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Old 04-17-2002
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Captain's License Inquiry

I am an experienced sailor and am interested in getting my Captain's license/certification. Can you give me any information regarding how and where I can do this?

Mark Matthews responds:
Thanks for the question. There are a number of self-study books that will prepare you to take the Coast Guard test for an OUPV (Operator of Inspected Vessel) license, as well as CD-roms that you can buy to help you with the question part of the program. I hemmed and hawed for years with my self-study book and finally decided it was time to head back to class. Here, too there are a number of different in-class programs that can prepare you for the test. I took the Sea School class, which guarantees a high success rate. That said, the Coast Guard isnít exactly handing these things out to anyone who wants one.

For starters you have to demonstrate sea time for 360 days, 90 of those must be within the last year, and you need to document these days by tracking down the owners of all the boats youíve sailed on and getting them to notarize the required paperwork. A day is defined as four hours underway, but one 24-hour span is scored only as one day of sea time.

Now the test itself consists of 120 questions spanning four sections. Ten questions are on plotting, 60 questions are on what's called "deck general," 20 questions cover navigation general, and 30 questions cover the Rules of the Road. On the latter, you have to score 90 percent or better to pass.

I found that the class was intense. For me it was akin to taking a six-credit class in the span of a week, focusing on navigation, seamanship, firefighting, as well as forcing those enrolled t become familiar with Coast Pilots, Light Lists, time and distance problems, tide problems, knots, regulations, chart symbols and a whole lot more. Even the most seasoned hand can learn a lot about the vast spectrum of seamanship through one of these courses. I tacked on another three full days for the Masters part of the program, which if you obtain it, enables you to drive inspected vessels that carry more than six passengers.

At the end of the week my head was spinning, but I passed the test with flying colors. The navigation part of the test is also, in my opinion, better served in a classroom setting.

If you intend to follow my lead, you should know from the outset, however, that these classes aren't cheap and they usually involve a number of additional fees as well. Youíll need to have a current First Aid and CPR certification, then there is the physical, the drug test, and the application fee, all of which can add up. Don't forget the three letters of recommendation and the FBI background check. As a final note, donít think that youíll be able to take the test and pass it and begin chartering for hire the next day, either. At least in the Southeast thereís a 12-week processing time after the Coast Guard gets your application. So check out http://www.seaschool.com/index.htm for more information and then decide how you'd like to go about this. Best of luck to you.

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