How to Get Your Captain's License
May 17, 2019 | 3 minute read Comments
18
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Thinking of becoming a fishing charter captain? First, you need to know how to get your captain’s license from the United States Coast Guard!

a captain's fishing license – the merchant mariner credential

If you want to make money fishing by running fishing charters, the first thing you need to do is become a USCG licensed captain. The document that proves you are a licensed captain is called the Merchant Mariner’s Credential, more commonly known as the Captain’s License.

Where do I start?

The information provided by the USCG on their website can be confusing and hard to digest. Therefore, we’ve decided to make a simple breakdown of what the requirements are to apply for a USCG license, what documents you need, and how much it will cost you.

How do I prepare?

First off, you need to decide which type of captain’s license you need. There are several different types, but the most relevant for the fishing charter business are:

  • The OUPV license (Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vehicle license, more commonly called 6-pack license)
  • The Master’s license

The 6-pack license is what most charter operators will need. As the name suggests, this license allows you to carry up to six paying customers on your fishing charters.

There are two different categories (called ‘routes’) of six-pack licenses that are relevant for most charter boat captains: Inland and Near-coastal. The Inland route covers bays, rivers, and lakes (note that the Great Lakes have some extra regulations and requirements for the license). The Near-coastal route covers everything the Inland route covers, plus ocean waters up to 100 miles offshore. Since the Near-coastal category covers everything you will ever need, we recommend you go for that license.

The Master’s license allows you to carry more than six paying customers on a boat up to 100t heavy. Most headboat captains will need this type of license. However, this article will only cover how to get the 6-pack license, as that one is sufficient for the vast majority of captains.

Spend enough time on the water

The first requirement for applying for a USCG captain’s license is having spent enough time on the water. Of course, you must have been part of the crew of the boat, not just a passenger. For the Near-coastal route, you must have spent 360 days as part of the crew on any vessel, with at least 90 days in the last 3 years. In addition, a minimum of 90 days have to be in offshore waters as sea time. You need to provide signatures of witnesses who can confirm that you fulfill this requirement.

Find yourself a school!

In order to apply for a USCG license, you’ll need to have passed the coast guard exam or an exam provided by a captain’s school. The second option is probably the safer one, because such schools thoroughly prepare you for the exam.

Moreover, they will help you choose the right license category for your needs, and show you what to do after you’ve passed the exam. Following a course for the Near-Coastal route should cost you somewhere between $500 and $800.

Show me the list!

Once you’ve successfully passed your exam and if you’ve spent enough time on the water, you’re ready to apply for your 6-pack license! Of course, you’ll need a fair number of documents to submit alongside your application – this is bureaucracy, after all.

This is what you need:

  • Your United States Social Security Card
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship (or Green Card for foreign nationals)
  • Proof that you have paid the application fee
  • Completed application form (CG Form 719B)
  • Proof of completing your captain’s exam
  • A copy of your TWIC card. If your application for the TWIC card is in process, you can submit proof that you have applied.
  • Three written character references
  • Medical certificate including vision testing, no more than 1 year old
  • Valid first aid and CPR certification
  • Results of a random drug test, taken in the last 6 months

It’s a bit of a list, but once you gather these things you will be able to obtain your much-desired captain’s license. The whole process should cost you a little over $1,000. But then, finally, you’ll be a certified charter boat captain!

This is the first and most important step in becoming a paid fishing guide. Now you just need a boat and the appropriate state licenses (and sufficient insurance is highly recommended).

In our next three articles, we will cover the state licenses needed for charter fishing in some of the major fishing states in the US: Florida, California, and Texas. Stay tuned!

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Comments (18)
  • Al Campbell

    Apr 6, 2018

    Thank You for your help, this is the information that I am looking for. Until the next step, what do you recommend for advertising on the Site Fishing Booker?
    Al

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      Stefan

      Apr 10, 2018

      Hi, Al,

      Thanks for reading the blog.

      The first step would be to sign up for free, after which someone of my colleagues will reach out to welcome you to the crew and also help you advertise your listing to its full potential.

      Generally, it would be good to let your potential customers know about your experience, your unique fishing trips, and provide videos and photos from your previous customers.

      If you would like to read some more about it, you can have a look at some tips on how to promote your charter service..

      You can always reach out to us, either via email ([email protected]) or phone (+1-850-502-4257).

      Hope this helps.

      Let me know if you have some more questions,
      Stefan

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    • Reply icon

      Bucketmouth charters

      Aug 25, 2019

      Stefan
      My name is Jody and I am getting started on applying for my Fishing Charter license. I see that they recommend on getting a coastal license although I will never be chartering offshore. I live on The Saint Johns River in Saint Augustine Florida and fish semipro Bass tournaments. I have been pretty successful so my name is getting popular and people are wanting to learn how to fish artificial baits to catch a lunker Largemouth instead of just floating a big shiner. I will not be chartering in saltwater, although saltwater fish like Redbass and Stripers do come in the river and can catch them basically catch them all year. Anyway my question to you is can I just get a inland captains license or do I need to get a coastal license as well being sometimes I will be targeting saltwater fish. Any info you can help me with would be greatly appreciated. Also, I have more than 360hrs of time on the water professionally. Tails up Sincerely Jody

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      Albert

      Aug 26, 2019

      Hi Jody,

      Thanks for getting in touch.

