By Capt. Scott “Fraz” Murie
A captain’s license is an easy piece of paper to obtain in the USA. Necessary experience? None to speak of. The easiest way to obtain a captain’s license – just enroll in a local captain’s license sea school. This school is basically a cram course that lasts about a week. It is pretty idiot-proof. 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.
Thankfully 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 vessel. Still, no experience in boat handling is necessary. I have friends who 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, requires a certain amount of sea time on the tonnage you want to be licensed for.
So, what does it take to get a captain’s license in England? 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. Additionally, you must prove that you can navigate in inland and international water, 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 sea drift with no electronic navigational assistance.
You must prove that you are able to maneuver and dock the boat, then you receive the 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 as well as navigation is a must before thinking about climbing the ladder.
To all the owners out there looking to hire a captain to take care of your bazillion dollar investment, the old saying, “You get what you pay for” doesn’t necessarily apply these days. I’ve seen plenty of clueless boat drivers out there making top dollar. So, before you hire a captain, be sure to take the time to get character references and background checks. See if they have experience in things such as trip planning, customs, immigrations, ZARPES, crew lists, insurances, maintenance, safety, navigation, logs and financial records…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!