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Long before we ever owned a boat, I had read about and contemplated the benefits of obtaining a “Captain’s license.” In those early weeks of discussing our plans, taking paying guests on board as a source of income seemed like something that we could do. Further research showed us that in order to operate commercially like this, one must obtain the proper licensing. Compare this to simply cruising on your own boat which requires little to no licensing.

Fast forward a couple of years and here we are now in Grenada, sans Captain’s cert. Obviously having such a thing isn’t at all necessary to do what we are currently doing. Inspired by our friend Scott on s/v Rasmus though, who is at this moment likely in class working towards his Captain’s license, I am once again considering the options available. Unfortunately, what I found were more questions than answers.

I posed the following questions on our Facebook page yesterday:

  1. Is there a Canadian equivalent to the USCG Captain’s License (6 pack)?
  2. Can Canadians test for and obtain the USCG certification (6 pack)?

What I (think I) determined was that yes, a non-US citizen can obtain a USCG OUPV* (6 pack) license. To obtain anything higher though, a Master’s license for example, one must be a US citizen. Where does that leave Canadians or those of other nationalities? Clearly there must be qualifications that are similarly recognized. Can anyone shed some light on this? I’m particularly interested in hearing from any Canadians who have gone through the process.

In the absence of a Captain’s license, perhaps I could just sell shackles. I spent some time yesterday making up a bunch of soft shackles similar to what is sold online for between $29.00 and $159.00. Pretty sure I could offer them up a bit cheaper than that!


*Source for the following: Seaschool

USCG OUPV (6 pack) license: For uninspected, 6 passenger vessels, inland or offshore up to 100 miles.

  • Requires 360 days total boating experience.
  • 90 of those days must be in the last 3 years.
  • 90 days, in any time frame, must be in Near Coastal waters (offshore).
  • U.S. citizenship is not required.
  • Minimum age is 18.

MASTER Inland
 (25, 50 OR 100 GROSS TONS): For inspected or uninspected vessels inland.

  • 360 days total time (same as the 6-pack).
  • Requires 90 of those days in the last 3 years.
  • U.S. citizenship is required.
  • Minimum age is 19.

With an OUPV Endorsement on Master Inland:

  • Requires 90 days in Near Coastal waters (offshore).
  • Lets you operate an Inspected Vessel on Inland waters, and a
 6-Pack Vessel out to 100 miles offshore.

With a MATE NEAR COASTAL Endorsement on Master Inland:

  • Requires 180 days in Near Coastal waters (offshore).
  • Lets you operate an Inspected Vessel on Inland waters and a
 6-Pack Vessel out to 200 miles offshore.

MASTER Near Coastal
 (25, 50 OR 100 GROSS TONS): This license covers inspected and uninspected vessels inland and
 offshore up to 200 miles.

  • You need to show 720 days total time.
  • 90 of those days must be in the last 3 years.
  • 360 days in Near coastal waters (offshore).
  • U.S. citizenship required.
  • Minimum age is 19.

47 Comments

  1. Those soft shackles look great, do you use many on your boat? If so, where? Regarding the captain’s course, did you check out http://www.marinerslearningsystem.com? They allow you to do the courses online and take a proctored exam throughout the US. They say the same thing about citizenship requirements for Master, but you could start with a 6-pack.

    • We do not yet use any of those shackles but I intend to use two of the ones I made yesterday to attach the snatch blocks that we run our genoa sheets through.

      The online course is one option. It seems silly to invest a bunch of time into a license which is a bit of a dead end for Canadians though.

  2. What does it cost to take the course and test down there? I know it’s less expensive on some of the islands than it is on the mainland. My daughter has been attempting to get her license for a few years now. It’s hard when you are a single girl and need enough $$ to take the class and test plus need living expenses (food and rent) to cover you while you take the test and have a boss that will allow you the time off to take the test and then still have your job to come back to after. She’s got the sea time it’s just the other that’s the hold-up for her. Good luck to you guys, I think it’s a great idea!

  3. Don’t know much about it but my friend is just finishing up renewing his six pack and seriously considered dropping it as the renewal was a PITA.
    Further, you can read about Jerry Barber’s saga of getting his capt. license in Grenada a month or so ago at the Vida Dulce blog.
    P.S. Moving onto Ainulindale tonight. House closes wed.
    Cheers!

    • Kirk: That rocks! We are already talking about where we can meet up with you guys. I searched Jerry’s blog but couldn’t find anything detailed on the subject. You have a link(s)?

  4. Transport Canada has a website that deals with obtaining Canadian certification. I had a look and it seems you might want to write to one of the offices listed and ask because I couldn’t find anything specific to learning away from a school.

    There are lots of Canadians out there operating charter boats – I hired one when in the BVI. Do you belong to Travel Talk On Line? There are a few thousand people who participate in that forum and, collectively, there isn’t much they don’t know. And a couple of Canadian boat captains are members. It might be a good place to go and ask.

