How to Get a Captain’s License

Professional Captain licenses are issued by the US Coast Guard as a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) National Officer Endorsement. The term “Merchant Mariner” is a collective term that applies to all professionally credentialed mariners; the term “National” refers to a credential that is valid on US flagged merchant vessels; the term “Officer” means person in charge of the vessel or of a watch onboard the vessel. I have broken down the application process to five basic steps.

  1. Document your sea service experience.
  2. Enroll in the TWIC program.
  3. Complete the application package.
  4. Deliver the application to an REC.
  5. Take the exams at the REC or complete an approved course.

To document your sea service experience use the small vessel sea service form provide by the Coast Guard (CG 719S). The following links provide a complete explanation of sea service.

TWIC stands for “Transportation Workers Identification Credential”, which is now part of what the government has renamed the “Universal Enrollment System” (UES). This credential requires providing contact information, fingerprints, and a digital photo for an FBI background check and threat assessment. This is a general requirement for all transportation workers. The USCG will not accept an application from anyone who has not enrolled in this program. Go to the UES Website >>

The application package consists of several USCG forms and some additional documents, depending on the specific endorsement you are wanting. For the original issue of a Captain’s license you will need the following documents. It is recommended that you keep all original documents and provide copies for the Coast Guard. When completing the USCG forms take the time to read the entire form, including the instructions, and complete the form exactly as stated. Any deviation from the established norm can cause long delays. All the forms all available on my website on the Application Help page >>

  • TIWC
  • Application form 719B.
  • Small vessel sea service form 719S.
  • Merchant Mariner physical exam form 719K.
  • ODT/USCG drug screening form 719P.
  • American Red Cross or American Heart Association First Aid/CPR cards dated within one year of the application date.
  • Merchant Mariner Oath.
  • Three letters of character reference.

Once you have the application complete it must be delivered to one of 17 Regional Exam Centers (REC) around the nation. View REC information >>

It will take the Coast Guard two to four weeks to evaluate your application. Upon approval they will mail you a letter stating that you have one year to complete the exam requirements. At that time you can either complete an approved course or take the exams at the REC.

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About Dennis

Instructor and Director at Columbia Pacific Maritime LLC
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