Are you a Captain?

I have been sailing as mate for more than a few years now and I’ve noticed a trend. There are a lot of mariners who have master’s licenses but do not sail as captain. Yet I’ve seen many guys who once they move shoreside in a management role begin to call themselves Captain this or Captain that. In my experience unless you have sailed as a Captain you should not represent yourself as one. What are your opinions about this? Does having the license entitle you to the title? Or are they overstepping?


How many fully grasp the burden of responsibility, once they have the glory of being captain?

I always say the person makes the license/capacity, not visa versa.


Personally, I held the license for many years before I got my shot at the “catbird seat” but never once considered myself a Captain until that point. I have further feelings on the respect shown to Captain’s I sailed for in not using their first name at any time. Captains like Doctors hold a traditional place in my opinion for using their last name only in the professional sphere. If I were ever to move to an office (god fucking forbid), I would not introduce myself as Captain or expect others to address me as one. If the goal is to convey your seagoing experience, hopefully a few minutes of conversation would be enough to convey that fact.


Captain (when ashore) was always an honorific for older, very experienced men, who had earned the title from respect of the local office workers/citizenry. It wasn’t something you bestowed on yourself. The local townspeople or coworkers did it. This applied to both military and merchant captains, in my experience. Commercial fisherman as well. In our coastal town, anyways.

Anybody under say 60, calling themselves Captain, in an office setting, is stepping way over the boundary line in to d-baggery…

Kinda like how every one likes to reference themselves as a “Master Mariner” in their resumes and print media now. Wtf. You hold a Master’s license and were employed as Captain. Nobody is a “Master Mariner”.


My time as master is very short and most of it was in shipyard yet sometimes I put Captain on things and someone from the peanut gallery always writes to bust my chops and claim I can’t use the title.

I can say definitively that the entire thing is a loosing battle. Even if you have decades of seatime someone will say the ships wasn’t large enough, didn’t carry enough crew, didn’t sail into enough ports… the unofficial “requirements” to use the title are different for everyone.

I once went to interview a salty old pilot who was very experienced and knowledgable. Usually I jsut call Captain’s by their first name but this guy I really respected so I called him Captain and he said “Call me Jim, the only people who I make call me Captain are lawyers and government pricks.” I think this is a good general policy for informal communication. I do a bunch of consulting with the Navy and found everything goes smoother with the title. Same thing in court. But if I’m just having beers with a Navy guy or lawyer it’s always just John.

Mostly where I get in trouble is when my name is published by a major publication like the New York Times or with my book. They have a style guide which sets out very specific guidelines on who is called what. The book I wrote myself so I got final say but it was a bit of a fight. Most (not all) top reporters for publications like the New York Times calls they have a lot of background check. I don’t tell them what to call me… they tell me what I will be called and most of the time it includes the title. That’s their rules not mine.

We try to use the same guidelines for gCaptain so I usually try to include it (especially, considering the pilots advice, when it’s about the government)… but often I don’t simply because I prefer not to.

But I haven’t answered your question… what about shoreside. The truth is I never asked to be called captain by someone in the industry… but most shoreside people include the title when they call. I could ask to be called just “john” but I find it’s a loosing battle… and sometimes it turns into a long argument with them saying I earned the title and should use it proudly… so now they can call me whaterver they want… I’m not going to complain.

Outside of journalism industry titles are legally (i.e. if theycan be used in court) governed by the leading professional organization in your country. For me that’s the Council of American Master mariners. Within that council I do not have enough seatime to be a full member but regardless of membership the title “Captain” is still printed on everything they send me due to their internal policy. So that’s what give me the right to use it shoreside.

The bottom line - in my humble opinion - is that the title designates both acknowledgement of your accomplishment in obtaining the license and the respect you have earned in the industry and has little to do with your seatime. I believe that Captain is something that other people call you if you have earned the license and their respect… and is not something you should call yourself (outside dealings with uncle sam).

