Towing Vessel Licenses

With the 14-week closure of the Columbia River Lock system starting the middle of December many mariners will have the time available to complete training courses to advance their professional endorsements. This post is a recent answer to the frequently asked question of “How do I become a captain of a tugboat?”

The MMC (Merchant Mariner Credential) is a passport style book issued by the US Coast Guard that contains a Merchant Mariner’s professional qualifications. To serve as captain on a towing vessel the mariner must hold an MMC endorsement as “Master of Towing Vessels”, or an inspected Master endorsement of 500 GRT or more and a completed TOAR (Towing Officer Assessment Record). If the mariner’s MMC is endorsed as “Mate (Pilot) of Towing Vessels” they may serve as a watch officer on a towing vessel. There are a couple of different paths outlined in the federal regulations for qualifying as Mate or Master of Towing Vessels but, while some appear shorted than others, they all take about the same amount of qualifying sea service experience. The best path for you depends on how much qualifying experience you have. Overall it requires about 900 days (2 and a half years) of qualifying experience for Mate (Pilot) of Towing, and about 1440 days (4 years) of experience to qualify as Master of Towing. Depending on a mariners work schedule, and hours worked each day, it will take four to ten years for a mariner to go from the entry level position of Ordinary Seaman (OS) to Master of Towing. Where you jump into the process, and the best path for you, depends on the qualifying experience you are starting with.

 The other side of the coin to becoming captain of a towing vessel is company need and policy. With the baby boomers reaching retirement age there is plenty of need for professionally credentialed mariners to advance. While there are some companies that do not advance from within, most companies have mate and master training programs available for their qualified employees. In most cases for the mariner to be considered “qualified” for these programs they must hold the MMC endorsement for the position that they are being company trained to fill.

 The fastest way that a mariner can advance is to be aware of the qualifying sea service bench marks for the MMC credentials they are seeking as a career goal. Here is an outline for the sea service bench marks for Master of Towing Vessels. Where you fit into the program depends on your qualifying sea service experience you have at this time. The days listed are consider 8-hour calendar days; for mariners working 12-hour days on a vessel with an established watch system they may qualify for a day and a half (1.5 days) credit for each 12-hour day served.

  • With 360 days (1-year) of experience on the deck of vessels the mariner should apply for an AB Special. If they are seeking an officer position they should also consider applying for Master 100 ton, and or Mate 200 ton.
  • With 540 days (18 months) of experience on the deck of vessels, that includes 360 days of experience on towing vessels, the mariner should apply for Apprentice Mate (steersman) of Towing Vessels.
  • With 900 days (2.5 years) of experience that includes 360 days on towing vessels while holding an MMC endorsement as Apprentice Mate (steersman), and a completed TOAR, the mariner should apply for Mate (Pilot) of Towing.
  • With 1440 days (4-years) of experience that includes 540 days (18 months) as Mate of Towing while holding an MMC endorsement as Mate (Pilot) of Towing Vessels the mariner should apply for Master of Towing.
  • A short cut from Mate of Towing to Master of Towing is to apply for a Master 500 ton endorsement after gaining 360 days as Mate of Towing on a towing vessel. This requires only a partial exam at the REC. The regulations state that a mariner holding an MMC endorsement as Master 500 tons or more and a completed TOAR may serve as officer of any towing vessel within the authority of their endorsement.

How and where you start the process of becoming a tugboat captain depends on your personal situation and the total qualifying sea service that you have. I invite anyone interested in seeking profession credentials to stop by the school during our Open House, December 28 and 29, for free license consulting were we can make a career plan that capitalizes on your existing sea service and also considers your individual needs. I am here to help.


About Dennis

Instructor and Director at Columbia Pacific Maritime LLC
This entry was posted in Frequently Asked Questions, How to ...... Bookmark the permalink.

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