How To Become a Licensed Captain

So you want to be a captain? If you want to have a career in handling water-faring vessels, you will have to give the idea some thought, because this is a radical departure from the usual land-based careers. But if you really love the open seas, then this might be a good career choice.

If you have the money, you can purchase your own boat and declare yourself “captain” of that particular vessel. If you truly want to be a government-recognized captain on a seaworthy vessel, though (and be hired with “captain” as the job description) you will have to go through an arduous process to get a license issued by your nation’s Coast Guard. Of course, none of this will be that hard if you truly love sailing and being on water.

  • Expertise. The most important determinant of your chances for being captain is your experience at sea. It’s quite interesting to note that one can count one’s experience on ships in general as a proof of that time at sea. As long as you are a duly employed personnel on a ship – whether you were a chambermaid or a DJ on a luxury liner’s dance club --- and the captain of that ship has vouched for your time spent at sea, you can use those hours of experience as part of your application.
  • Seaworthiness. This is where it becomes tedious. Aspiring captains are expected to be very familiar with sea conditions. Just how familiar? You will have to have spent 360 days of the past five years at sea. Each of those days should have at least four hours of exposure at a time. This is the mandated requirement by the US Coast Guard as of the moment. So clearly, a couch potato couldn’t just become a captain in a flash. One has to really plan this out long term and map out possible career paths along the way.
  • Character references. Character references are also important. At least three are required by the Coast Guard. These people should be able to vouch for your abilities as a seafarer. Former bosses or sailing superiors are good choices as character references.
  • Physical and mental fitness. You will have to prove that you’re in tip-top shape and that you can handle running your ship physically and mentally. As a screening procedure you would also be asked to test for prohibited substances.
  • Leadership skills. As captain, you would be expected to be the authority on board. Due to this, captains are expected to know by heart the rules of sailing as mandated by the Coast Guard. You are also supposed to be deft at contingency plans for emergency situations. Familiarize yourself with basic first aid and cardiorespiratory resuscitation (CPR) because these are also among the requirements.
  • Familiarity with technology. Be familiar with the technology and the jargons involved in sailing. In particular, you would have to be familiar with any specialized technologies that certain vessels might entail.
  • Background checks. Be prepared for a thorough background check and fingerprinting. The Coast Guard wants to make sure that the title of Captain is only given to those who truly deserve it.

Being captain of a ship is not all about yelling orders to your shipmates. It’s about leadership and responsibility. And the authorities make it sure that this responsibility is given to worthy individuals with the skills and ability to handle it.


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