  5. I just checked out the Seaschool website and noticed that they did not list obtaining a Transportation Workers Identification Credential (TWIC). Most schools list this as one of their requirements and all the captains I know have one. Check out the TSA website for their requirements for non US citizens: http://www.tsa.gov/what_we_do/layers/twic/index.shtm.
    I had to get one for my job and it was a pain the rear. It will require 2 trips to a TSA office somewhere is the States, PR or USVI. It would be a shame for you to go through the whole process only to find out that Seaschool forgot to put this requitement on their site. Cheers.

  6. I, too, have been trying (for quite a while) to figure out the licensing system. It’s convoluted, to say the least. I’m still not entirely sure how it all works (so far, I’ve never needed more than a PCOC and ROC-M).

    It’s my understanding that the US 6-pack licence is purely a domestic thing, and isn’t always respected by the authorities of other countries. As a Canadian, I wouldn’t bother with it.

    I’ve heard very few complaints about RYA Yachtmaster qualifications. They seem to be accepted almost everywhere. They’re not easy to get and require considerable logged experience and qualifying passages as well as theoretical knowledge. I’ve heard that there are Canadian and Caribbean affiliates that offer RYA quals, but don’t have the contact info for them. These aren’t commercial licences, but are widely respected and in some jurisdictions might be good charter captain quals.
    http://www.rya.org.uk/coursestraining/exams/Pages/RYAYachtmaster.aspx

    The exam requirements for Canadian commercial licences, that would be recognized internationally, are given in Transport Canada standard TP2293. It reads like a mix of legalese and bureaucratic specification (not exactly pleasant to sift through). http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/marinesafety/tp-tp2293-menu-2254.htm There’s a list of officially recognized Canadian maritime training institutes at: http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/marinesafety/mpsp-training-examination-certification-schools-1053.htm

    I hope this helps… frankly I’m still as confused as before, only with more paper (ok, PDFs) surrounding the confusion.

    • The Yachtmaster route may be where I go.

      • For the moment, Yachtmaster Offshore / Ocean is the path I’d consider, too. It is, after all, designed specifically for cruising yacht owners and skippers.
        I’ve heard (but can’t confirm) that some insurance companies look favourably upon this certification…

  7. Mike
    Yes you can get a 6 pack licence and not there isn’t a anadian one. TO get a Candian licence you have to have YEARS of experience and have it documented as well .Way too much for you Mike. Better check on insurance if you decide to get a licence and insuring your boat, its crazy high even for a 6 pack captain. Best to try and get on with the Mooring or Catamaran Charters in the BVi to make money. I was able to get my Canadian licence but then I had years of on water training and experience and even then it took two days of hard testing to get mine as I mentioned to you way back. Anyways…..
    Good luck!

  8. You would also have to meet the requirements for insurance, documentation, etc., of the jurisdiction in which you intend to operate. Wasn’t there something earlier this year about inspection requirements for any and all vessels carrying passengers for hire, including six packs? Seems to me I remember something about it, maybe in the BVI or thereabouts. Lots of captains screaming.

  9. A friend forwarded this to me:

    http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/SOR-2007-115/page-2.html#h-4

    It doesn’t say where/how but it does say it exists.

  10. Hans originally got his 6 Pack license because we actually thought we would like to earn money by living on, and chartering our own boat. Not So Easy!
    In order to charter your own boat in US waters, you have to buy a US made boat (We did, and I wish I could remember the name of that stupid law but I can’t). If you don’t own a US made boat you may rent it out to bare boaters who can either sail it themselves, or hire a captain. But you, the owner, are not allowed to captain your own boat.
    Really.
    Trying to charter your boat in foreign countries is pretty much prohibited. Those countries would much rather see chartering money go to them, not you. Basically, you just need to make sure if someone gives you money in order to spend time on your boat, you don’t blab about it. What you do if someone has an accident or gets hurt? I have no idea.
    So far the only benefit of this 6 pack license has been reduced insurance rates. And as for chartering? As much as I like to socialize with other people, I’m very glad we haven’t been forced to do this yet as I really enjoy our time alone on the boat.
    Hans is a green card carrying Canadian Citizen, and we’re still puzzled over all of these laws.

  11. http://www.bcit.ca/transportation/marine/

    Not sure what the other institutes in Central and Eastern Canada that offer these programs are.

    My partner Greig has his 60 ton and a whack of other tickets via BCIT (STCW 95, ROC MC, SEN limited to name a few). He did all his through BCIT. I have my MED A2 which two years ago, was the minimum for working on charter vessels as crew in Canada. I understand there is a plan by Transport Canada to eventually phase out the 60-ton for the 150 but as yet that hasn’t happened. I do know that for example, that if one wants to work on charter vessels that the minimum certification is the STCW 95. All those used to be referred to as MEDS – Marine Emergency Duties (A1, A2, B1, B2) and now all that is packaged under the STCW (Basic safety, Survival craft and advanced fire fighting). Transport is constantly changing this stuff up all the time so I know that it can be a challenge for these schools to keep up with being able to deliver the appropriate curriculum.

