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What Size Boat Do You Need a Captains License?

If you have ever dreamt of becoming a boat captain and sailing the open waters, you may have wondered what size boat requires a captain’s license. It is important to understand that the regulations and requirements for obtaining a captain’s license vary depending on the country and the type of boat. In this article, we will focus on the United States and provide you with all the necessary information about the size of the boat that requires a captain’s license.

In the United States, the captain’s license, also known as the Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC), is issued by the United States Coast Guard (USCG). The USCG has specific requirements and regulations that determine when a captain’s license is needed based on the size and purpose of the vessel. Let’s explore the different types of captain’s licenses and the corresponding boat sizes for each category.

1. Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV) License:
The OUPV license, also known as the “six-pack” license, is the most common type of captain’s license. It allows the holder to operate uninspected passenger vessels that carry six or fewer passengers for hire. An uninspected passenger vessel refers to a boat that is not subject to regular Coast Guard inspections and certifications. To obtain an OUPV license, you must complete the necessary training, accumulate sea time, pass a written exam, and meet other requirements set by the USCG.

2. Master License:
The Master license allows the holder to operate inspected vessels, which are larger boats that carry more than six passengers. The size of the boat requiring a Master license depends on the type of vessel and its intended use. For example, a Master license is required to operate a charter fishing boat, a ferry, or a tour boat. The size of the vessel can range from 25 feet up to hundreds of feet, depending on the specific category and route.

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3. Additional Endorsements:
In addition to the OUPV and Master licenses, there are various endorsements available that allow captains to operate specific types of vessels. For example, if you wish to operate a sailing vessel, a towing vessel, or a commercial fishing boat, you may need to obtain additional endorsements on top of your captain’s license. These endorsements have their own specific requirements and may require additional training or experience.


Q: Do I need a captain’s license to operate a recreational boat?
A: No, a captain’s license is not required to operate a recreational boat for personal use. However, it is always recommended to obtain proper boating education and training to ensure safety on the water.

Q: Can I operate a boat for hire without a captain’s license?
A: No, if you wish to operate a boat for hire and carry passengers, you will need the appropriate captain’s license or certification.

Q: What are the benefits of obtaining a captain’s license?
A: Having a captain’s license not only allows you to legally operate a commercial vessel but also demonstrates your knowledge, skills, and commitment to safety on the water. It can open up opportunities for employment in the maritime industry and provide you with a sense of accomplishment.

Q: How do I apply for a captain’s license?
A: To apply for a captain’s license in the United States, you will need to complete the necessary training, accumulate sea time, pass a written exam, and submit an application to the USCG. The process can vary depending on the type of license you are seeking, so it is advisable to consult the USCG website or seek guidance from a maritime training school.

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In conclusion, the size of the boat that requires a captain’s license in the United States depends on the type of vessel and its intended use. The OUPV license covers boats carrying six or fewer passengers, while the Master license is required for larger inspected vessels. Additional endorsements may be required for specific types of boats. If you aspire to become a boat captain, it is essential to research and understand the regulations and requirements set by the USCG to ensure compliance and safety on the water.