Captain’s License

Online Captain's license course

Believe it or not, in the US, you are not required to have a captain’s license to drive a boat. And, if you are traveling to foreign ports as a US citizen you are still not required to have one. However, many people have completed sailing circumnavigations without one. Every experienced mariner does their best to learn what they need to know to move their vessel safely. There are plenty of books available to teach the basics. But, ultimately, you must learn the basics to be a mariner – the ocean environment is unforgiving to the uninitiated.

In the US, you are required to understand basic rules of navigation and are required to have items of safety including the written rules of navigation on board vessels of certain sizes. The rules are based on similar international rules. All mariners traveling abroad are expected to adhere to international rules of navigation (known as the “rules of the road”), and have required onboard safety equipment (including lighting, fire extinguishers, foghorn, etc.).

As a private pilot, I found the training to get a pilot’s license was very valuable because it requires you to understand critical systems, understand traffic rules and regulations, and steps to take for safety and emergencies. Not only that, but pilots are required to periodically review all such material and have a certified instructor re-test their knowledge.

So, I’m now in the process of getting a US captain’s license. Although not required, it will give me more confidence in my basic boating knowledge, and help validate my level of skills when visiting other countries or when encountering coast guard vessels. The basic US captain’s license also provides the option for a captain to carry passengers for hire (the first level only allows up to six passengers and is known as a “six pack”). We have no plans to carry passengers for hire, and such rights don’t apply when you’re in another country. But, who knows what the future holds? There are other levels to the licenses available and endorsements for special boating such as sailing, and towing. Once I complete the captain’s license, I may get the sailing endorsement as well.

The US Coast Guard now allows you to get your captain’s license through approved online courses. I’m taking my course through who I found at the Miami Boat Show (but, also saw in online searches). The online course includes practice tests and final exams which must be passed before you can take the final test. The final test is taken at a USCG approved testing center. You have to pass a drug test, sign an affidavit that you have the required nautical experience, and provide required identification.

By the way, if you don’t have the time, or want to spend the money to take a formal online course, I highly recommend you take advantage of the free online training course for boating safety by They even provide courses based on your state (which may have slightly different rules and regulations). They actually cover the vast majority of the course material required for a captain’s license.

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3 Responses to Captain’s License

  1. luv2boat says:

    Mr Taylor,
    For months I’ve been following the planning and preparations of Tahina closely and I’ve become a huge fan of the whole Tahina Expedition. It helps that I have seen your boat from afar many time. I live in Wilmington, NC, I’m an avid boater, and I frequent Joyner Marina regularly to purchase fuel for my boat,
    I check your blog out most every day, and today I saw this entry on obtaining a captain’s license and, to some extent, boating safety. I’m glad you addressed these areas, though I would like to see you emphasize boating safety more often and in depth.. With such a challenging and demanding journey ahead of you, I imagine boating safety is high, if not on top, of your priorities. Boating safety is precisely why I’m writing this comment.
    First, you mentioned in your post that there are “…required onboard safety equipment (including lighting, fire extinguishers, foghorn, etc.).” I encourage you to expand on this topic. National Safe Boating Week is May 16-22, 2009 and that would be an ideal time to explore this subject again. It occurred to me that you and Tahina have a unique opportunity to promote boating safety. Moreover, you have at least two (and probably more) prominent platforms (through your Google Earth Blog and Tahina Expedition blogs) with which to get the message out..
    With respect to safety equipment requirements, I’m sure you are familiar with the federal regulations booklet. It is also important to know, and comply with, the state safe boating requirements; not only for the state where you primarily boat, but every state through which you cruise, as well.
    There is a mechanism to check and document that a vessel meets the federal requirements. That mechanism is a Vessel Safety Check (VSC). which is performed by the USCG Auxiliary or the United States Power Squadrons. The VSC is free (that’s right, free – as in no charge), is conducted as a service to the boat owner, is performed by trained Vessel Safety Examiners (VSE) and is for information purposes only. No tickects or citations are ever issued during the VSC because USCGAux and USPS are not law enforcement groups.
    Having said all that, has Tahina ever had a vessel safety check (VSC) to document that the minimum federal safety equipment requirements (as defined by the US Coast Guard) are on board? I hope the answer to that question is Yes, but if it is not, would you consider having a VSC conducted on Tahina in the very near future? I’m a member of the Cape Fear Sail & Power Squadron, which promotes boating safety and safe boating education. I’m also a trained vessel safety examiner (VSE) and it would be my pleasure to conduct the VSC on Tahina if you so choose. The ideal time to conduct the VSC (and publicize it), would be during the National Safe Boating Week – May 16-22, 2009. However, it may be conducted any time and at your convenience.
    Second, If you do not want or need a VSC on Tahina, please consider promoting boating safety in one of your blog entries during National Safe Boating Week? The Tahina Expedition is prominently featured by Google in Google Earth and your preparations for an around-the-world cruise aboard Tahina are followed by legions worldwide. With such a visible stage, you have a unique opportunity to reach and educate many boaters across the country and around the world. Again, please consider using your platforms to promote boating safety. If you have any questions or would like to jointly promote National Safe Boating Week, the Cape Fear Sail & Power Squadron stands ready to assist you.
    Best wishes for all your journeys.
    Ed Cathey Jr
    Cape Fear Sail & Power Squadron

  2. Frank Taylor says:

    Hi Ed, glad to hear you’re a fan of the Tahina Expedition! I’m definitely very cognizant of the importance of safety, and yes, the boat has been checked out by the USCG. Although, I didn’t arrange it. If you read back to one of the first posts on the blog – when we delivered Tahina from the Bahamas – you’ll see the USCG boarded us for a “safety” inspection off the coast of Florida. We complied with everything they required except I wasn’t able to operate my fog horn (I hadn’t yet read the manual for the built-in electronic hailing system :-).
    I’ll write you an E-mail separately, but rest assured I’ll try and at least do a post on safety here in mid-May.

  3. Shirley Ingles says:

    Hi – very nice homepage.

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