It seems like everyone wants to drive the boat these days. The mentality of a lot of crews is that the captain has the easy job. So why not get a captain’s license and be the captain? It’s an easy piece of paper to obtain in the USA. No experience necessary to speak of. Just show you spent a certain amount of time on a boat. Even your dad’s ski boat will get you time towards your license.
If you’ve spent a little time on a charter boat you can even get a charter for-hire license; a six-pack license they call it. To obtain a captain’s license easily, you may enroll in a local captain’s license sea school. This school is basically a cram course that lasts about a week and it’s pretty idiot-proof. As a matter of fact, most sea schools in the United States guarantee that you will pass the test or it is free to take the next time.
The test-taking requires no experience of boat handling, no systems experience and nothing to do with the operation of boats. All you have to do is pass some questions on rules of the road, a couple of navigation questions, a little safety and CPR and you can call yourself the big skipper. At least, to obtain a bigger license, such as a 200 ton or a 500 ton, you must show documented proof of sea time on that particular size of vessel. Still, no experience in boat handling is necessary.
I have friends that have obtained a captain’s license from England where the requirements are much more stringent. If your sea time comes from a ski boat, that’s the kind of license you get: a bay license. To get a basic captain’s license in England, through the Royal Yachting Association, it requires a certain amount of sea time on the tonnage boat you want to be licensed for.
The requirement is one week of classroom theory and navigation law. Then a week spent at sea, one on one, with an instructor. You must prove to the instructor that you can properly operate all systems of said vessel. You must also prove that you can navigate in inland and international waters, prove that you can navigate in the fog, at night, calculate fuel burn from port to port, use charts, dividers and parallel rules, and calculate your set and drift with no electronic navigational assistance. You must prove that you are able to maneuver and dock the boat, then you receive a license only if you are considered qualified by the instructor. A much better system in my opinion.
With all that said, I believe a minimum of five years on the deck and proof of knowing how to operate all systems and navigation is a must before thinking about climbing the ladder. To all the owners out there looking to hire a captain, the old saying “You get what you pay for” might be a consideration when you are looking to put someone in charge of your bazillion dollar investment.
Before you hire, check and see where they have been and what they have done. See if they have experience in things such as trip planning, customs, immigrations, ZARPES, crews lists, insurances, maintenance, safety, navigation, logs and financial records and the list goes on. So to all of those who think the captain’s job is easy, there is much more to it than driving the boat!
—That’s my two-minute warning. Fraz