Join Date: Jun 2005
Location: New Orleans
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An actual Coast Guard license is not required for recreational boating, it's required only if you're carrying freight or passengers "for hire". So the charter captain needs one, the recreational skipper doesn't. You need a year of underway time for a "6-pack" (6 passengers or less) license, and two years for a 100-ton license, plus the exam, physical, drug test, background check, etc..
It's only in the last, what, 10-15 years (?) that these private associations like ASA and USSA have been doing the classes and certificates, to show experience for service in which a gov't license isn't required.
On the "private" side, Power Squadron is an excellent course, teaches you all your coastal navigation (though doesn't teach sail). ASA has some mid-level courses that combine the navigation with the coastal/offshore sailing.