Top Five Awaiting Information Reasons for Merchant Mariner Credential Applications in 2021

The National Maritime Center (NMC) receives more than 50,000 applications annually from mariners applying for Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMCs). On average, more than 50 percent of those applications are incomplete or missing information, which cause delays in processing and frustration for mariners.

A total of 66,796 awaiting information (AI) reasons were issued in 2021 for MMC applications. Many MMC applications have multiple AI reasons. The five most common reasons a mariner will receive an AI letter are:

  1. Certificates and Documents are Missing or Incorrect
  • Missing training/qualification certificates: Most commonly proof of required training was missing. The most common certificates missing were First Aid/CPR, Firefighting, and Radar Certificates. Also, many certificates did not have the Coast Guard course approval number on them, which is required. Other documentation often missing includes a copy of the TWIC, Evidence of Suitability, Round Trip documentation, and STCW Assessments.
  • Missing proof of citizenship: Passport, Alien Registration Card, or Permanent Residence Card was not provided.
  • Unacceptable certificates or documents: Most commonly these certificates or documents are outdated, unreadable, or missing signatures.
  • Suspended or revoked driver’s licenses: If the applicant’s driver’s license is suspended or revoked, the NMC will look at all National Driver Registry records.
  1. Incomplete/Incorrect Application
  • Signature and date problems: The application often is missing the mariners’ signature or the date put on the application is date of birth rather than date signed.
  • Checkboxes on application not completed: Most common errors are missing National Driver Registry consent, missing best methods of contact, and missing type of credential requested. These boxes must be checked by the applicant.
  • Oath not taken or missing signatures: Section 4 of the application contains the oath and certifications by the mariner applicant. Section 5 must contain the applicant’s signature and date signed. Also, for applicants seeking their first MMC, the oath must be taken and certified by an individual authorized to administer the oath.
  • Application unclear regarding which credential is sought: Documentation provided does not match what the application says or description of endorsements desired is not a listed endorsement in 46 CFR. Applicants must specify what endorsements they want to be evaluated for.
  1. Sea Service Documentation/Recency of Service
  • Sea Service Letters: The employers have not signed, dated, or identified the waters operated upon. Also, applicants are commonly missing service time or do not meet the requirements for the credential requested.
  • Small Vessel Sea Service form: The form often has the incorrect addition of hours/days, or proof of vessel ownership is not provided.
  • Tankerman: Proof of Transfers/Service/Recency: Documentation submitted does not meet the requirements for amount of time, correct position, or dates performed.
  • Rating Forming Part of an Engineering Watch (RFPEW) and Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch (RFPNW) Service while in Training: Applicants are missing seagoing service that includes training and experience associated with engine room or navigational watchkeeping functions under the supervision of an engineer officer, or, for Navigational, a master, mate, or qualified STCW deck rating.
  • Tonnage/Horsepower: Applicants are missing evidence of meeting the tonnage and horsepower requirements in order to qualify for certain credentials.
  1. Fees
  • Fees not paid or incorrect: Issuance fees must be paid in order for a credential to be issued and evaluation fees must be paid in order for an application to be reviewed. Other common problems include the Military-to-Mariner fee waiver request not completed properly, the total paid is less than required, insufficient funds provided, improperly written checks, and no tax ID number on business checks.
  1. Drug Tests
  • Missing drug screen from the application package: A drug test is required for all transactions except endorsements, documents of continuity, duplicates, and STCW certificates.
  • Incomplete documentation: Examples include missing collection date, missing Medical Review Officer Information, and an unsigned drug test result/random drug screen program letter.
  • Incorrect drug screen used: The drug screen must be a Department of Transportation five-panel drug test from a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration accredited lab.
  • Drug screen too old: It must be within 6 months of the date of the application.

What can you do to prevent delays in issuance?

  • Apply at least 90 days in advance. Remember, for renewals you can apply up to 8 months early with no change between your expiration and renewal dates.
  • Use the Regional Exam Centers and Monitoring Units to review your application before submission. They are available for appointments in person or over the phone.
  • Use the tools and resources on the NMC website. The application acceptance checklist and evaluator checklists are valuable tools.
  • For general questions, contact the NMC Customer Service Center by e-mailing or calling 1-888-IASKNMC (427-5662).


