Captain’s Licenses: General Sea Service Boating Experience

Qualifying Sea Service: What Counts and What Doesn't

Is documentation of sea time required for a captain’s license? 

To qualify for a captain’s license, the Coast Guard requires that you have a minimum number of days experience on the water. The total number of days required depends on the license you wish to earn. 


The Coast Guard requires that you have at least 360 days on the water since you were 16 years old. 90 of those days need to be in the last three years, this is referred to as recency. One day counts as a minimum of 4 hours on the water. You cannot have more than one day within a 24-hour time period.  




What counts as sea service? 

Sea service is a measure of a mariner’s lifetime experience on boats, whether recreational, commercial, or military. It may be counted from the day a mariner turns age 16 and accumulates over his or her lifetime. 


A day of sea service is any day that a mariner served upon a vessel in an assigned position in either the deck or engineering department of a vessel (not a passenger). The position may include duties such as: handling lines, being a lookout, steering the boat, and other navigational or propulsion functions. 


Sea service never expires and may be reused when applying for new endorsements. It is the mariner’s responsibility to keep copies of all sea service records. 


How many hours is a day of sea service time?  

One day of sea time is eight hours on the water. However, in many cases, the National Maritime Center (NMC) will accept a day as being just four hours when applying for an OUPV/Six-Pack or a 25, 50, or 100 Ton Masters license.  


A single calendar day can only be counted once, so if you spent eight hours on your boat and on the same calendar day went out for another eight hours on your friend’s boat, it would still count as just one day. A day can never be counted twice whether the day was spent on your boat or any combination of other boats. 


For the purposes of defining sea service requirements, the Coast Guard considers 1 month as 30 days, and 1 year as 12 months (or 360 days). 


What size vessels can I claim experience on for my captain’s license? 

You need time on a vessel with at least a 5-horsepower engine and NO greater than 200 GRT.  


How can I prove my boating experience for a captain’s license? 

CG-719S CaptureTo document service aboard vessels of less than 200 GRT: Applicants may use the CG-719S (Small Vessel Sea Service Form) or they may submit a letter which includes the same information required on the Small Vessel Sea Service Form. 


Remember that you must complete a separate Small Vessel Sea Service Form for each vessel you served aboard. 


If you are the owner of a vessel on which you are claiming service, you must also submit proof of ownership for that vessel. Acceptable proof of ownership may include: 

  • Title 
  • Registration (state registered vessels) 
  • Certificate of Documentation (U.S. Coast Guard registered vessels) 
  • Proof of insurance (which clearly identifies the vessel) 
  • Bill(s) of sale 


If you are signing as the owner of a corporation that owns the vessel, you must include a copy of proof of ownership of the company, such as a copy of the articles of incorporation. (See 46 CFR 10.232.) 


Photographs or imagery of vessels are not acceptable as proof of ownership. If you are not the owner of the vessel, someone with knowledge of your service must attest to its accuracy and validity in the proper location on the form by signing it and completing the associated required information. 


To document service on any vessel of over 200 GRT: Applicants may submit any of the following documents signed by an appropriate official, an individual holding an officer endorsement, an owner or an employer who is not the applicant seeking the credit (see 46 CFR 10.232): 

  • Certificates of discharge 
  • Letters on official letterhead indicating the vessel details, dates of service, waters of service, and position(s) served in 
  • Other official documents such as service logs or discharge books from marine companies 


How do I provide proof of ownership when signing off on my own time?  

If you’re submitting sea service forms to claim time on your own vessel or vessels, you’ll be required to demonstrate that you did in fact own the boat you wish to claim time on. This can be accomplished simply by providing records of your boat registration, vessel documentation, insurance card, or a sales receipt. 


What if my sea time was on my friend’s/family’s boat?  

If your time was aboard someone else’s boat, you must provide a sea service form signed by the owner of the boat you intend to claim time on. 


What if my sea time was on my employer’s boat?  

If your time was aboard your company’s boat, they will need to sign off on your time on a company letter head.  


How do I document sea time if the owner of the boat is deceased? 

If your time was aboard someone else’s boat and that owner is deceased, you will NOT be allowed to claim time since that person cannot verify on your behalf. 


Can you count military sea service time towards a captain’s license?  

Military Sea Time DocumentationSea service you’ve acquired while serving in the military may count towards your captain’s license. Generally, military sea time will be creditable at a rate of 60 percent credit per each qualifying day of military service served on board a military vessel.  


To be considered qualified time, the time must have been served in a capacity relevant to the type of license you are applying for. You may provide satisfactory evidence of U.S. military service in the form of an official transcript of military sea service, certified history of assignments, or certified statement of creditable sea service. A DD 214 on its own is not generally enough evidence of sea service time. 


american-flag-waving copyTake a look over this guide on military sea service time and check out our more information regarding our American Hero pricing


I worked as a crew member onboard a cruise ship, does that time count?  

Time aboard a cruise ship would not count toward the OUPV/6-Pack or 25/50 or 100 Ton Masters Level license.  


How can I get time upon the water if I have none? 

You can gain the required minimum days on the water by working as a crew member/deck hand, going out on friends or family member’s boats, or owning your own boat. You can also join your local boating club.  


Look over this video on documenting sea service time.