Captain’s Licenses General Information

What is a captain’s license? 

Two Types of Licenses

A USCG captain's license is a credential issued by the United States Coast Guard that enables the holder to operate a commercial vessel. The two main licenses are the OUPV/Six-Pack and the 25/50 or 100 Ton Masters license. There are two endorsements that can be added for sailing vessels or assistance towing. These licenses can be obtained by taking the exam and meeting other requirements such as passing a physical and drug test, having a minimum amount of boating experience, and passing a background check. 


When do I need a captain’s license? 

You need a captain's license to transport passengers commercially. The OUPV or Six-Pack license allows you to carry up to six passengers for hire whereas the Master License is required for inspected vehicles carrying six or more passengers. While a captain's license is not required for personal use, some boaters seek out courses to brush up on their skills and feel the pride that comes with getting a USCG license. 


NOTE: The moment you have a paying passenger aboard is when you need a captain's license in the U.S.


What is the difference between a boating license and captain's license? 

A boating license or boating education certificate is proof that you have completed a boater safety certificate. Boating license requirements vary by state for recreational boating. 


A captain’s license, on the other hand, is issued by the U.S. Coast Guard and enables the holder to operate a commercial vessel. The OUPV/Six-Pack captain’s license enables a boater to carry up to six paying passengers, while the 25/50 or 100 Ton Masters license is required for more than six commercial passengers. 


Do I need a captain’s license if I am boating recreationally? 

A captain’s license is for those who would like to take paying passengers out on their vessels. Some of our students did get their captain’s license just for safety information and other knowledge of the waters, but you are not required by the Coast Guard for recreational purposes. 


Who would need to hold the captain’s license on the boat?  

The person who is operating the vessel will need to hold the captain’s license. The captain must always remain on board. 


What size boat requires a captain’s license? 

The necessity of a captain's license to legally operate your boat is unrelated to the size of your boat. It depends on whether you are carrying passengers for hire. However, some insurance companies may require a captain's license for yachts over a certain size. 


Which U.S. waterways need a captain’s license on to operate commercially? 

You must get a captain’s license if the body of water is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is almost all waterways in the U.S. 


Which license is best for you? Learn here


How can I learn navigational skills? 

Taking a captain’s license course is a terrific way to learn navigational skills. The OUPV/Six-Pack course covers all the basics you need to know! Mariners Learning System’s lessons include tons of material about navigating at sea, whether you need a license to operate a commercial vessel or just want to increase your knowledge. The navigational information in the course encompasses piloting, dead reckoning (DR), and electronic navigation. 


Take a look over our helpful e-guide and video below on why to become a USCG approved licensed captain.