Which USCG Captain's License Should You Choose?

OUPV or Master License? Your choice depends on vessel size and passenger count. Learn the requirements and how to upgrade later.

5 mins read・Mar 06, 2023
On this page

The first step you need to take to get your captain’s license is to decide which type of license you’re going to pursue.

There are two main types of Coast Guard licenses:

License Type #1 - 25 ton, 50 ton, or 100 ton Master License

License Type #2 - Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV or Six Pack)

The type of license you choose depends on the size and type of vessel and the number of passengers aboard. You can always upgrade your captain’s license and add endorsements along the way.


The OUPV/Six-Pack license is the USCG license that many recreational boaters choose. It’s called the six-pack license because it allows you to take up to six paying passengers and crew members. This allows you to do small fishing trips, sightseeing tours, dive boats, or sail boats.

The OUPV license is also limited to vessels that are 100 gross tons (about 80 feet long).

Many boaters will get their OUPV license even if they have no intention of doing commercial boating. You don’t need to be licensed by the Coast Guard to use your personal boat, unless you’re taking paying customers out on the water.

Getting your license is still valuable because you’ll brush up on your navigation and safety skills. Plus, having your license gives you the option to captain in a commercial setting.

The OUPV qualifies you to captain uninspected vessels. USCG uninspected vessels can carry up to six passengers and aren’t required to be inspected by the Coast Guard. The uninspected vessel must comply with minimal federal standards for safety, navigation, and pollution prevention.

Inland, Great Lakes, and Near Coastal OUPV

There are three types of OUPV licenses that dictate the bodies of water you can operate on commercially.

The Inland OUPV license allows you to captain on U.S. Inland waters. This includes bays, rivers, and lakes (excluding the Great Lakes).

The Near Coastal license allows you to operate on Inland waters and Near Coastal, which is typically up to 100 miles offshore.

The third license type is Near Coastal with Great Lakes. This license allows you to operate on Inland, Near Coastal, and the Great Lakes.

OUPV license requirements

To qualify for your OUPV license, you’ll need to have 360 days of documented sea days. At least 90 of those days must be within the past 3 years. To attain the Great Lakes or Near Coastal license, you’ll need 90+ sea days on the respective waters.

The Small Vessel Sea Service Form CG-719S is used to record your sea days—the number of days that you were on the water (for 4+ hours in a day) in any given month and year.

Once you have the required sea time, you’ll need to:

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Get your TWIC card
  • Be a U.S. citizen (or show permanent residency)
  • Have a valid First Aid/CPR Card
  • Pass a basic physical exam
  • Pass a drug test
  • Complete a USCG-approved course

Read more about How to Get Your OUPV License

25/50/100 Master

The Master Captain’s License is required to captain any USCG inspected vessel, or vessels carrying 7 or more paying passengers. Larger tour boats, finishing boats, sailboats, and water taxis with more than 6 paying passengers on board require a Master License.

This license also allows you to captain uninspected vessels with fewer passengers. You don’t need to get a lower level license prior to this, or start at the lowest level. Your first license can be a 100 GT Master.

Similarly to the six-pack license, there are different Master licenses based on the size of the vessel, and the water you’re on.

To start, there are 25, 50, and 100-ton licenses. The 25-ton Master license qualifies you to captain vessels up to 25 tons. The 50-ton lets you captain 50-ton vessels. And the 100-ton lets you captain 100-ton vessels.

The license you qualify for depends on your documented sea days and the tonnage of the vessels you were serving on.

25 Ton Master = You have a minimum of 360 days on vessels less than 17 gross tons (GRT).

50 Ton Master = You have 180 days on vessels 26 GRT or larger, or 360 days on vessels 17 GRT or larger.

100 Ton Master = You have 180 days on vessels 51 GRT or larger, or 360 days on vessels 34 GRT or larger.

The Coast Guard will decide which license you’re qualified for based on your documented sea days on your license application. And if you get more sea time on larger vessels, you can always apply for an upgrade, so it’s best to focus on getting the license for the work you’re currently doing.

It only takes 90 days of additional sea service to remove tonnage limitations. For example, after 90 days of sea service, you can apply to upgrade from 50 Ton Master to 100-Ton Master. Note: The Coast Guard won’t automatically update this for you—you’ll need to apply for it.

Just like the OUPV, there are Great Lakes, Inland, and Near Coastal Master Licenses, and your qualification depends on the location of your sea days.

How big is a 25/50/100 Ton vessel?

A 25 GRT vessel doesn’t mean the vessel weighs 25 tons. There are specific formulas to measure GRT outlined in the Coast Guard’s Tonnage Guide.

To give you a general idea of the different vessel sizes:

  • A 25-ton vessel can be 40-60 feet depending on how it's built.
  • A 50-ton vessel can be 60-70 feet depending on the type of vessel and material
  • A 100-ton vessel can be upwards of 200 feet, depending on its construction and uses

25/50/100 Master general requirements

In addition to the required sea days, there are general requirements for your Master License that are similar to the OUPV requirements. These include age, experience, character, physical health, citizenship, approved training, professional competence, a drug test, and more, including:

  • Obtaining your TWIC card
  • You must demonstrate an ability to speak and understand English.
  • You must have at least 90 days of required service on vessels of appropriate tonnage or horsepower within the past 3 years of your application date.
  • You must be at least 19 years old (21+ for ocean-going vessels).
  • You must have had a physical done within the past 12 months.
  • You must get a background check done.
  • You must have a valid CPR and First Aid certificate.
  • You must complete the appropriate USCG-approved course.

Master license endorsements

In addition to the USCG Master License, there are additional endorsements that qualify you for activities. These include the Assistance Towing Endorsement and Auxiliary Sailing Endorsement.

To operate an inspected (more than six paying passengers) sailing vessel, you need a U.S. Coast Guard auxiliary sail license endorsement attached to your Master License.

You’ll need at least 180 sea days on a sail or auxiliary sail vessel for a Sailing Endorsement onto a Master Inland/Great Lakes Captain’s License, and 360 sea days on a sail or auxiliary sail vessel to add the endorsement onto a Master Near Coastal License. You also need to pass a USCG-approved auxiliary sail course.

Both the OUPV and Master License can be endorsed for commercial assistance towing of disabled vessels—within the scope of the license.

No documented experience is required for the towing endorsement. You must pass a written examination or complete a Coast Guard-approved course demonstrating your knowledge of towing safety, equipment, and procedures.

The validity of the endorsements are the same as your license or MMC on which they’re included, and will be renewed with your MMC.

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 $349 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.

No matter if it is your first MMC, your second Upgrade or your fifth Renewal USCG Licensing is easy with MM-SEAS.
Sign Up for Free
Always Free | $349 if you file with us (Includes fees)

About the author

Sam Mckay
Sam Mckay
NOAA Corps Veteran

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

Recent Posts