/B. W. Clare/

Bradley W. Clare
Captain, U.S. Coast Guard
Commanding Officer


Says something about reading comprehension of the rejected applicant.


My application is still in limbo because I “didn’t submit enough sea service time”. Even though I have a copy of my original email application with several years worth of sea service letters dutifully attached in the requested pdf format.

That “reading comprehension” is a two way street. :slightly_frowning_face: Months of delays just to count up sea days doesn’t scream competency in my humble opinion.

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Back in the good old days when the USCG was a can do outfit, you just walked in to the USCG
MSO office, filled out an application, and a knowledgeable USCG staffer reviewed it with you sitting across from him, errors and omissions were trapped, understood, and often corrected quickly.

It was sometimes possible to submit the application, get it reviewed and approved, take the exam, and walk out with a license the same day.

The USCG sector knew the local vessels (they inspected many of them), they knew the owners, and pretty soon they knew you.

Today, the USCG NMC is an unaccountable “black box” hidden in the hills of West Virginia. It’s staffed by a steady stream of new affirmative action hires (with no interest in USCG licensing) getting their foot in the Federal employment door before moving on to better government jobs elsewhere.

A few months ago, I was in a Federal building trying to do business with a different federal agency. While I was waiting, I saw three distinctive looking uniformed staffers at an adjacent agency. Later, they sat right behind me in a coffee shop. Most of their conversation was about what boring, stupid jobs they had and all the other Federal “in-house” jobs that they were applying for. A lot of Federal jobs are only open to existing Federal employees. And yes, these three looked and sounded like under qualified affirmative action hires.

Apparently, civil service exams are a thing of the past. Or they have been dumbed down to the point of everybody passes.

It’s not just the USCG, every government agency has similar levels of incompetence and inefficiency. For another example look at MSC, Post Office, IRS, Social Security, Medicare, the State Department Passport Office, and so on. They are all about the same. None of them are as good as they were 30 years ago.


Not even 30 years… 20 years ago I could walk into Portland REC and have Barbara Fleming look over my paperwork and know if she gave me the thumbs up everything was going to be just fine. Now that everything is “centralized and streamlined” it takes ten times as long and is unnecessarily error prone. Bureaucracy is always getting bigger but very rarely, if ever, has it gotten any better.

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I recently submitted a completed toar for master of tow. Since i already hold oceans i put on my application master of tow upon near coastal/oceans.
4 days after i got the email that my application had been assigned to an evaluator, i noticed via email by usps that i was going to receive mail from the NMC (few days after that i ironically got the awaiting info email).
Turns out my evaluator needs a sea letter specifying ‘training and observation’ on a tug on a oceans route. The letters i submitted are on tugs inland/near coastal. Stupid me, assuming i already had an oceans license i didn’t see this one coming…especially since one of my DE’s was an atb capt of mine and that boat was on an oceans route…
So after all these years i guess i am guilty of lacking comprehension too. Like i have said before, they are looking for reasons NOT to approve you, they aren’t looking at it the other way.
The person i was live chatting with at the NMC said i can call and ask to be put thru to my evaluator. From my experience, if you are lucky enough to get thru that way, play the lottery.
So i emailed a request to change the app to master of tow near coastal. That was 4 days ago and still no response.

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Fair enough. I also have run across people at NMC who couldn’t read the regs. Back when RECs ran things one was dealing with professional government employees not contractors.

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Even back when the RECs were handling things the reasons for awaiting information was about the same, people not following instructions. BUT…
In my not so humble opinion the licensing of US mariners went down hill once they people that run the government decided to centralize and privatize via contract the credentialing process. In my experience once a government service is turned over to contractors a fair amount of professionalism goes out the window. Back when the RECs handled things I distinctly remember walking into the Chas. REC needing to renew quick. I have been at sea more than I had planned. [Email was nonexistent.] I explained I needed a quick renewal IF possible because I had a well paying job lined up. Debra Myers was the chief of the REC. She was a tough but fair chief, a great person. Got my documents to me poste haste.
Later, I had a hard working oiler who wanted to be an engineer, had the sea time but was afraid of the process. We were in Boston and I insisted he get his seatime letters go with me to the Boston REC. They kindly walked him thru the entire process and he became a 3AE and eventually a fine CE.
I miss the RECs and the personal service they provided. They also, for the most part, knew the regulations or would in short order find you an answer while you were standing in front of them. Now it seems NMC is just employing check lists read off a computer screen. If you satisfy the criteria and they can check off the blocks you are good to go. Anything out of the ordinary? You might need to appeal to the USCG management.
I have bad experience with government agencies that are turned over to private contractors to “increase efficiency”. Contractors exist to make a profit, not provide service, especially those contracted to the government.


