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Top 11 Boat Captain Certifications

This article provides an overview of the best boat captain certifications available to help you become a qualified and knowledgeable captain.

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Brenna Goyette
Certified Professional Resume Writer, Career Expert

Published 18 min read

Certifications are important for a boat captain in the job market because they demonstrate to employers that the captain has the knowledge and expertise necessary to operate a vessel safely and efficiently. Certifications provide assurance to employers that the captain is qualified for the position, as well as show that he or she is committed to learning new skills and staying up-to-date on industry standards. Having certifications also allows captains to access more job opportunities, since many employers prefer applicants who have completed formal training programs. Additionally, certifications can help captains stand out from other applicants, giving them an edge over those without any credentials.

This article reviews some of the top certifications for Boat Captains and explains how they can help advance a boat captain's career.

What are Boat Captain Certifications?

Boat captain certification is a type of professional qualification that enables an individual to become a qualified boat captain. It involves completing a course and passing an exam, which covers topics such as navigation, safety and boating regulations. The certification demonstrates that the individual has the necessary knowledge and skills to safely operate any vessel on the water.

Having a boat captain certification can be extremely beneficial for anyone who wants to pursue a career in the maritime industry or simply wants to feel more confident when operating their own vessel. With this certification, individuals can demonstrate their expertise and experience in operating boats, allowing them to gain employment opportunities within the industry or apply for positions with more responsibility. Additionally, having this certification may also make it easier for individuals to obtain insurance coverage for their vessels since they have been certified by a reputable organization. Lastly, having this certification can give boaters peace of mind knowing that they are well-versed in boating safety and regulations which can help them avoid dangerous situations while out on the water.

Pro Tip: When considering boat captain certification, make sure to research the specific requirements and regulations for your state or country. Different areas may have different requirements for obtaining a captain's license, so be sure to check into the specifics before beginning your training.

Related: What does a Boat Captain do?

Top 11 Boat Captain Certifications

Here’s our list of the best certifications available to Boat Captains today.

1. Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC)

The Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) is a credential issued by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) to qualified mariners who meet certain requirements. It is required for anyone who wishes to work in the maritime industry in the United States, including as a captain, mate, engineer, or deckhand.

It typically takes about three months from start to finish to obtain an MMC. The process starts with completing an application form and submitting it to the USCG along with supporting documents such as proof of identity, proof of citizenship or legal residency, and any other required documents. After submitting your application and documents, you will need to pass a physical exam and drug test before taking a written exam. Once you have passed all of these tests, your MMC will be issued.

The cost of obtaining an MMC depends on the type of credential you are applying for and any additional endorsements that may be required. Generally speaking, the cost ranges from around $200 - $600 depending on what is needed.

In order to keep your MMC valid, you must complete regular training courses and medical exams every five years. Additionally, if your job duties change or you move up in rank within the maritime industry, you may need additional endorsements on your MMC which require additional testing and fees.

2. United States Coast Guard Master's License

A United States Coast Guard Master's License is a credential that allows the holder to operate commercial vessels of up to 100 gross tons. This license is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard and requires a minimum of 360 days of documented sea service, as well as passing several examinations.

To obtain a Master's License, applicants must first complete an approved course of study from an accredited maritime school or other institution, such as the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or the Maritime Professional Training Institute (MPT). The course must include topics such as navigation, seamanship, rules of the road, emergency procedures and safety management systems. Once completed, applicants must then accumulate 360 days of documented sea service on vessels over 100 gross tons within five years prior to applying for the license.

Applicants are then required to pass several written exams administered by the Coast Guard National Maritime Center (NMC). These exams cover topics such as deck safety, navigation rules and regulations, stability and load line principles and emergency procedures. Additionally, applicants must also pass a physical examination and drug test administered by either their local Coast Guard office or a designated medical examiner.

