How to Get Your Captain’s License

The US Captain’s License is a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) Officer Endorsement issued by the US Coast Guard. The federal regulations for Merchant Mariner Credentials can be found in Title 46, Shipping, Subchapter B, Merchant Marine Officers and Seaman. The term Merchant Marine refers to all sailors and officers working onboard documented and non-documented US vessels engaged in the transportation of cargo and passengers for hire, and all documented US fishing industry vessels. The operator of any US vessel, regardless of size, that carries passengers or cargo for hire on ocean waters or the federally navigable waters of the US must hold a valid MMC Officer Endorsement. Here is an outline of the application process for an original endorsement. All the forms are available on my website (

  1. The first step is to do a little research to determine what officer endorsement you need and what the professional requirements are for that endorsement. Most entry level captain’s licenses require one year (360 days) or more of qualifying experience. Document your sea service experience on USCG Form 719S. Total cost so far $0.
  2. The next step is to enroll in the TWIC (Transportation Workers Identification Credential) program. The TWIC is issued by TSA and requires an FBI background check and terrorist threat assessment. When completing the TWIC enrollment form be sure to check the box for Merchant Mariner, this will release the TWIC file to the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard will use the digital information for your MMC, and the FBI background check to verify your criminal history. Upon passing the terrorist threat assessment TSA will mail you your TWIC. This takes a couple of weeks. Total cost so far $132.50.
  3. While you are waiting for your TWIC to arrive visit a health occupation clinic to complete the Merchant Marine Physical Exam and USCG/DOT Drug Screening. The physical exam must be completed on the USCG Form 719K, and the drug screening form is 719P. Any doctor can complete the physical, but I recommend health occupation clinics because they are more familiar with these types of physicals than other doctors. The physical and drug screening will cost about $150; total cost so far $182.50.
  4. For the original issuance of an MMC Officer Endorsement the applicant must have completed an American Red Cross or American Heart Association First Aid and CPR Training course within one year of the application date. The cost of these classes is about $75, total coast so far $257.50.
  5. The next step is to complete USCG Form 719B. This is the application form for a Merchant Mariner License. After completing this form make copies of everything, including both sides of your TWIC and deliver the application package to a USCG Regional Exam Center (REC). You can email, fax, or mail your application package, but I recommend taking the application into the REC in person. By taking the application into the REC in person you can pay the $140 application fee over the counter, take the Merchant Mariner Oath, and the knowledgeable people at the REC will look over the application to make sure everything is in order. The total cost so far is $397.50.

Upon receiving the complete application package the REC will forward it to the National Maritime Center (NMC), who will review it. Upon successful review they will issue you a letter that says you are approved to test for the license. You have the choice of either completing the exams at an REC, which the Coast Guard will charge $100 to do, or you can complete an approved course. Completing an approved course will satisfy the USCG exam requirements without taking the exams at the REC. The cost of an approved course will generally be between $900 and $2,000 depending on the course and school.

I hope this helps. Please email me if you have any questions:


About Dennis

Instructor and Director at Columbia Pacific Maritime LLC
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