Let’s begin with what it takes to obtain a United States Coast Guard MMC (Merchant Mariner Credential.) All mariners must be at least 19 years old, have their backgrounds checked, pass a drug test, pass a physical, as well as take all required classes and pass written exams. There are two ways to obtain a Captain’s License. The first, attend a Maritime College where upon graduation all Deck License students earn an honorary 100 Ton Captain’s License which coincides with their 3rd Mate of Unlimited Tonnage.
Secondly, one can hawsepipe, or work their way up. Not uncommon, many mariners start as an ordinary seaman and after compiling knowledge, seatime and classes they choose to test for the Captain License of whatever tonnage their experience allows them to.
Both paths require the core courses mentioned above before one’s deemed qualified to test. To test for a Captain license on your own you just need to pass a CPR/First Aid Training class and all 5 exams (Rules of the Road, Plotting, Navigation General, Deck General & and a “Master” module for the tonnage you’re sitting for.)
Mariners who attend an academy end up taking even more courses. On top of the requirements to just test, a Maritime graduate will take Advanced Firefighting, Electronic Navigation courses, Global Maritime Distress & Safety Systems (GMDSS) course, Survival Craft & Lifeboatman course, and a security officer course. Some of these classes are piled into a single class where high performance is required by the Coast Guard, ensuring all the material and how to reference “bridge literature” is learned. Unlike the normal 100 Ton exam, all mariners sit for through 7 exams to earn their 3rd Mate Unlimited license. They must take Celestial Navigation, Near Coastal and Deck Safety exams in addition to the rest.
Now what is a Coastal Captain? A Coastal Captain is educated in all of the above, but possesses a personality combined with their skill set which makes them stand apart from all the other captains. A wise adventurer, eager to guide and inspire, lighting the way for any and all boat owner’s to push their boundaries out on the water, but within the safety constraints that they so expertly know how to walk along.
They are always on time, better yet, early. Dependability and professionalism from the moment they arrive on the job, until the end of time, because that boat owner is going to remember and have a life-long appreciation from the experience they shared. Attention to detail, from safe navigation to rinsing off the sea spray at the end of each trip. A personable Captain provides a much more enjoyable experience to both parties. Crack the jokes, share the sea stories, but know when it’s time to tune in to the job at hand. Lastly, a Coastal Captain goes the above and beyond on all fronts. Coastal Captains are elite amongst a sea of mariners. Their clients may be elites in their own world, and we are not to impose that, but to bring that same energy and experience to their helm.
All Captains aspire to be a Coastal Captain, enjoying their office view on an elegant yacht, destination miles ahead of them. Freedom and crisp waves between you and the horizon. Journeys filled with opportunities to make connections with walks of life they may never have crossed. The stories a Coastal Captain will collect are second to none.