-Just John

P.S. The corollary to that question is total BS… the use of the term “Master Mariner”. Some people have the idea that you need both a Chief Engineer and Master Unlimited to use that title. Bullshit… anyone who’s read Moby Dick can tell you the term Master Mariner was in use well before the engine was invented. In fact, some countries reserve the title “Master Mariner” to those who have a Captain’s license but have not earned the right to call themselves captain. So it’s basically a step down from Captain… not a step up as many claim it to be.

So, in certain countries a newspaper will call me John Konrad, Master Mariner… in the print then call a pilot who’s quoted in the same article - but has decades of experience I don’t have - Captain John Doe.

Again… these are rules of the english language and we don’t get to make up the rules just because we work in the industry and something bothers us… English professors at places like Harvard are the ones who hold that right.


I cringe when somebody calls me that even when sailing as Master, I have been on some boats where EVERYBODY wanted to be called Captain or Cap. I had enough titles in the military. I prefer Senior or Tim.


HA! I never really thought about it when I got “the” promotion - I sort of let people decide for themselves as long as what needed to get done got done. HOWEVER, these days in the job hunt? I would say that using the term “Captain”, when you’ve actually sailed captain, is more of a liability than anything else. Ah, well…

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Holding a master’s license is what designates that one is a Master Mariner. It’s a trade title like master blacksmith, master wheelwright, and for you fishermen, master baiter.

In the US it is considered tacky to call oneself captain on business cards and such (unless it’s for the ship you’re captain on) but you can put the letters MM after your name to designate master mariner or just write it out.

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Of course, you and John are correct. I’m familiar with the term. I’ve just always disliked it as a point of English language. Doesnt roll off the tongue. It seems redundant to me. Its never used outside of resumes, articles, etc. On top of that I dont know why but it sounds pretentious to me, whereas for some reason Master and Captain don’t! I have proven John right, its really just about rules in each persons head.


I cringe every time someone calls me Captain as well. To be perfectly honest, I don’t feel like my 1600 ton (limited) license qualifies me for that title. So for my crew, I’m just John too. If they really feel the need to call me by some title, I tell them to call me anything else and then let me know so I can answer to it.

Heh, heck, for one (damn good) chief engineer I even went by a–h—. (Started as a joke and just kinda took hold. Damn good crew and I’d give my eyeteeth to sail with them again)

One thing I noticed is the limited tonnage masters (under 100, more likely 25) use the title the most, as if calling themselves Captain makes the license more useable


Amen! And the yachties and weekend warriors that don’t even have a license… but they have a boat!! :roll_eyes:

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BTW The worse are guys who take the time to call every magazine subscription and have Captain added to their name on the mailing label. In fact, the first thing I’d do when a new Captain arrived was ask him if he brought any magazines from home… and if the shipping label said captain I knew it was going to be a very long hitch.


My Certificate of Competency issued by the Government of the UK states that I am/was a Class 1 (Master Mariner), which I believe equates to the American Unlimited Licence. I mostly served on British registered ships and on joining signed the Ship’s Register as Master as required by the UK Merchant Shipping Act, conferring on me a number of defined responsibilities. I therefore felt that I was entitled to give myself the title of Captain, and felt that this process would be the means of determining whether one could be called “Captain” or not, regardless of one’s qualification. Having retired from the sea I ceased to call myself Captain but retained the title of “Master Mariner” on my business cards. Those were my rules and I think they are pretty sound. I am therefore bewildered by ships which apparently have two captains, and in the case of the Aviq and the Kulluk “Anchor Captains”. What the hell are they?


Barge captain, anchor captain. . . . I have found that many in the marine surveying business hang that title of Captain on their business cards when their only certification may be a Six Pack license. . . .

