Known generically as a Captains License, it is officially a Merchant Mariner Credential issued by the US Coast Guard National Maritime Center. There are different levels. The entry level is an OUPV or Operator of an Uninspected Passenger Vessel, commonly referred to as a “six pack” because it allows you to carry up to six paying passengers on your own or another vessel that is not inspected by the USCG. These are usually smaller vessels that may be for charter fishing, SCUBA diving, or small tour cruises. An upgrade to a Master license allows more than six paying passengers on a USCG inspected vessel. Typical vessels include charter boats, small ferries, dinner boats, and whale watch vessels.
I have the OUPV and the Master. The OUPV allows for charter operations up to 100 miles offshore, limited to six passengers. The Master allows for operation of vessels up to 50 tons in inland waters, which includes Puget Sound all the way up the Inside Passage and including SE Alaska.
There are several requirements to meet in the application process. I had to pass a physical exam, drug test, and background check. Certifications in First Aid, CPR, and AED are required. I had to pass five written examinations on charting, navigation, rules of the road, deck/safety, and the upgrade to Master test. A minimum of 360 days of sea service are necessary and have to be documented. Finally, all of these items are submitted to the USCG in an application package and they make the determination of which credential to issue based on the type of vessel on which you have experience.
So why did I do this? I did it for the technical knowledge and experience. It has been a long term goal. I will likely not operate Fiddler on a charter basis. I may make periodic boat deliveries or train new boat owners. Regardless, it is nice to have the credential to reflect the level of knowledge and experience I have gained on the water.