Make Money With Your Captain's License: How to Get a Job or Run a Business on a Boat

Make Money With Your Captain's License: How to Get a Job or Run a Business on a Boat

by David G. Brown

ISBN: 9780071475235

Publisher International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press

Published in Business & Investing/Job Hunting & Careers

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Sample Chapter

Chapter One


In the United States, you need a license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard to carry passengers for hire on vessels operating in federally navigable waters: coastal, most rivers, and the Great Lakes. These areas of operation are important in terms of the license requirements because different licenses are restricted to operating in certain waters. The terms below are used to define where a license is valid:

* Near coastal: ocean waters not more than 200 miles offshore

* Great Lakes: the Great Lakes and tributary waters, including parts of the Calumet River and the St. Lawrence River to approximately Montreal, Canada

* Inland: the navigable waters of the United States inside the COLREGs line, excluding the Great Lakes but including some coastal areas such as the Intracoastal Waterway

* Rivers: any river, canal, or other similar body of water designated by the U.S. Coast Guard

* Western rivers: the Mississippi River and its tributaries, plus certain designated connecting waterways specified by the U.S. Coast Guard

A license pecking order exists within these defined waters. The list below illustrates why a license valid in near coastal waters is the most desirable:

* Near coastal: A skipper holding a license to operate in near coastal waters may also operate in the Great Lakes and in inland waters, which, for the sake of this discussion, include rivers. The near coastal license may have restrictions that require the skipper to operate in waters closer to shore than 200 miles off the coast. The near coastal license is the most desirable for the captain of a small passenger or charter fishing vessel because it is valid in the most areas of operation.

* Great Lakes: A skipper holding a Great Lakes license may operate in inland waters. However, the license is not valid for near coastal waters.

* Inland: A skipper holding an inland waters license may not operate in near coastal waters or in the Great Lakes. An inland license is only valid in the Great Lakes if it specifies that it covers both inland waters and the Great Lakes.

Most licenses are issued for either near coastal or the combined Great Lakes and inland waters. Before you apply for a job or start your own business, make sure the license you qualify for covers the waters upon which you will be operating.

It is important to note here that there are two general license tracks for prospective captains. One is to work for what is called an upper-level license. This track is intended for large commercial freighters and cruise ships. It eventually leads to a master's license that may ultimately have no restriction on the size of vessels. The upper-level license track is intended to be a lifelong career path. Few people enter this track late in life because progressing up the ladder from mate to captain can take decades.

This book is meant for people who seek a lower-level license. These are based on the tonnage of vessels where you earned your sea service, the coast guard designation for time spent gaining experience on the water. As mentioned, where you obtained your sea service—coastal, Great Lakes, or inland waters—is also important. Lower- level licenses are those that allow the skipper to operate a vessel under 100 gross tons. There are six licenses in this category. These divisions are designed primarily to meet the requirements of specific segments of the passenger vessel industry. Here are the four license designations:

* Master: (1) Inland steam or motor vessel; (2) near coastal steam or motor vessel. Either may be endorsed to allow operation of auxiliary sail vessels and/or commercial assistance towing vessels. With this license, you can operate U.S. Coast Guard–inspected vessels carrying more than six passengers.

* Limited master: With this license, you are highly restricted in waters of operation. A limited master's license is typically held by launch drivers operating U.S. Coast Guard–inspected vessels.

* OUPV (operator of uninspected passenger vessel): (1) Inland steam or motor vessel; (2) near coastal steam or motor vessel. An OUPV is also commonly called a six- pack license.

* OUPV limited: This license is typically held by launch drivers operating vessels that have not been subjected to a U.S. Coast Guard inspection.

Each of these categories is described below. Information about sea service and other requirements you must meet to obtain a specific license follows. The general rule of thumb is that the higher-level licenses in the under-100-gross-ton category are based on how much time you have spent on specific types of vessels in specific waters. More experience means you can increase tonnage restrictions on your master's license. Although generally outside the scope of this book, a lower-level license can be upgraded to a maximum of 1,600 tons. To do so requires sea time on larger vessels as well as additional U.S. Coast Guard–approved training in firefighting, radar, and shipboard safety.


A master's license is required for operating U.S. Coast Guard–inspected passenger vessels carrying more than six passengers, including passenger ferries, walk-on fishing headboats, dinner cruise boats, and whale watch vessels. Master's licenses are issued in three tonnage limits: under 25, under 50, and under 100 gross tons. The size of your initial license is based on the sizes and types of vessels you have operated. A 25- or 50-ton license can be upgraded to a 100-ton license by showing proof you have worked on larger vessels for the required number of days. In addition to tonnage, master's licenses specify the waters on which they are valid, as described previously.


