Captains License: Step by Step to Issuance

How to Get a Captains License

Have you ever wondered what it would take to get a Captain’s License? Do you love working on the water and want to make a career out of it?

 I don’t blame you. I did just that about 2 decades ago, and it was the best decision I have ever made.

Being able to work on the water was a dream of mine for a long time. Now it’s your turn.

Ways to get your Captain’s License. 

  1. Go to a 4 year Maritime Academy. This route is longer and is geared more toward college age people. It’s a great choice if you happen to have 4 years and tens of thousands to spend. I would recommend this to anyone who is in their late teens or early twenties.

  2. Go through the HawsePipe. This is a term for mariners that have built their Captain’s license up through the years. Going from a 6 pack captain, all the way to your unlimited tonnage Masters license. Or anything in between. It is a great way to start making money fast. 

     Going through the Hawspipe

The first thing most people don’t know about getting your captain’s license, you don’t actually operate a boat in the classes you take to become one.

When you go to a class, They will teach topics like chart plotting, deck safety, and Rules of the Road.

What they do not teach is how to operate your vessel. If you’re new to the whole driving a boat thing, you can actually hire people who will come on your boat and teach you everything you need to know. Just be sure they have a Captains License as well (your insurance company will thank you). 

This option may get a little pricey, but you and your family’s safety is worth it. I have seen too many inexperienced boaters wrapped around channel markers to know.

Let’s dive into what kind of license you will need to work on the water one by one. I will only give you a few examples for the fact, the bigger license you cannot get until you have had some sea time in the lower level licenses. 

Click here to read an article on Types of Boat Captain License

  6 Pack Captains License-(OUPV-Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels). 

This in layman’s terms means with this license, you can carry up to 6 paying customers aboard your vessel, or work on a boat that is uninspected. 

A lot of fishing charters utilize this license. Have you ever seen a fishing show where the guy or girl is captain so and so? This is most likely the license they hold.

This license is the basis for all other licenses. No matter what any school tells you, you must take the OUPV exam before you move onto a Masters License. They may tell you that you’re going to just take the Masters Course. Probably to charge you more money.

Trust me, I am a maritime Instructor, you will be taking 5 exams (4 for OUPV, 1 for Masters upgrade).You must take a course and pass your tests before you can move on to the bigger tonnage license. 

How hard is it to get a Boat Captain License

The 6 pack captains license test can be very challenging, especially if you don’t take a course. There are a lot of subjects to cover, in only 56 hours.  If you do not study in this course, you will not pass. I actually teach this course regularly. If you are thinking about taking this course. Please set aside some time to study.

 If you want a leg up you need to read this article on Preparing for a Captain’s Course.

25, 50, or 100 Ton Upgrade

 This course is the first “Tonnage” course you will go through. Many people already qualify for this tonnage upgrade just by having sea time on certain boats. To check on using your boat or a boat that you worked on click the link at the bottom of the page.

Tonnage boats are Inspected. That means the Coast Guard inspects the vessel to make sure it meets their standards of safety and suitability. 

This also means you can carry more passengers for hire. Have you ever took a sunset or dolphin watching cruise on an oversized pontoon boat? This is the required license to operate that vessel. 

When you qualify and receive your “Tonnage” Captains license, it will open new doors as far as working on the water. Again, unless you just run a small fishing charter, you want to upgrade to the tonnage license.

Now, If you qualify for the full 100 ton upgrade, That’s when some really good money starts coming in. Doors start to open, opportunities are bountiful with this license. 

What kind of pay do captains make?

  • OUPV License– 15-30 dollars per hour if you are working for someone else. However, if you own your own vessel and can put people on the fish you can make a lot more. There are other ways you can make money owning your own boat. Sail boats are a great example of this. Sunset cruises go for a premium all over the U.S.
  • 25 Ton License– 15-40 dollars per hour. With this license you can operate Inspected vessels not more than 25 tons. For instance, you can run a booze cruise, dolphin watch pontoon boats and more.
  • 50 ton License– 30,000-65,000 per year. Depending on which job you take. For instance many Pilot Boat Operators have this license.
  • 100 Ton License– You can make between 65,000 up to 100,000 dollars a year with this license if you are a good boat handler and have excellent leadership qualities. This is the minimum Captains license that will qualify you to get on Yacht’s, Offshore Supply Vessels (OSV’s), and most Crewboats. Starting pay in the oilfield for someone with very little experience is about 300 dollars a day. Usually with this license you will work a 28 day on, 14 day off schedule. That equals 240 days that you will be on the boat. Doing the math that is 72,000 a year. The 10 days you will spend in class will definitely be worth it in the end.
  • 200 Ton License– This upgrade license is for bigger boats in the Oil Field or Yachting industry (But definitely not the biggest). This is also the license that qualify you to work on tugboats (Master of Towing Endorsement Required). This license may get you a little more money than the 100 ton. The main reason this upgrade is valuable, it opens up doors in the towing industry provided you attain the Master/Mate of towing.
  • You also have the 500 ton, 1600 ton, 3000 ton, and unlimited, which we will discuss in a later article.

