Let’s Talk About this Captain’s Exam

We should, because I can’t believe how close I came to failing.  What I learned was the test itself is not really that hard … if you know how to study for it.  And if you know how to find the Niantic River.  Stay with me.  We’ll get there.

First, let’s talk about this Captain’s Exam.  Had I known exactly what it was going to be like going in, I would have approached my studies in a completely different manner.  And, it was partially on a stroke of wild luck in the last two days before the exam that I took the steps that actually enabled me to pass.  Otherwise, I’m 100% positive I would have failed.  I really would.

Here’s what I learned: The exam is all multiple choice, 120 questions.  30 are devoted to Rules of the Road, of which you can only miss 3 as you must get a 90% on that portion to pass.  (I’m proud to say I got a 100%, and I’ll tell you how.)  60 questions focus on “Deck and General” (think firefighting, environmental protection, life-saving equipment, marlinspike and seamanship, boat handling and boat characteristics, etc.) and you must get a 70% on that section to pass.  Meaning, you can miss 18 of the 60, but the wide range of topics this section covers requires immense studying to familiarize yourself with every potential possible question you might see on the exam.  I learned many folks struggle with this section for that reason—it simply covers such a vast array of obscure, rarely used or cited regulations.  Another 30 questions are devoted to Navigational Aids (think red and green buoys, nuns versus cans, channel markers, navigational lights, etc.), while the remaining 10 questions are reserved for plotting.

In response to the question of whether to physically go to Captain’s School or go at it on my own through an online course like I did, I got many mixed messages from folks who had taken the exam in the past.  (Boaters … the only people on earth you can guarantee will have conflicting opinions on any given topic.)  Some licensed captains told me the school was five days of the teacher simply reading to you, directly from a script with a final exam at the end.  That was one of the main reasons I chose the online course.  I know myself well enough to know I do not absorb information well when it is simply read to me.  For hours.  In a monotone voice.  My brain turns it into that wonka-wonka-wonka of Charlie Brown’s teacher and my mind would totally wander—if it didn’t shut down entirely and take a nap—and I wouldn’t absorb a thing.  Then others told me—after I’d already decided to go the online route—that the school tests you every day, over and over.  That their specific intent is to teach you the answers to the questions.  If that’s the case, had I had it to do over, I would have gone to school.  But, I kind of did, on my own, just before the buzzer, and it literally was the decision that saved me.

So, the “Captain-in-a-Box” package I purchased from Mariner’s Learning System consists of five study books (both hard copy and digital), which cover each topic on the exam with a practice exam at the end of each (hard copy and digital, so two practice tests for each topic), as well as a chart and chart-plotting tools.

The hard copy materials are for your own independent studies, but you must take and pass the online course (trying as many times as you would like) before you are provided the necessary certificate that enables you to sit for the Captain’s exam.

The materials were very thorough, dense at times, but jam-packed with information, which was nice because you could read and try to absorb the knowledge at your own pace, then test yourself at the end to make sure the information actually stuck.  This was one of the reasons I chose the course.  What I was not aware of, however, were the massive amounts of regulations, rules and tedious USCG requirements that were buried in the materials, but not included on the practice exams as well as the intentional trickiness of the questions.  Even if you know the applicable rule for the situation, by heart, many of the questions are tricky and designed to trip you up.  Often, the answers seemed to range from maybe right to arguably righter, but there was only one Coast-Guard approved rightest answer that mattered.

Let me give you a sample.  This was one question that irked me from the beginning.  Particularly because it was a Rules of the Road question, so a very important one, but if I could, I would lodge a complaint about it.  It’s just … arguable in my opinion.  Rule 17 of International Steering and Sailing Rules states that the stand-on vessel (meaning the vessel with the right of way):

“[M]ay take action to avoid collision by her maneuver alone, as soon as it becomes apparent to her that the vessel required to keep out of the way is not taking appropriate action in compliance with these Rules.”

Sounds simple enough, but let’s look at these two different questions applying that rule:

The answer to #8 is C, while the answer to #13 is C.  Are you in any way confused?  Doesn’t the B option in #8 look awfully like the C option in #13.  The catch?  Whether the action is one the stand-on vessel may take versus must take.  In #8, they ask what is “required” meaning the rule needs to state it is an action the vessel must take.  Although I would argue the “should” in question #13 and “must” fall awfully close together.  But, this is just one example of how tricky the questions can be and how easy it is to pick the wrong one.

The good news?

They’re going to look just like that on the exam.  Exactly like that.  Word.  For.  Word.  Every single practice question I took in the months and weeks before the exam, when it appeared on the exam, read verbatim (both the questions and the available answers) from the questions and answers I had studied.  So, any question I had seen and studied before, always appeared exactly the same in subsequent practice tests, so choosing the right answer was easy.