Two endorsements that extend the scope of your master's license may be added. Taking the test for either of them when you sit for your initial written exam avoids extra U.S. Coast Guard user fees and delays. The two endorsements are:

* Sail or auxiliary sail: allows you to operate a sailing vessel, such as an excursion schooner while under sail

* Commercial assistance towing: required if you intend to operate a towboat

A sailing endorsement requires at least 180 days of sea service on sail or auxiliary sail vessels for an inland master's license and at least 360 days for a near coastal master's license. Sea service days acquired prior to obtaining your license can be applied to this requirement. The commercial assistance towing endorsement does not require additional sea service beyond that needed for a master's license.


Strictly speaking, there are no endorsements for passing firefight-ing or radar training if you hold a 100-ton or smaller license. These schools are only required for licenses for 200 tons and above. Even so, obtaining professional radar observer training is never a waste of money if your boat is equipped with radar. Radar training, particularly in collision avoidance, sets you apart from other captains and can help you get work driving ferries and other larger vessels.

On the other hand, firefighting training is expensive and only required for 200-ton and above licenses. Almost none of the skills learned apply to the firefighting equipment on smaller vessels. While knowledge of the nature of fire is always valuable, the cost of this training generally outweighs the benefits to holders of 100-ton or lower licenses. Both classes cost from $500 to $2,000, depending on the length and complexity of the curriculum. Mariners should study the course offerings to avoid buying more training than they need for their purposes.


A boater with no formal maritime training or big ship experience can use days of pleasure boating to meet sea time requirements. However, pleasure boat experience almost always restricts applicants to a master's license under 25 gross tons. Tonnage will be explained further in Chapter 6, but for practical purposes gross tonnage (G.T.) measures the internal cubic volume of the hull, exclusive of cabin trunks and superstructure. Gross tonnage is always listed on the paperwork of a documented vessel.

The gross tonnage of state-registered boats is hardly ever calculated. Because no two boat models are the same, the gross tonnage of each must be handled separately. For pleasure boats, the following rule of thumb is illustrative:

* 25 gross tons: up to a 36-foot cruiser

* 50 gross tons: up to a 45-foot cruiser

* 100 gross tons: up to a 65-foot motor yacht

Holders of under-100-ton master's licenses are able to captain U.S. Coast Guard–inspected vessels (see Chapter 6). These include ferryboats, walk-on fishing headboats, water taxis, harbor excursion boats, and so forth. A master may also operate an uninspected six-pack charter fishing boat.


The operator of uninspected passenger vessel (OUPV) license limits the holder to carrying six or fewer passengers. Because of this passenger restriction, the OUPV is often called a six-pack license. An OUPV license is limited to vessels of 50 tons or less, and it cannot be used to operate an inspected vessel (see Chapter 6) even with six or fewer passengers aboard. You need a master's license or a limited master's license to operate U.S. Coast Guard–inspected vessels.

Because of these restrictions, it makes good business sense to avoid the OUPV. You have far more opportunity to make money with a master's license even if your original plans are to operate only a six-pack charter fishing boat. Foreign nationals are the only exception to this economic rule. A legal immigrant who is not a U.S. citizen may obtain an OUPV but is barred from holding a master's license.


The limited master's and limited OUPV licenses are the least desirable for professional mariners. Commonly called the "launch operator" class, they are intended for people who operate boats that pick up and drop off passengers in yacht club mooring fields or who work for marinas, formal camps, and educational institutions. The OUPV limited license is for six or fewer passengers, while the limited master license allows operating U.S. Coast Guard–inspected vessels. Both limit the holder to a very specific route, sometimes just the water inside a yacht club's harbor. These licenses are so limited in scope as to be an impediment to the growth of a water-related business or finding employment outside the route stated on these licenses.


Licenses do not come for free. Most aspiring captains attend one of the approved licensing schools. The coast guard charges user fees for approving candidates and issuing licenses. In addition, the applicant must pay for a medical examination, drug test, and training in first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

In addition to being a U.S. citizen (for a master's license) and having the required sea time, all applicants must have a clean driving record and be free of criminal convictions. Applicants must pass a limited physical examination and take a urinalysis test to detect the use of illegal drugs. These and still other requirements are discussed next.


Most applicants self-certify their days of sea time aboard their own boats. Proof of ownership of the boat in which days of service are claimed must accompany the application. You must provide a signed letter from the owner or operator of any other boats on which time is claimed. The U.S. Coast Guard application contains a special form and detailed instructions for claiming sea time.

