When Do You Need a USCG Captain's License?

Need a USCG Captain's License? It's a must for commercial ops and varies by state for private boating. Know the requirements.

4 mins read・Apr 03, 2023
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If you own a boat or yacht, you might be wondering if or when you need a captain’s license. And if you do, which license do you need? The last thing you want is to be stopped by the Coast Guard and be unprepared.

This article will answer all of your boating license requirement questions.

Private boat captain license requirements

One of the most common questions boat owners ask is whether they need a license or not to captain their boat. The simplest answer is if you’re taking any paying passengers on your boat, you need a captain’s license.

There are other state requirements that you must comply with. For example, California requires everyone to carry a California Boater Card while driving a vessel powered by a motor of 15 hp or more. You obtain a Boater Card by taking a short boating safety course. Many other states have similar laws that require you to complete a course, and carry proof.

These requirements vary by state, so make sure to check your state requirements.

Note that a state boating card is different from a Coast Guard Captain’s license. A boat safety course qualifies you to operate your personal boat, and have your friends and family on board.

A USCG license is needed when you’re operating a vessel in a commercial manner. When people are paying you, you need a license to operate.

The two common USCG licenses are the Master’s License and the OUPV license.

OUPV / Six-Pack License

The OUPV (Operator of an Uninspected Passenger Vessel) license is one of the most common licenses. As the name suggests, this license allows you to operate an Uninspected Vessel.

An Uninspected Vessel is limited to six paying passengers, which is why the OUPV license is also often called the Six Pack license.

People choose to get their OUPV license even if they never plan on taking paying passengers on their boat. Getting your license will teach you more about navigation and maritime safety compared to the basic boating safety course that most states require.

This license allows you to do small fishing trips, sightseeing tours, dive trips, and other commercial activities in the eyes of the USCG. There are may be other state requirements that you must comply with along with your Six Pack license such as a commercial charter fishing permit.

These requirements vary by state, so make sure to check your state requirements. The OUPV license is also limited to vessels that are 100 gross registered tons and under (about 80 feet long). Any OUPV license can be used for a 100 GRT vessel, but there are 3 different license types that qualify you for bodies of water: Inland, Great Lakes, and Near Coastal.

If you want to have more than 6 paying passengers, or captain a larger vessel, you’ll need to get your USCG Master’s License.

Master’s License

The Master’s License is required if you’re taking 7 or more paying passengers, and for USCG-inspected vessels. This license also qualifies you to captain uninspected vessels. To qualify for your Master’s License, you’ll need to complete the application form for Merchant Mariner Credentials (CG-719B form). And you will need a minimum of 360 days of documented sea service.

There are different Master Licenses that qualify you to captain different size vessels and on different waters. For example, a 50-Ton Master Near Coastal license qualifies you to captain a vessel up to 50 GRT in Near Coastal and Inland waters. You can always apply for a new endorsement or increase in scope, such as 50-Ton Inland to 50-Ton Near Coastal.

General License Requirements and Process

As mentioned above, you don’t need a USCG license for your personal boat or yacht, unless you want to use it for commercial purposes.

Here are the requirements and steps you need to take to get your USCG license.


OUPV / Six Pack


Ability to speak and understand English.

Ability to speak and understand English.

U.S. Citizenship, or permanent residency.

U.S. Citizenship, or permanent residency.

At least 18 years old.

At least 19 years old.

Valid Medical Certificate.

Valid Medical Certificate.

Pass USCG-Approved Drug Test.

Pass USCG-Approved Drug Test.

Paid Mariner Fees.

Paid Mariner Fees.

360+ Days of Sea Service, 90+ Days within 3 years.

360+ Days of Sea Service, 90+ Days within 3 years.

Complete CG exam or approved course.

Complete CG exam or approved course.

Licensing Process

1. Decide which license you want.

You can upgrade your license from an OUPV to Master’s, or from a 25-Ton Master to 100-Ton Master, but it’s better to decide which license you want, and obtain that one first.

Read: Which USCG Captain's License Should You Choose?

2. Obtain a Transportation Worker Identification Card

A valid TWIC is required for all mariners getting their first United States Coast Guard-issued credentials.

3. Document Sea Days

USCG licenses require 360 sea days and 90 of those days within the past 3 years. You’ll complete a CG 719S form and attach it to your application. The vessel and waters you were on during that time will determine the endorsement you receive.

4. Medical

You will be required to complete a general physical exam. Any physician, physician assistant, or nurse practitioner who is licensed in the U.S. or U.S. Territory can sign off on your medical exam on the CG-719K form.

5. Drug Test

You will need to have negative drug test results within 185 days of your application. The test must be a DOT | USCG 5 Panel testing for Marijuana, Cocaine, Opiates, Phencyclidine, and Amphetamines. The USCG won’t accept any other drug test.

6. First Aid/CPR

You will need to complete an in-person First Aid and CPR course within the past 12 months. We recommend finding an American Red Cross First Aid and CPR course near you.

7. Fees

The last step in this process before submitting your application is to pay the Mariner fees. The costs vary depending on the endorsement type and course fees. When you submit your application using MM-SEAS Perfect Application, the fees are included.

8. Submit Your Application

To get your MMC, you’ll need to complete and submit the CG-719B form. To get your MMC with the proper endorsements, you’ll need to provide proof of your sea service, that you have a TWIC or applied for one, and that you’ve paid your required fees.

We hope this made your life a little easier and if you have other questions the MM-SEAS team is always here to help!

MM-SEAS is free to use on your own and if you need some more personalized help you can upgrade to MM-SEAS Pro inside of the site.

No matter what, when you are ready to submit your application, you can choose to have the MM-SEAS staff create a perfect application, handle the USCG application fees and work with the USCG on your behalf to resolve any issues for a flat fee of $299 or you can choose to submit on your own.

Pro MM-SEAS members get access to unlimited live 1 on 1 calls with one of our USCG Licensing Specialists. We've found that answering questions live with screen sharing in a video call makes both of our lives easier. Pro MM-SEAS members can access these features inside of MM-SEAS under License Guidance.

Need to renew, upgrade or get your first USCG license? We're here to help.

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About the author

Sam Mckay
NOAA Corps Veteran

Sam Mckay is a NOAA Corps Veteran working on his PhD in Nuclear Fusion

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