Captains License 

If you want to get your captain’s license, there are a few things you need to find out first. Below I have listed the steps it takes to qualify.

OUPV (6 pack) Captains License

General Requirements

  • Must have U.S Citizenship 
  • Must be 18 years of age
  • Medical Certificate Requirements

  1. Original – Must hold a valid Medical Certificate or be approved for Medical Certificate.
  2. Renewal, ROG, New Endorsement – Must hold an unexpired Medical Certificate or submit a Medical Certificate application.

  • Must be Drug Testing Compliant (Have a DOT drug test done in the last 6 months or be part of a drug consortium program approved by the U.S. Coast Guard

Sea Service Requirements

  • Recency – 90 days in the past 3 years on vessels of any tonnage
  • Near Coastal – 360 days in the operation of vessels, OF WHICH 

1. 90 days of service on Ocean, Near Coastal or Great Lakes waters.

  • Great Lakes- 360 days of service, OF WHICH: 

1. 90 days operating vessels on Great Lakes waters.

  • Inland- 360 days in the operation of vessels. 
  • NOTE: OUPV, limited to undocumented vessels, may be issued to non U.S. Citizens. They will be drafted with the following limitation: “Limited to Uninspected Vessels Not Documented Under the Laws of the United States.They will not include entry level ratings unless record of Permanent Resident Alien card provided. A Permanent Resident Alien card is the only acceptable document to issue entry level ratings to non-US Citizens. NOTE: An applicant, who speaks Spanish, but not English, may be issued an OUPV Restricted to Navigable Waters of the United States in the vicinity of Puerto Rico.

Other Requirements

  • First Aid (completed within 1 year) (original only)
  • CPR (must be valid) (original only)


  • Course completion certificate in lieu of Coast Guard examination

Paperwork to Receive your Merchant Mariner Credential

This part gets a little tricky for some people. Don’t worry, You got this. Below is the step by step guide on what paperwork is required to get your Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC).

This starts the final process to become a Licensed Captain.

  1. Print out this Small Vessel Sea Service Form and fill it out. Remember you need 360 documented days on the water. The U.S. Coast Guard will take backlogged seatime as long as you still have documentation of your vessel or you worked/fished on someone else’s boat (they would fill out the small vessel sea service form).Remember you need at least 90 days in the last 3 years. A day consists of at least 4 hrs on the water. 12 hrs on the water would count as 1 ½  days. But you cannot count ANY time that isn’t at least 4 hrs.
  2. Print this Medical Application, and have your Dr. fill this out. If your doctor has not done a DOT physical, I would suggest you go somewhere that is familiar with this form. A quick Google search will do.

  • If you are not part of a Drug Consortium approved by the U.S. Coast Guard, you will need a DOT drug test as well.

  1. Print this Merchant Mariner Application out. Fill this form out. Section IV-4 is very important, a lot of first time mariners forget to do this part and their application gets denied.

  • You must verbally swear the oath in front of a Notary. We do them in class so the students don’t forget, but any bank you go too will have a Notary.

  1. Go to the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) website and fill out the application. Keep in mind you will have to go to the local office at some point. My suggestion is to fill out online and make an appointment to get one. This costs $125.00.  
  2. If you are going through a Captains Course (and i suggest you do), you will need a way to pay the government for the convenience of having a Captains License. There are 2 options.

  • Option 1- Go to and pay your credentials and issuance fees, print out the receipt and send a copy with your paperwork. This option lets you scan and email all your paperwork to the Regional Exam Center of your choice.
  • Option 2- Get a money order for the full amount and put it in the mail with your paperwork.

25, 50, 100 ton upgrade/Master’s License.

For this license, Things get a little confusing for some. There are two options for getting this license. 


You can repeat steps 1-5 from above to receive your upgrade to master.


If this article has helped you in any way, or if you have some questions about getting your captain’s license, leave a comment below, or email me. If you want to talk about how we can help you achieve your dream of becoming a licensed boat captain, visit our website. MTC Maritime Training Center, Or Marine Education Solutions for students looking at online education. Give us a like on Facebook, Instagram, or Linkedin.

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2 thoughts on “How to Get a Captains License”

  1. Had a 100 ton masters with the towing endorsement was going on my second issue but because of family issues didn’t renew been 3 years. Started back on the tug boats as a deck hand but would like to get my license back what would be your suggestion thank

    1. Thank you for the comment Kenny. It really depends on your level of knowledge of the Captains Topics. If you just need a refresher on the topics for your 100 ton Captains Exam, You can go to our home page or Membership Courses page and select our Gold Membership. This will give you access to every test question we have to help you practice before you sit for your exam. Our learning system is mobile friendly so you can take exams with your phone as well. Or you need to take all of the classes required to receive your 100 ton Masters with Master of towing. Don’t forget to document your sea time. If you have any other questions please feel free to ask.

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