To obtain a near coastal master's license, you must have acquired at least 720 days of sea service, and 90 of those days must have been within the preceding three years. Half of the total number of days of sea service (360) must have been in the ocean or in near coastal waters. Up to 360 days of inland sea service can be included in the total number of days. If you meet these requirements and your time was acquired in sailing vessels, you already qualify for the sail and auxiliary sail endorsement.

To obtain an inland master's license you must have acquired at least 360 days of sea service, and 90 of those days must have been within the preceding three years. The sea service required for the OUPV inland and near coastal licenses is the same as the requirements for the inland master's license.

A "day" of sea time is supposed to be eight hours on the water, but it can include preparing to get under way and cleaning up after a voyage. A single calendar day can only be used once. If you spend eight hours on your boat, then another eight hours on a friend's boat, the total is still only one day of sea time. A "day" can never be counted twice whether on your boat or on any combination of boats or waters.


Applicants must sign an authorization allowing the coast guard to examine their driving records. Conviction for operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs may prevent the coast guard from issuing a license. Waivers can be obtained under some circumstances and are decided on a case-by-case basis.


Applicants must allow the coast guard to search for any criminal convictions. Fingerprints are taken and checked against national databases of known criminals. As with a bad driving record, a criminal conviction may prevent issuance of a license unless waivers are obtained on a case-by-case basis.


Applicants must be tested drug-free within the past six months or be currently enrolled in a random drug-testing program accepted by the coast guard. See Chapter 7 for drug-testing requirements.


This is simply a physical exam performed by the applicant's physician at the applicant's expense. The U.S. Coast Guard has three primary areas of interest: vision and color blindness, hearing, and high blood pressure.


For an initial license, applicants must show proof they have passed a class in first aid and have been trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Most people take classes offered by the Red Cross.


An original Social Security card is required, along with a picture ID driver's license. The rules have been tightened on documents that can be used to prove citizenship. The only acceptable documents are notarized birth certificates, certificates of citizenship, certificates of naturalization, and U.S. passports.


Until a few years ago, all applicants had to spend a full day taking a four-part test at one of the 17 U.S. Coast Guard regional examination centers (RECs). It is still possible to take this test at any REC. However, the more popular route is to take an approved course from an accredited school. Proof that an applicant has passed an approved class eliminates the need to test at an REC.

If you elect to take an approved class, be sure it leads to the license you need. For instance, many classes say you will receive a 50-ton license but neglect to mention that it will be an OUPV and not a master's license. There is usually an additional class fee for obtaining a certificate showing you have passed an accredited master's license course. Upgrading an unintentional OUPV license once it has been issued adds expense and complication to starting your business. License schools typically charge from $550 to $750 for an OUPV course and an additional $250 to $350 for the required class to upgrade to a master's license.

Not all approved schools offer endorsements such as commercial assistance towing or auxiliary sail. If possible, you want to obtain both your master's license and applicable endorsements at one time. This avoids paying duplicate coast guard fees for re-issuing your amended license.

It is possible to self-study for the coast guard examination and take it at an REC. Perhaps the best book to aid in this process is Get Your Captain's License (3rd ed.) by Charlie Wing. It is published by International Marine and is available through bookstores everywhere. Wing has organized his book following the organization of the written coast guard test.


Whether you attend an approved class or use Wing's book, it is a happy moment when the examiner hands you that piece of paper and says, "Congratulations, Captain." All those weeks of study, the late-night sessions with tide tables, and those hours spent with navigation light flash cards have paid off. You are a licensed, professional mariner. You check that your name is actually on the document. "Thanks," you mutter as you try to restrain your excitement before heading to an appropriate celebration. It's easy on that first day to overlook the big new question you face: What are you going to do with that license?

For most license holders the answer is "earn money," but that is only half the story. The underlying question is: How? A license only allows you to operate a vessel for commercial purposes. It is up to the holder to find a way to make that license profitable. The first thought most people have is to turn their own boat from an expensive hobby into a tax- deductible business. There is nothing really wrong with keeping a few dollars out of the hands of Uncle Sam's tax collectors as long as you do it legally. The problem is that all too many new skippers find out that, as Chapter 5 will show, dodging the tax man is more complicated and expensive than they thought.


Full tax consequences will be discussed in later chapters. For now, the important thing is to consider how your intentions will influence the outcome of your maritime venture. A hobby business is run primarily for enjoyment, with income and profit being secondary concerns. A hobby business is usually done on a sporadic basis almost at the whim of the owner. When it comes to anything related to boating, a hobby business almost always spends more money than it brings in.


Excerpted from "Make Money With Your Captain's License: How to Get a Job or Run a Business on a Boat" by David G. Brown. Copyright © 0 by David G. Brown. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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