All the phone answers at NNC are private contractors.

All the “evaluators” (legal instrument examiners) are civilian government employees.

I’ve heard that they only have three or four experienced evaluators and the other dozen or so are a from a revolving door of new arrivals and departures.

I heard that NMC only has half a dozen uniformed overseers.

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The REC employees were civil service [civilian] too, but for the most part career service and more than a few were retired USCG. There wasn’t much turnover. There was a grumpy USCG retired bosun in Charleston that used to give life boat test, among other duties, at the REC. Davit was out back over a part of the Ashley River. You needed to know the terminology of the davit launching process etc., but most important he had to be satisfied you could get his family off a ship safely if they were ever so unfortunate as to be on a ship with you :grinning: great fun

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The REC system worked fairly well. A world better than NMC.

A licensing and inspection are mundane tasks the USCG no longer wants. They just want to be “law enforcement” and “the military.” If they cannot go out and point guns at suspected “drug runners” and “”terrorists,”!the USCG isn’t interested in it.

Evaluators are not contractors.

You don’t need to wear the bus driver uniform to be a competent Coast Guard employee.

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Apparently there are not enough compete employees. Bus driver uniform? Is that how USCG personal are considered by the civilian evaluators?

Of course, there are many good, and a few even great, civilian employees at the USCG.

However, the lack of career military USCG personnel at NMC, and the lack of an adequate budget , indicates just how disinterested the USCG brass is in performing the licensing function.

I bet the USCG brass would love to pawn off the licensing program onto some other agency.

Much as I didn’t appreciate the reference to the bus driver uniform comment, I don’t believe having more active duty personnel at NMC would solve anything. By nature active duty are transient as therefore you don’t get any long term institutional knowledge which, at least in my opinion, is something that you really need for this type of regulatory system (hence why the long term civilians at the REC’s are so fondly remember by many here).

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I think I have established enough of a reputation to make it apparent that if I make the uniform comment, it’s a joke made in good faith. You are right that a 3-year assignment may not provide the level of knowledge that a civilian might acquire over a longer term. In its full context the comment was meant to note that a long-term civilian employee may have a similar, or greater knowledge of credentialing.

As far as the evaluators being transient, the job is not particularly high on the GS pay scale, and there are a very limited number of positions at higher pay scales. So, of course they may leave for a higher paying position in another government office.

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I dropped it because you objected to it.

I have the old fashioned idea that the USCG licensing evaluation process should have an ocean view and involve a few people who are actually in the USCG, and who know one end of a boat from the other. The licensing process worked a lot better when it did.

Moving the licensing process to a no pubic access facility in the hills of West Virginia did a real disservice to mariners and turned it into another unaccountable government black box.

Is there anyone that thinks the NMC is doing a better job than the RECs did? Or the OCMIs did before them?

There is only one reason why the USCG NMC is located in the hills of West Virginia. Senator Robert Byrd’s power as a corrupt pork-barrel politician who was holding the USCG’s purse strings and doing everything he could to bring home the bacon to West Virginia. He really barbecued the USCG.

This is similar to the primary reason we are carrying the worthless TWIC cards. A Congressman from Kentucky wanted to create jobs at a government contractor located in his district.

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Yes, it is located in West Virginia but is only 1-1/2 hour’s drive from the US Capital. Not quite in the boondocks as the descriptor “hills of West Virginia” would imply.

Sorry if I was overly sensitive. But your comment made me wonder, and I don’t know if you know the answer, but are the evaluators paid less than the REC staff were when they were handling the process. I know they didn’t seem to be transient in my limited experience, they seemed to stay in place.

As I noticed every day going in the opposite direction, there are a substantial number of people commuting from Martinsburg to DC. Also to Baltimore. It ain’t Mingo County.