    Crewing agencies based in the US hire qualified crew from all over the world so perhaps checking with them may be a good place to get an idea. If you are on a US boat working in coastal US waters it makes sense that you have to have the US certs. I’ve a friend who works as a steward on private charter vessels and she uses Crew Unlimited and MTS when she needs to find placement on a boat. While I know going to crew on boats isn’t necessarily the question you were asking, perhaps it is a good place to start?

    I should think that because the maritime biz is international they do have to recognize the credentials of international seamanship and having a USCG “six-pack” can’t be the be-all or end-all. After all there are plenty of international boats with international crew that go into US waters and they can’t all have USCG certs. That just doesn’t compute.

    Also, BCIT, partners with the Justice Institute of BC (JIBC) and they are the main deliverers of educational services for paramedics, fire and police. Any firefighting stuff is done out at the JI campus in Maple Ridge.

    Hope my two bits help. Good luck!

  12. My husband wants to get a captains license too, even though we won’t need it to go cruising. He feels the more he knows the safer we will be. We will be cruising in power not sail, since we will be carrying our business with us and need the room.
    Good Luck!

  13. If you do get that license and offer trips – let me know! I’m in – for the party if not the sailing!! 🙂

  14. Thanks for all the info guys, im really looking into getting a captains licence as well, i think i would love to charter or run a big yacht (don’t think i have any desire for commercial type things) and am tryign to clear the mud away from this as well. I email BCIT Marine and will try rememebr to post anything here if i find out something useful.

    • Please do, Wes. Thank you.

    • Ok i got a reply, this is what they sent me
      QUOTE:
      “Hi Wesley
      Go to Saltygoat.ca, look under going to sea. Please contact me if you have any questions.
      Regards

      Barry Walker
      Chief Instructor Nautical Science Cadets
      BCIT Marine Campus”

      SO ill see if that leads me anywhere.

      • Hi Barry

        I am researching the same questions, and thus checked out ‘salty goat.ca’ the site is no longer functional, is there an updated place to go.

        Thx in advance

        James

        • James, what is it that you’re researching? I’ve written a lot on this subject since 2011!

          In a nutshell, if you’re American, you can go USCG. If you’re not, look into Yachtmaster qualifications with the RYA. That is recognized everywhere.

    • Ok so ive gone over the site saltygoat.ca and it looks like for me (and probably other people wanting a license for charting people around) would want to get their 60GT Masters – http://saltygoat.ca/index.php/going-to-sea/limited/60-gt-masters.html
      But it looks like say you want to be able to charter up to 20 people on a sailboat or motor sailor for whatever tonnage, you would need to work on that kind of “boat” for the hours you need. Maybe theirs some leeway, or maybe you would have to go bigger if theres nothing around what you want. Im starting to see through the mud, looks like theres some learning and some practical work i need to work towards =-]

  15. The Canadian equivalent of the “6 pack”. Is the IMO recognized SVOC certification. It can’t be done out of country as far as I’m aware but can be competed at an approved school in about a week. Seating requirements match pretty closely with those of the uscg. I hope this helps.

    • Thanks, Ryan. It’s amazing that everyone knows about the US licenses, and even those in the UK, but not Canadian ones.

      • Hi Mike. How did you end up resolving this — clearly you did, since you’ve been doing your charters for a few years now. We are about to start down the same road and it’s still clear as mud from where I sit. We are Canadian hoping to charter in the Caribbean on our own boat (we are the crew, not putting the boat into a charter fleet for bareboat). Thanks and if it’s just a matter of directing me to the right post, please do. Tracy

  16. I too am in need of some guidance. My husband runs fishing charters here in Canada and he is planning to charter in Louisiana in 2016. We need to know how to go about this.
    Thanks!

  17. Hey Mike you still out there. Just read the above feed. I am looking to start a charter operation as well. I am Canadian and found the same thing. It is not clear what licence to get but I have decided to get the RYA Yacht Master license. It apparently is the most recognized. To do work is US waters you simp,e challenge the test. Check out this school: http://www.allabroad-sailing-academy.co.uk/home/fastrack/
    Expensive but thorough. I talked to a guy from BC Canada that took the course and he loved it. He sailed all his life and still learned loads.
    My time line is to take this 15 week course next March then look for a suitable boat and start setting up for chartering. I need a first mate/cook if you know anyone;)
    I am wondering how expensive setting up in the BVI’s is. Insurance must be expensive as well. All stuff I need to build into my plan. Ideally I’d like to be 6 months in the Caribbean and 6 months on Georgian Bay part of Lake Huron in Canada.

    • Hi John. The RYA Yachtmaster is likely the best choice for you. That is what I ended up doing. I’d recommend that your do some searching on the blog (search box to the right) as we’ve already jumped through all of these charter hoops and have written about it extensively in various posts.

  18. Did you complete the Yachtmaster Coastal/Offshore course and now take paying guests onboard? If so, in what countries!?

    Thanks,
    Erin

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