The cost for obtaining a Master's License varies depending on the type of vessel being operated and whether or not additional certifications are required. Generally speaking, it can cost anywhere from $1,000-$3,000 in fees for application processing and testing costs.

3. U.S. Coast Guard Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV) License

The U.S. Coast Guard Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV) License is a type of professional mariner’s license that authorizes the holder to operate vessels carrying up to six paying passengers for hire on coastal waters, including the Great Lakes and their connecting waters. The OUPV license is also referred to as a “Six-Pack” or “Charter Boat Captain” license.

In order to obtain an OUPV License, applicants must meet certain eligibility requirements and pass both written and practical examinations administered by the U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center (NMC). Applicants must be at least 18 years old, have 360 days of documented sea service in the past three years, and hold a valid First Aid/CPR certification issued by either the American Red Cross or American Heart Association.

The application process typically takes between four and eight weeks, depending on how quickly all required documents are submitted and approved by the NMC. In addition to submitting an application form with supporting documents, applicants must also pay a fee of $145 for processing and examination costs.

Once all requirements have been met and approved, applicants will receive their OUPV License from the NMC in approximately two weeks after completion of the exam. This license is valid for five years before it must be renewed.

4. International Certificate of Competency (ICC)

The International Certificate of Competency (ICC) is an internationally recognized qualification that demonstrates a person’s proficiency and experience in operating a boat or other maritime vessel. It is issued by the International Maritime Organization and is required for anyone wishing to operate a boat or other vessel in certain European countries, including France, Spain and Italy.

The ICC covers both inland and coastal waters, as well as international waters. To obtain an ICC, applicants must demonstrate their knowledge of maritime navigation rules, safety regulations and emergency procedures. Applicants must also provide proof of their practical boating experience.

It typically takes up to six weeks to receive the ICC after applying for it. The cost of obtaining an ICC varies depending on the country where you are applying from, but typically costs around €150-€200.

In order to get an ICC, applicants must first contact their local national authority responsible for issuing the certificate (e.g., the French Ministry of Transport). They will then need to fill out an application form which includes providing evidence of their practical boating experience and passing a written examination on maritime navigation rules and safety regulations.

5. Inland Waters Captains License

Inland Waters Captains License, also known as a Master’s License, is a credential issued by the United States Coast Guard that allows individuals to operate commercial vessels in inland waters. This license is required for any individual who wishes to operate a vessel carrying passengers or cargo for hire on the navigable waters of the United States.

The process of obtaining an Inland Waters Captains License typically takes between 6-12 months and requires applicants to complete several steps. The first step is to take and pass an approved course from a Coast Guard-approved school. After completing the course, applicants must submit their application along with proof of successful completion of the course and other documents such as medical certificates and background checks. Applicants must then pass both written and practical exams administered by the Coast Guard before being granted their license.

The cost of obtaining an Inland Waters Captains License varies depending on the type of license being applied for and whether or not additional courses are required. Generally speaking, costs can range anywhere from $500-$2,000 depending on what type of license you are applying for and how much preparation you need to do prior to taking your exam. Additionally, some states may require additional fees or tests in order to obtain a state-specific license.

Overall, obtaining an Inland Waters Captains License is a lengthy process that requires dedication and commitment from those wishing to obtain it. However, once obtained this license provides individuals with the opportunity to pursue careers in maritime operations in inland waters across the United States.

6. Near Coastal Waters Captains License

A Near Coastal Waters Captains License (also known as an Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels, or OUPV) is a license issued by the U.S. Coast Guard to operate uninspected vessels carrying passengers for hire on near coastal waters. This type of license allows captains to transport up to six passengers for hire within 20 nautical miles of the coast.

In order to obtain a Near Coastal Waters Captains License, applicants must be at least 18 years old and have at least 360 days of documented experience operating a vessel in the past three years. This experience can include time spent on commercial vessels, recreational boats, or military vessels. Applicants must also pass a physical exam and drug test before they are eligible for licensing.