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Fishing and hunting guides have gotten really bad about all calling themselves Captain, even introducing themselves as Captain…

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To me it is fairly clear who is a Master Mariner:
Anybody who have past the required examination to qualify to hold a CoC allowing him/her to command vessels of any type, any size in any waters. It is not a job description, but more of an academical definition.

In the UK and some other European countries the title “Extra Master” was a qualification that go beyond the requirements for obtaining a CoC as Master F.G. and mostly of academical value, or for Management jobs.
The STCW convention has done away with this title and replaced it with Master of Nautical Studies or Maritime Management:

Now for who can call themselves Captain:
Just about anybody seams to be bestowed or adapt this title, incl. bus driver and head waters in restaurants in some parts of the world. In the maritime context, anybody in a position of “command” of a vessel of any type and size in any type of operation, apparently feel entitle to call themselves Captain, or even demand that others do so. (Or others call them Captain for convenience and lack of knowledge)

To me it is a title that should be used only by those who have the qualification as a Master Mariner and are, or have been in command of vessels in foreign going trade, although in some cases even Masters of a vessel in Coastal Trade my qualify.

As to retaining the title when no longer in command?
This is a matter for each individual. In my case I have done so for convenience. As a Marine Consultant and Surveyor, having the title Capt. in front of my name and the letter MM after on my business card, save me from explaining my background all the time. (The MM to distinct me from all the “Capt.” with a different academical and work background)

PS> The drawback is that I end up being only “Captain” without a name in many cases.
PPS> I have noticed the many Americans like to use the title Captain with their first name only, while Brits are more into using Last name.
Norwegians are more reluctant to used the title, or have business cards, at all. (I’m not a typical Norwegian, but more of a Singaporean in this aspect)

I’m a Master.

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As mentioned above I always get a few angry emails or messages from the peanut gallery when I write under the byline Captain John Konrad. But I also should mention that I get a (albeit smaller) number of emails when I don’t include the title.

Here is one such email I recently received:

One constant in history is that government entities continually try to marginalize our profession and strip the master of his rights and duties and they start by omitting our professional titles. Latterly there seems to have been some movement to replace the ancient and honorable titles of Captain and Master Mariner by more anonymous terms. At one stage in history there was a suggestion that the Master be known as Ship Manager and the title of Captain dropped entirely. This trend seems to have faded as ships now have smaller crews. One can only hope that these efforts come to nought. Perhaps the day may yet come when a newly promoted Master Mariners will be as proud to call himself Captain while ashore or put the letters MM after their names as members of other professions do with theirs.
To this end I request that you, regardless of your experience as master, write under the byline Captain John Konrad or John Konrad, MM.


Most style guides agree that these guys may use the title only while they are aboard the boat while working and in charge of that boat.

But, again, most style guides and courtrooms make their rules off both tradition (that’s why all style guides say we can use the title shoreside but disagree as to whether aviators can use it) and the rules set by the leading professional organization in our country.

For American’s that organizaiton is CAMM. They have three membership levels and members of the top two are called Captain within the organization. Here are the requirements to join at the top two levels:

Regular Membership
Unlimited Master Mariner License who commanded vessels over 5,000 GRT on ocean voyages.
Senior or First Class Pilot with minimum of one year experience on vessels 20,000 GRT or more.

Special Membership
Unlimited Master’s license but who has not commanded a vessel or vessels of over 5000 GRT on voyages.
Second or Third Class Pilot on vessels less than 20,000 GRT.
USCG 1600 ton Master’s license who has commanded a vessel or vessels on voyages.
USCG 500 ton Master’s license who has commanded a vessel or vessels on voyages.

So a 500ton master is recognized depending on his experience at that level (he would have to apply to CAMM and have his resume reviewed before he could be recognized and claim use of the title) as is an Unlimited Master with zero days sailing as master (regardless of membership status).

Again, these aren’t hard and set rules (the English language has no such rules despite what some Grammar nazi’s seem to think)… it’s just the guidelines that most editors and lawyers and such go by.