My main fear going in, however, was that the questions would not look the same on the exam, or there would be others, dozens maybe, that I had never seen before.  For instance, if I had never been asked how many and what type of life preservers are required for 7 adults and 3 children on an uninspected vessel in the practice exams, I was not going to know the answer to that question on the exam.  Is it the materials?  I’m sure.  Buried somewhere along with the 8,043 other tiny little tidbits of information in the 500 pages I read through that seem almost impossible to commit to memory.

While the Mariner’s materials are comprehensive and do provide everything you need to know to pass the exam, for me personally I felt I needed to be quizzed—over and over—on everything that might possibly be on the exam.  Knowing this, on a whim, two days before the exam, I Googled around looking for other practice OUPV exams online and I hit the mother-load.  Thank you BoatSafe.com!  As I started taking practice exams available on other websites, I realized how many more possible questions there were—some straightforward, but many very confusing—and I was failing the exams left and right.  Failing!  I’ll be honest, I kind of freaked out a little.  Thankfully Phillip was out of town those few days because I spent about 10 hours straight each day taking practice exam after practice exam after practice exam.  I literally answered, I’m sure, in those two days over 5,000 multiple choice questions.  I’m not kidding.

I wasn’t sure what else to do.  I felt I could either read through the materials over and over and hope the tiny little tidbits, hidden in the riff raff, would stick, or I could bank on a hope that the questions would look exactly the same on the exam.  I chose the latter and spent hours of time on these sites, until I could ace every single exam, 100%.  I highly recommend these if you are thinking about taking the Captain’s Exam.  They were invaluable to me:  

http://boatsafe.com/uscgboat/  (my favorite, covering all potential topics on the exam)  NOTE: Blog followers have told me this link no longer works – Boatsafe must have decided to take it down.

http://www.raynorshyn.com/NavRules/Default.asp (a very good one, but only covering the Rules of the Road)

http://meiere.com/CreateExam/start_Exam.php (again helpful, but only covering navigation) NOTE: Blog followers have told me this link no longer works – Meiere must have decided to take it down.

With this basis going in—the undeniable fact that I only knew specific answers to specific questions, far more than I knew the actual, entire wealth of material they covered—I was really nervous about the exam.  Despite Phillip’s persistence that I was going to pass, I was not so sure.  I distinctly remember telling him in a text message: “If the questions are the same, I’m home-free.  If they’re different, I’m f*&cked.”  Pardon my French.

So, there I sat on the day of the exam, with four other guys—each of us with parallel rules and pencils in hand—waiting to take the test at a Comfort Inn conference room in Pensacola.  Before the exam, we all started chatting and I found this nervous-looking chap next to me had apparently done exactly what I did.  Memorized all the answers to every single question he could find and hoped they would look exactly the same on the exam.  Then the two guys next to us—each of whom had failed the exam once and each of whom looked far more saltier and weathered than Chap and I did—laughed and told us, that wasn’t the case at all.  “Some of the questions are the same, but others are different,” they said.  You’re screwed, basically, was the message Chap and I got, which pretty much ended the pre-exam conversation.  Then we just sat there and chewed our pencils until it was time to sign-in and start.

Chap and I had already decided we would take the Rules of the Road exam first as that was the one you had to get at least a 90% on to pass the exam.  Meaning, you could only miss 3 out of the 30 questions.  Just three!  I sat first, opened my exam booklet and started working my way through.  After 4-5 questions, I looked up and caught Chap’s eye.  We both smiled.  Huge grins and nodded.

The questions were exactly the same.

Exactly.  Word.  For.  Word.  Chap and I were golden!  We breezed through the Rules of Road.  (He and I both getting a 100%, thank you!) and started tackling the others.  Now, the Deck and General was a little more difficult as I mentioned.  It just covers so many topics, from vessel stability, to emergency procedures, to CFRs, to six-pack specific regulations, to the marine radiophone, marine engines, you name it.  While there are 60 question on the exam, so this allows you to miss 18 on that section and still pass, the world of possible questions they might ask you probably peaks in the 1,000 range, perhaps.  I’m not being precise on that, but it is a lot.  And, I also say with 100% certainty that I would have failed the Captain’s exam had I not gone rogue in the days before and started taking dozens and dozens of sample captain’s exams online because many (many!) of the questions I encountered that I recognized and knew the answer did not come from the Mariner’s materials, but, rather the online exams and—again—they were worded exactly the same.  Say it with me again: “Thank you BoatSafe.com!!”

