hi, I am moving to Fla. Keys and currently hold a great lakes captains license. I will be fishing with a captain there for period of time before piloting my own vessel, what steps do I need to take for an upgrade to pilot on my own 6 passenger max.

  • Guest
    gary Thursday, 06 December 2018

    You need to upgrade to a NC oupv. Here is the issue. Until March 24, 2019 you can do it with a rules exams. However afterward it is a two day class and two exams which at this time we do not offer. You can take our online rules exam, proctor test. You them apply to the REC for a change in scope to NC OUPV. AS you have a Great Lakes it means you have teh sea serivice for a NC. Call us if you have added questions or need help with the exam or application 920-733-5500

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Guest Wednesday, 19 December 2018