From the TRITON yachting mag:
Earning your captain’s license should be hard
Attendees of The Triton’s May Bridge luncheon were, from left, Darren Nightingale, Paul Canavan, Rustin Nightingale, Gordon Ward, Veronica Hast, Brian Conner and Norm Treu.
By Dorie Cox
May 28, 2010
Being a captain on a megayacht is tough, but actually getting the license can prove even tougher. It takes instructional courses, paperwork, time at sea, time away from work and money.
“My guess is, it costs at least $25,000 to get a license,” a captain said at this month’s Triton From the Bridge captains luncheon.
Captains were invited to discuss obtaining and maintaining licenses and certifications and the future of licensing in the yachting industry. The captains in attendance have varying licenses and levels. Included were MCA, USCG and Royal Yachting Association (RYA) tickets varying in size with experience ranging from several years to several decades in the industry. Each captain had a different course in their licensing story.
“I took the 200-ton, then straight to 1600-ton,” a captain said.
“I started with a 500 MCA, so I’m not affected by coast guard changes,” another said.
“I’m on my seventh renewal,” said a third.
As always, individual comments are not attributed to any one person in particular so as to encourage frank and open discussion. The attending captains are identified in the accompanying photograph.
Problems with licensing
Licensing is an ongoing issue for crew as they continually navigate official Web sites, communicate with bureaucracies and sift through codes of federal regulations and notices to mariners. They monitor their peers for news and watch for suggested classes trying to stay ahead, or at the least on track.
“I have really pushed it to get my license. I have had to fly to Antibes, England, wherever the courses were, during my holidays, to get it done,” a captain said.
Sometimes captains have quit a job to take courses.
“But it paid off to work so hard to get the license, some guys that started with me are still chasing their lower license because they didn’t push it,” he said.
It’s hard to avoid having a ticket and most wouldn’t take the risk of not being licensed. Insurance companies often control who is allowed to work onboard and most new hires have to be approved by underwriters.
“I’ve seen crew denied by the insurance company,” a captain said.
Another issue is sea time. It is counted differently between USCG and MCA and it can take more time at sea for Americans to get their license compared to time required for MCA license.
“Has the USCG ever verified anyone’s sea time?” a captain asked and no one knew of the coast guard calling to verify their sea time.
“I did both U.S. and MCA because it was easy to do,” said a captain who explained how MCA will grant a certificate of equivalent competency (CEC) for a U.S. license holder, but the USCG will not grant an equivalent license for the MCA. And only U.S. citizens can get USCG licenses.
“But MCA is still the big dog in the fight and they’re barking the loudest, they’ll make the changes,” a captain said.
“I’m not a fan of MCA, but it has brought rules and talent to the industry.”
“A 10-day course pretty much guarantees you a license,” another said.
“But this is about so much more than courses,” said a captain describing how someone can have a license to drive without much time at the wheel. Several captains agreed that it can be a potentially dangerous situation where a crew has been on the same boat since being a deckhand and has worked up with sea time to get a license, but may not be ready to handle emergencies onboard.
“And that creates a situation where they’re not trained to handle anything that happens outside the box of what they learned. It takes experience to handle situations in real life as opposed to a course,” said another.
“It should take 15 years to get on the big yachts,” a captain said.
“It costs a lot but I tell a guy that is starting to itch to change and move up to get experience on other boats. I’m a stepping stone and I know that, but I do expect loyalty until the day you leave. I expect 100 percent while you are with me and I am proud of my crew that have moved up.”
“How can you learn anything if you don’t go anywhere?” another captain asked.
What works with licensing
Several captains agreed there are a few areas where the industry is doing a good job. One such direction is that insurance companies are looking more at experience instead of just the level of license.
“Underwriters really have the control in this and they are looking at CVs now,” a captain said. “The resume really is the most important. They have to work up through the ranks, that’s why you’re called professionals.”
“I heard insurance companies are making people go through the simulator,” said another about how the insurance companies are actually guiding the industry.
Everyone at the table was happy with their current license level with one planning to do his 3,000-ton orals after preparatory courses.
“The MCA handles sea time much better with the seaman’s book and it is important to tell crew to that. They have to record their sea time from the beginning,” a captain said.
A full medical is required for MCA and that’s a good thing, said several captains. You have to have it every two years but they can put stipulations on it, like require a medical every year if there are issues. They will flag you for diabetes, high cholesterol, heart conditions, high blood pressure and more.
“In U.S. licensing you have a brief medical, the basics, like your heart and are you color blind, it’snot like the ENG1,” a captain said, in reference to the Acceptable Medical Fitness Certificates of MCA.
“I have to really get in great shape before that one,” another said.
Future of licensing
Yachting is a worldwide industry and yacht captains see with a global focus, so discussion grew to licensing in different countries.
“I think Australia is starting to coordinate with some of the international licenses. Now, there is an Australian master license, but you still have to do MCA courses,” a captain said.
“I heard Belize may get a new 5,000 ton license,” another said.
“I would imagine the MCA has pending changes, too,” said a third.
“It’s hard if I go home because I would have to change all my tickets, it’s not like the U.S. where you document time, i have to go back to school. But i think they are trying to close the loopholes,” a captain said.
Pending changes in Florida sales tax laws could limit the tax on yachts, allowing more vessels to register in the state. This conversation prompted a captain to say, “The Florida sales tax cap will cause people to want more American licenses because there will be more U.S. flagged yachts, but right now the big boats are all flagged offshore.”
Requirements are scheduled to change for both the U.S. Coast Guard licensing and Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) with modifications that could affect many mariners. If the USCG expected changes are implemented, they will not issue new 100, 200 or 500-ton licenses and will make the 1600-ton the lowest level master/mate licenses for oceans and foreign going routes. Qualifying time for 1600 and 3000-ton licenses would be 75GRT.
“The 500-ton test is the same as the 1600 test, anyway.”
“But the maritime industry is more than yachts, and the changes will seriously affect boats like tugs, where the guys will not have sea time for 1600-ton,” a captain said.
“The idea with the changes is to stop the problem of the guy that was a mate for two years then moved up to get a license without really being in charge of the yacht.”
Each of the captains expressed pride in their career choice.
“This is such a great career for the right people,” a captain said, “and you can pick out the new ones that are in it for the right reasons like us.”
The captains agreed they have worked hard to get where they are and all try to keep informed on their education and paperwork.
“And we know being qualified on paper is so different from being qualified for life,” a captain said, "hopefully, the proposed changes will fix that."
About the Author
Login or register to post comments
Do you get The Triton email updates?Sign up now!
Today’s Most Popular
Triton survey: Summer plans
Dubai police warn unqualified captains cause...
US Sailing looks into race deaths
Little blue dynamos heal what ails you
Experienced Captain Needed
Heesen Yachts sells two for delivery
Customs processing in specific marinas...
Yacht in ARC rally hits whale and sinks
Volvo Ocean race heads to Lisbon
Witty things stews say
Get the main site RSS feed
© 2004 - 2011 Triton Publishing Group, Inc.