The process of obtaining a Near Coastal Waters Captains License takes approximately three months from start to finish. The first step is to complete a course approved by the Coast Guard that covers topics such as navigation, rules of the road, safety regulations, and emergency procedures. Once this course is completed, applicants can submit their application along with proof of experience and payment for licensing fees (which range from $100-$400 depending on the type of license). After submitting their application, applicants will need to take an exam administered by the Coast Guard in order to demonstrate their knowledge and proficiency in operating vessels safely and legally.

Once all requirements have been met and passed successfully, applicants will receive their Near Coastal Waters Captains License in the mail from the Coast Guard.

7. Great Lakes and Inland Waters Captains License

A Great Lakes and Inland Waters Captains License is a professional mariner's credential issued by the United States Coast Guard. It authorizes an individual to operate commercial vessels on the Great Lakes, inland waters, and connecting waterways of the United States. The license is required for anyone operating a vessel carrying passengers for hire (such as a ferry or sightseeing boat) or transporting cargo in these waters.

The process of obtaining a Great Lakes and Inland Waters Captains License can take anywhere from several months to over one year depending on the applicant's experience level and the type of license they are seeking. An applicant must first complete a series of courses approved by the Coast Guard that cover topics such as navigation, seamanship, safety, and emergency procedures. After completing these courses, applicants must pass both written exams and practical assessments administered by Coast Guard-approved examiners.

The cost of obtaining a Great Lakes and Inland Waters Captains License varies depending on the type of license sought and whether any additional training or exams are required. Generally speaking, applicants should expect to spend upwards of $1,000 in fees associated with taking classes, exams, and other related costs.

8. Offshore Supply Vessels Master’s Certificate

Offshore Supply Vessels Master’s Certificate is a certificate issued by the United States Coast Guard to demonstrate that a mariner has the qualifications necessary to serve as master of an offshore supply vessel. The certificate is required for all masters of vessels operating in US waters and can be obtained by taking a training course, passing an exam, and meeting other requirements.

The training course typically takes three weeks to complete and includes topics such as navigation, safety, communication, cargo handling, and marine environment protection. Upon completion of the course, students must pass an exam administered by the Coast Guard. The exam covers topics such as navigation rules, regulations regarding vessel operations in US waters, vessel safety management systems (VSMS), and environmental protection.

In order to obtain the Offshore Supply Vessels Master’s Certificate, applicants must also meet certain eligibility requirements set forth by the Coast Guard. These include having at least one year of experience on board vessels operating in US waters; holding valid documents from their country of origin; being physically fit; and having no criminal background or history of drug abuse. Additionally, applicants must submit proof of citizenship or permanent residence status in order to obtain the certificate.

The cost for obtaining an Offshore Supply Vessels Master’s Certificate varies depending on the institution providing the training course and exam fees associated with it. Generally speaking however, it can range anywhere from $2,000-$4,000 USD.

9. Yachtmaster Ocean Certificate

The Yachtmaster Ocean Certificate is a qualification issued by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) that allows holders to skipper a yacht on ocean passages. It is the highest level of practical sailing qualification available to recreational sailors and is recognized internationally.

To obtain the Yachtmaster Ocean Certificate, you must have at least five years of experience at sea, including two years as skipper on long passages in excess of 600 miles, as well as a minimum of 500 miles logged in tidal waters. You must also complete an RYA-approved course and pass an exam.

The course typically takes around 12 days to complete and includes instruction on navigation, meteorology, safety procedures, passage planning and more. The cost of the course varies depending on where it is taken but typically ranges between £1,000 and £2,000.

10. Radio Operators Certificate

A Radio Operators Certificate (ROC) is a qualification that is required for anyone who wishes to operate a radio station in Canada. It is issued by Industry Canada, the federal government agency responsible for regulating telecommunications in Canada.

