Until recently, the boating industry has not been as heavily regulated as several others, such as the aviation and automotive industry. It is now beginning to see elements of change, especially since most states, including Mississippi, Georgia, Delaware, and Alabama, now require boat operators to complete a boater safety course.
This article explores everything you need to know about how to get a boating license, especially if you intend to have passengers-for-hire aboard your vessel.
State-Based and USCG Boating Endorsements
For the longest time, mariners would apply for a “license” to legally operate marine vessels. The United States Coast Guard (USCG) has since updated the vocabulary to a “Merchant Mariner Endorsement.” It comes in the form of a red passport-sized booklet in which a boater’s credentials are printed.
Here’s a brief overview of the various endorsements that exist as well as the respective requirements for each.
The Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels license, also referred to as the OUPV 6 pack captain’s license, is issued to individuals looking to offer sailing and fishing charters, become certified instructors, or provide commercial guide services. It is the most popular type of license and allows the license holder to take no more than six crew and paying passengers out on the water.
There are three main types of OUPV six pack licenses:
- OUPV Inland License: This credential allows you to operate a commercial boat on lakes, rivers, sounds, and bays.
- Great Lakes and Inland License: Boaters with a Great Lakes Captains License credential can operate commercially on the Great lakes.
- OUPV Near Coastal License: This credential allows you to operate a commercial vessel near coastal waters up to a limit of 100 miles offshore as well as on inland waterways.
While the boating experience for each type of 6 pack license varies, they all have the same basic requirements. You should:
- Be at least 18 years old;
- Be a US citizen or be lawfully admitted into the country for permanent residence;
- Have at least 360 days’ worth of boating experience, 90 of which should have been completed within the last three years (the USCG refers to this as “recency”);
- Pass a physical exam and drug test;
- Hold a valid adult basic first aid and CPR card;
- Obtain a Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC) card;
- Pass a USCG-approved online OUPV course.
The “U” in “OUPV” stands for “uninspected.” It means that the boat’s design and equipment required for operation are less regulated. OUPV licenses are issued for 100 Gross Tons vessels. These typically measure roughly 100 feet or below. Once you obtain an OUPV license, you can later upgrade to a USCG Master license if you wish.
Master Captains License
Before legally operating “inspected” vessels, you need to apply for a master captain’s license. An inspected boating vessel is authorized to carry six passengers or more and must be designed and constructed in accordance with strict USCG Commercial Vessel Inspection Standards.
The main difference between a boating license and a captain’s license has to do with the certification authority. A boating license, also referred to as a boating education certificate, is granted to an individual upon completing an online boater safety course. The licensing requirements vary by state, although most states have a few basic criteria applicants have to meet.
On the other hand, a captain’s license is issued by the USCG. This credential allows license holders to operate commercial vessels.
A 6-pack captain’s license authorizes you to carry a maximum of six crew and paying passengers at any given time. If you intend to carry more than six crew and passengers for hire at a go, you’ll need to have a master captain’s license.
Master License Requirements
The master captain licensing requirements as set out by the USCG are standard across the board. You should:
- Have at least 90 days experience acquired within the last three years on a vessel of appropriate tonnage
- Have at least 720 days of experience aboard a motor, steam, or auxiliary sail vessel on the ocean or near coastal waters if you’re applying for a near coastal license
- Have at least 360 days of experience aboard a motor, steam, or auxiliary sail vessel, 90 of which should be on Great Lakes waters if you’re applying for a Great Lakes license
- Have at least 360 days of experience aboard a motor, steam, or auxiliary sail vessel on any waters if you’re applying for an Inland license
- Have at least 360 days of experience aboard a motor, steam, or auxiliary sail vessel if you intend to operate a commercial vessel on rivers
- Have at least 360 days of experience aboard a sail or auxiliary sail vessel if you’re applying for a sailing endorsement
- Complete a towing endorsement course or request and pass a towing credential exam
USCG licenses have to be renewed once every five years. While no written examinations are required for renewal, license holders must fill out a renewal application and undergo a physical examination and approved drug test.
How Long Does It Take To Get a Boating License?
On average, students take between 25 and 30 hours to complete an OUPV course. On the other hand, most master-level licensing courses take 35-40 hours on average to complete. If you’re doing the online OUPV course instead, it is possible to complete it in as little as one week or less. It all comes down to how you fit it into your schedule.
The time it takes to finally get your OUPV license depends on whether or not you’ve completed the required experience. For a Great Lakes and Inland captain’s license, you need a minimum of 360 days of documented time on the water. For a near coastal captain’s license, you need at least 720 days of documented time on offshore waters.
If you’re applying for a towing endorsement, you’ll get the license as soon as you complete the course or pass the endorsement exam.
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