Captain’s Licenses: Deciding Which License is Best for Me

Understanding the Basics of a Captain's License

What are the types of captain’s licenses? 

The two main captain’s licenses issued by the Coast Guard are the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels, also known as the Six-Pack or charter boat captain’s license, and the 25, 50, or 100-Ton Master License. 


Two Types of Licenses


The Six-Pack Captain’s License allows the holder to carry up to six paying passengers plus crew on uninspected vessels up to 100 gross tons, hence the term six-pack. These are usually recreational vessels that are normally engaged in charter fishing, scuba diving, or tour cruises. 


The 25/50 or 100 Ton Master Captain’s License allows the holder to operate inspected vessels as well as uninspected vessels. Any vessel that is authorized to carry more than six paying passengers must have on board a captain who holds a Master's license. Ferry boats, harbor tour boats, whale watching, and water taxis are examples of inspected vessels. 


What endorsements can I add to my captain’s license? 

Two additional endorsements can be added to your license. The Towing Endorsement may be issued to those who hold a Six-Pack or Master license and would like to engage in assisting vessels for a fee. To commercially assist other vessels that may be aground, disabled, out of fuel, or experiencing some other malfunction requires an endorsement for commercial assistance towing. 




Licensed Masters or mates may also be endorsed for sail or auxiliary sail as appropriate. This endorsement authorizes the holder to operate inspected sale or auxiliary sailing vessels within the scope and limitations of their license. 




Whether you’re a sailor chasing the wind, a power boater in search of the next big fish, or a cruiser looking for the perfect sunset, earning your captain’s license will open the door to new opportunities. 


Which captain’s license should I get? 

The staff at Mariners Learning System recommends that you seek the highest-level license that you can qualify for. There are a couple of options, depending on your citizenship status and boating experience.




Should I get an OUPV/Six-Pack or Masters license? 

If you are just looking to become a safer boater by gaining additional knowledge, then the OUPV/Six-Pack is the license that we recommend. 

If you are looking to use your license professionally, then we recommend that you consider skipping the OUPV/Six-Pack and go directly to the Master's level license. 


Which captain’s license should I obtain if I want to do ___? 


  • Fishing charter  
  • Sailing charter  
  • Scuba diving boats  
  • Tour cruises   
  • Lower insurance rate   
  • Take 6 or less paying passengers out on an uninspected vessel   
  • Operate uninspected vessels of up to 100 gross tons   
  • Education and safety alone: do not plan on using it professionally   


25/50/100 Ton Masters  

  • Ferry boats  
  • Harbor tour boats   
  • Sailing schooners   
  • Dive boat  
  • Whale-watching boat  
  • Water taxis    
  • Take 7 or more paying passengers out on an inspected vessel  
  • Operate uninspected and inspected vessels 

To learn more, see our one-minute guide to finding out which license is best for you


Which captain’s license should I get as a recreational boater? 

Most recreational boaters choose to get the OUPV captain’s license, also known as the Six-Pack. This license is not required for recreational boaters, but many boaters with no intention of operating a commercial vessel go for their OUPV captain’s license because they want to brush up on safety and navigational skills. Plus, people like the pride of knowing they’ve achieved the designation.  


You can also go for your Master captain’s license as a recreational boater, and you can achieve this license without first holding an OUPV/Six-Pack license. 


Do I need a captain’s license to be a fishing guide? 

If you want to be the captain of a fishing boat with paying passengers, you need a USCG captain’s license. To be a fishing guide for up to six passengers, you can obtain an OUPV/Six-Pack captain’s license. To be the captain of a ship with more than six paying passengers, a Master's license is necessary. 


What are the license requirements to become a Sea Tow captain? 

The minimum licensing requirement for Sea Tow is you must have an OUPV/Six-Pack license with a Towing Endorsement. However, many of the Sea Tow franchises require a Master's level license with a Towing Endorsement.  


If the Sea Tow franchise is using a vessel of 26 feet or more, they will require you to get a Master level license with a Towing Endorsement.  


We recommend going for the Masters + Towing Endorsement, if you qualify, to open up more job opportunities for you. 


Which captain’s license is needed to drive a tugboat? 

Mariners Learning System only offers courses that will help you get a captain’s license to have paying passengers aboard. The Towing Endorsement is added onto the captain’s license to assist disabled passenger vessels, for example- malfunctioning equipment or running out of fuel.  


We recommend calling the National Maritime Center at (888) 427 - 5662. They may be able to give you more information on what you will need and where to go for a tugboat license.   


How do I become a tour boat captain? 

You can work as the captain of a commercial tour boat if you acquire a USCG-approved captain’s license. For small tours with up to six paying passengers, the OUPV/Six-Pack license is enough. For tours with more than seven or more passengers, you will need a Master captain’s license. 


Networking and word of mouth are usually the best methods for landing a job as a tour boat captain. To get your foot in the door, you can start your career in the marine industry by working as a mate. This will give you invaluable local knowledge and help you get familiar with the ports and marinas in your area. 


What kind of license do I need for a sailboat? 

The OUPV/Six-Pack license is good for both power and sail. For those who want to run sailboats with seven or more paying passengers, a Master level captain’s license with a Sailing Endorsement is required. 


What is the difference between a sailboat captain’s license vs. ASA and US sailing courses?  

The American Sailing Association (ASA) and US Sailing Association both provide sailing certification programs. These programs are different from taking a course for the USCG sailing endorsement that can be added to your captain’s license. The Mariners Learning System auxiliary sailing endorsement online course will prepare you for this certification, whereas ASA and US Sailing courses will not. 


How can I tell how many paying passengers I can have aboard and which license I’ll need?   

If it is an inspected vessel with a Certificate of Inspection (COI) for more than 6 paying passengers, you will need a Master's license. If you do not have these, then you will not be able to take out more than 6 paying passengers. 


Generally, boats with COIs are built for specific purposes, like water taxis and duck boats. The COI indicates how many paying passengers and the level of Masters license that is required.  


Most recreational boats, like houseboats, are uninspected without a COI, and the OUPV/Six-Pack is needed to operate commercially.