To obtain an ROC, you must first pass a written examination administered by Industry Canada. The exam covers topics such as radio theory and regulations, radio station operations, and emergency procedures. The exam typically takes two to three hours to complete and costs $50 CAD. Once you have passed the exam, you must submit an application form with the appropriate fee ($75 CAD) to receive your ROC.

The ROC is valid for five years from the date of issue and can be renewed by submitting another application form and fee ($50 CAD). It is important to note that all operators of radio stations must hold a valid ROC at all times in order to remain compliant with Canadian law.

11. Radar Observer Unlimited Certificate

Radar Observer Unlimited Certificate is a certificate issued by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) that allows mariners to operate radar equipment on vessels of any tonnage. The Radar Observer Unlimited Certificate is valid for five years and is required for mariners to serve as a navigational watch officer in charge of a navigational watch on vessels over 200 gross tons.

In order to obtain the Radar Observer Unlimited Certificate, applicants must first complete an approved course in radar navigation and then pass the USCG examination. The course typically takes between 40-60 hours to complete and costs approximately $400-$500. After completing the course, applicants must then take and pass the USCG exam with a score of 70% or higher. The cost for taking the exam is usually around $150-$200.

Once both requirements are met, applicants can apply for their Radar Observer Unlimited Certificate from the USCG National Maritime Center. The cost for obtaining this certificate is currently $145.

Do You Really Need a Boat Captain Certificate?

Whether or not you need a boat captain certificate depends on the type of boat you plan to operate and the waters in which you will be navigating. Generally, if you are operating a commercial vessel, such as a ferry or tour boat, then yes, you will need to obtain a boat captain certificate. A boat captain certificate is issued by the United States Coast Guard and is required for all types of commercial vessels that carry passengers for hire.

In addition to commercial vessels, some recreational boats may require a boat captain certificate depending on the size of the vessel and where it will be used. For example, if your vessel is larger than 16 feet in length and/or carries more than 6 passengers, then you may be required to have a boat captain certificate while operating that vessel in certain areas. Even if your vessel does not meet these criteria but will be operated in waters outside of federal jurisdiction (such as international waters) then it may still be necessary to obtain a boat captain certification.

The process to obtain a boat captain certificate can vary greatly depending on your experience level and qualifications but generally includes passing written examinations covering topics such as navigation rules, safety regulations, first aid procedures and more. Additionally, some states may require additional certifications such as boating safety courses or CPR/First Aid training before granting the license.

Overall, whether or not you need a boat captain certificate depends on what type of vessel you are operating and where it will be used. It is important to research these requirements before setting out on any voyage so that you can ensure that everyone onboard remains safe and compliant with all applicable laws.

Related: Boat Captain Resume Examples

FAQs About Boat Captain Certifications

Q1. What qualifications do I need to become a boat captain?

A1. The qualifications for becoming a boat captain vary depending on the size and type of vessel being operated, but generally you will need to have a valid merchant mariner credential (MMC) issued by the US Coast Guard, along with appropriate safety and navigation training.

Q2. What is the difference between a boat captain and a mate?

A2. A boat captain is responsible for the overall operation of the vessel while a mate is responsible for assisting the captain in navigation, maintenance, and other tasks as needed.

Q3. How much does it cost to get my boat captain certification?

A3. The cost of obtaining your boat captain certification can vary depending on the type of vessel you are operating and your specific needs, but typically you can expect to pay anywhere from $200-$500 for all necessary courses and exams.

Q4. How long does it take to obtain my boat captain certification?

A4. Depending on your experience level and the type of vessel being operated, obtaining a boat captain certification can take anywhere from several weeks to several months or more due to required coursework and examinations that must be completed before receiving your license or certificate.

Q5. Are there any age requirements for becoming a boat captain?

A5: Yes, most states have an age minimum requirement of 18 years old in order to obtain a boat captain’s license or certificate; however this may vary depending on state regulations so it is best to contact your local licensing agency for more information.