      The species you target don’t affect the license you need, so you should be fine with an Inland Captain’s License as long as you’re only fishing the St Johns River.

      Congratulations on starting up your charter business! Once you’re licensed and ready to go, consider signing up on FishingBooker if you want to get more bookings.

      Tight lines!

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  • Cody B

    Jul 9, 2018

    So I’m interested in becoming a guide in florida, any advice on how to successfully acquire 360 days on the water with a full time job? I’m not sure how to accomplish this when bills need to be paid? I’m not sure if there’s a become a mate on a boat craigslist page! Any advice would help

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      George

      Jul 10, 2018

      Hi Cody,

      Excellent question, thanks.

      There’s different ways to find captains to help you out with that.
      – Craigslist is actually a good one, several of the guides we work with recommend this.
      – Another great place to look is the Hull Truth forum. It’s a forum for captains and you can ask there.
      – Finally, if you don’t live too far from the coast, you should go to the docks and talk to captains directly. Many of them will be glad to help you or point you in the right direction.

      You shouldn’t have too much trouble finding a captain who can take you on as crew and work around your work schedule. Depending on your schedule, you could do it before or after work, or on the weekends.

      Hope that was helpful, I wish you the best of luck and hope to be able to book trips for you in the near future!

      George

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  • Justin

    Jul 20, 2018

    In order to obtain the 6 Pack Captains license is it necessary to complete your sea time on another vessel or can this be done on my own 33’ vessel?

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      George

      Jul 20, 2018

      Hi Justin,

      Thanks for reading!

      It can be done on your own vessel, but you do need to be crewing for a USCG-licensed captain who will underwrite your experience.

      Let me know if I can do anything else for you!

      George

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  • Will

    Oct 10, 2018

    My buddy was dishonorable discharged from the military and is attempting to get his captain license is he still able to acquire a license ?

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      George

      Oct 10, 2018

      Hi Will,

      Thanks for reading, good question.

      The answer is: it shouldn’t be a problem. Military and civil courts are separate, so his record in the military should not affect his path to becoming a licensed fishing captain.

      Good luck,
      George

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      Marc Stanfield

      Jun 22, 2019

      Twic will deny card with DD and will require a waiver for DD for approval! But no guarentee for approval!

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      Albert

      Jun 24, 2019

      Hi Marc,

      It looks like you’re right, although it may depend on the reason for the discharge.

      Most actions that result in a DD fall under Part B of the TSA’s Disqualifying Offences. As such, the person would be disqualified for 7 years after being found guilty, or 5 years after being released from incarceration.

      If the action falls under the Part A offences, they will be disqualified for life.

      As you say, even if enough time has passed to not be instantly disqualified, there is no guarantee of approval.

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  • Thomas

    Dec 11, 2018

    I guide inland on the snake river in Idaho. Does my time on the river ( in a drift boat and jet boat ) count towards that 360 hours or no?

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      George

      Dec 11, 2018

      Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for reading, good question.

      Time on a jet boat can count towards your 360 hours, but time on a drift boat cannot (because it’s not counted as a motorized boat).

      Remember that you will also have to spend a minimum of 90 days (out of the 360) offshore on sea in order to qualify for a near-coastal OUPV license. If you intend to guide only in inland areas, this is not necessary.

      I hope that answers your question!

      George

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  • Mario Moreno

    Mar 23, 2019

    Do we need to renewe the license periodically?

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      Sean

      Mar 26, 2019

      Hello Mario,

      Thanks for reading.

      Yes, the OUPV (six-pack) licenses need to be renewed every 5 years.

      You’ll need a fill in a few forms to renew your license. You can get these forms from the National Maritime Center.

      I hope this helps.

      Have a great day!

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  • Curtis

    Apr 13, 2019

    I have cystic fibrosis. I am 53 years old retired police officer. I saw that a lung disease may disqualify me from obtaining my 6 pack license. I should mention I was commander of my departments boat patrol division and have extensive time on the water, as well as owning my own boat since I was 11. My doctor does not see any barrier to me performing the duties of a captain on a primarily, inland bay boat. Will the coast guard consider a waiver with the proper doctors recommendation?

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      Sean

      Apr 16, 2019

      Hello Curtis,

      Thanks for reaching out.

      In this case, I’m honestly not sure what to tell you. The fact that you were actively in command of your boat patrol division certainly speaks to the fact that you are capable of running trips as a captain. However, a potential waiver decision in a case like this is something only the Coast Guard can tell you about.

      I would recommend contacting the USCG through this link. I sure hope you’ll be able to get your license, Curtis.

      All the best from FishingBooker!

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