Hey, Captain!

Sat, 02/20/2016 - 7:30am

A few months ago we did an article on what to take into consideration when choosing the right charter boat for your trip. After all, if you’re going to drop a few hundred dollars you want make sure you’re going with a safe, experienced, and qualified individual. The preeminent qualification of any charter boat operation is the captain having a Maritime Captains License issued by the United States Coast Guard. Anyone that takes ‘passengers for hire’ is required to have a license.

But what is a ‘passenger for hire’? In the past, the USCG (in Sec. 2101, title 46, of the U.S. Code) defined the term to mean a “contribution, either directly or indirectly, to the owner or captain of the vessel for passage on the vessel.” Technically, by definition, if you threw some gas money to your fishing buddy he’d be a hired captain, which was not the intent of the law. So this has been further defined in an amendment to the Code by adding “some form of tangible consideration or promise of performance being passed for a ‘passenger for hire’ situation to exist. Consideration means an economic benefit, inducement, right, or profit.” So go ahead and kick in the gas money, but don’t make your buddy promise you fish! But, all your launch drivers, ferry captains, sailing tour guides, and charter captains, must have a license.

So what is exactly involved in getting a captain's license and how hard is it? Frankly, it’s not easy — but not terribly hard if you are committed. First is the paperwork — which can get cumbersome and take some time, I think it’s actually intentionally cumbersome as it weeds out the ‘not so serious’ individuals. Then you’ll need a Transportation Workers Identification Card. This was added after 9/11 and is another layer of background checking for applicants. You can apply online and make an appointment to go get fingerprinted and photographed. Next is the actual application process, which requires a physical, enrollment in a drug testing program, and document of sea time. Mail this and a complete application with appropriate fees to the USCG regional center in Boston.

All these forms and procedures are outlined at the USCG National Maritime Center website in a helpful fashion that is easy to navigate. Once it has been approved, you schedule a test date at the center and go sit for the exam. Depending on the type of license you are getting, you can be tested on general navigation, rules of the road, deck general, safety, and navigation problems. If you study diligently using several books and practice tests you stand a good chance of passing. If you fail a section you are allowed to retest that section. But it can be frustrating and hard for some.  

Fortunately, this tedious process has spawned an easier way to get a license through one of many maritime license schools. There are online schools and those taught by living breathing instructors.  These courses provide everything including the forms, testing materials, and instruction in one package. Liken this to a college course, a typical “six pack” license (a basic license for taking up to six passengers) is 48 to 56 hours of instruction and testing. The major benefit is upon completion of the class and in house testing you get a certificate honored by the USCG and do not have to test at the regional center. The instruction time may seem long but it’s not that much more than the self-study method — and has a higher success rate.

Captain’s training to be held on-island 

If you want to get a license, a Rhode Island maritime license school called Confident Captain will be holding an ‘OUPC/six pack’ class on Block Island. Dates are Feb. 28, 29, March 6, 7, 8, and April 10, 11, 12 with additional dates for those seeking a larger license. If you are interested in a license give, Confident Captain a call at (401) 849-1257 to register by Feb. 26. This opportunity doesn’t happen every year so take advantage of it.

Catch 'em up!