As I worked my way through, I marked each question I came across that I did not recognize.  And, trust me, they were very easy to spot.  When I say Chap and I memorized the questions and answers, I mean it.  If it was a question you had studied before, you knew it by the time you read the first three words of the question.  You then stopped reading the question and started looking for the specific phrase you knew was in the right answer.  I hate to say that’s the best way to pass the captain’s exam.  But, for me, it just was.  In the Deck and General section, I marked 16 questions I did not recognize and breathed a sigh of relief.  I was 100% confident about my answers on the other 44, so I knew I had already passed.  I simply had a 25% chance on each of the remaining 16 to increase my score above 70%.  Although it wouldn’t matter.  What’s the joke?  What do you call a lawyer that failed the Bar twice before he passed?  A lawyer.  Same here.  A captain who gets a 70% on the Deck and General section of the exam, as opposed to a 100%, is still called a captain.

I breezed through.  With the first three sections (Rules of the Road, Deck and General and Navigational Aids) behind me, knowing I had passed each, I felt I was on the downhill stretch.  Just a coast to the finish line.  While I wasn’t an absolute whiz at the chartplotting.  I generally got 100’s on those exams when I would take my time, re-plot, re-measure and re-calculate, but even when I goofed up somehow, I got an 80 or higher.  I had yet to score below 70.  And, here I was allowed to miss 3 out of 10.  Those are some pretty good odds.  Everything was gravy then, right?

That was until the stupid Niantic River.

I sat there in my chair, shaking my head back and forth, not fully believing what was happening.  I had studied so hard and it was going to come down to this?  The stupid Niantic River!?  I huffed.  The rules said you could not ask the proctor any questions while taking each module of the exam, only after.  But, nothing made sense!  He must have given me the wrong chart or the wrong light list or something.  The question was: “What chart would you refer to for more information on the Niantic River?”  It wasn’t a question, or even the type of question, I had been asked during my many, many chart-plotting practice sessions.  The question was always: “What’s your ETA to the lighthouse?” or “What true course would you need to steer to arrive at Faulkner Island?” or “What was your set and drift at 18:45 on a heading of 43°?”  Any of those I could have answered.

I flipped frantically through the light list, searching for a listing for the Niantic River (although the question had not asked specifically about the light marking the Niantic River) and while I did find a listing for the river but it didn’t in any way match the numbers on the multiple choice answers before me.  I was stumped.  Irritated.  A little pissed off, frankly.  I marked the Niantic conundrum as one question I was probably going to miss and moved on.  The next question asked me what megahertz frequency I should tune to in order to get mariner’s broadcasts for Hartford, Connecticut, and I huffed audibly. Every other plotting test I had taken was just that, an exercise in plotting.  It required marking a lat and lon position, drawing a line, finding a heading, converting true to compass, vice versa, or distance to time.  All of that stuff.  No one had ever asked me what the freaking megahertz was for Hartford freaking Connecticut!  What the hell?  Frustrated, I marked that question as well as one that I did not know the answer to, frustrated to find two of my three gimmees already gone, and I was only on question #4 out of 10.  Things were not looking good for captain-to-be Annie.  The only comfort I took was in watching my buddy Chap flip through his light list just as I had done, shifting feverishly back and forth between the numbers listed in the book which in no way matched those on the exam.  At least I wasn’t the only one who was stumped.

Thankfully #5 was the exact type of plotting I’m used to.  Find the ETA for my arrival at Horton Point if I leave at 11:35 at a speed of 8 kts.  Perfect.  I’m golden.  I start working through a few more like that, hopeful I could get the remaining 8 questions right in order to pass, then I saw it.  While working a heading toward the compass rose, my parallel ruler landed right on it.  The Niantic River!  I had no idea it was even on the chart.  You’re probably thinking: “That might have been a good place to start, seeing how it is the chart-plotting portion of the exam.”  And I would say: “You’re funny.  You think I know what I’m doing.”   Silly you.

I had to hold back laughter when I saw right there by it, too: Niantic River, refer to Chart number such-and-such.  I looked back at the multiple choice questions on dreaded question #2 and there it was.  C. number such-and-such.  How freaking easy!  And what a dunce I was for not being able to answer it.  For not even referring to the chart to try to answer it.  My eyes then started darting around the chart.  What other really helpful things might I find here …  Then I found it.  The megahertz for various marine stations around that area.  And, there was one listed for Hartford Connecticut.  Right there.  On the chart.  I felt like such an idiot.  But a happy one at that!  I was about to pass this sucker!  I made my way through the rest of the plotting feeling like I probably got them all right, but you always guess a little on those when the distances or headings are just a few degrees off.  It’s hard to be that precise with a parallel ruler.

Regardless, I stood excitedly before the proctor and asked him to grade my plotting portion right there on the spot, and he did.  100%.  I nailed that shit!

I can’t tell you how glad I was to know I had passed and to have all of that behind me.  I’m sure a lot of those tidbits about cumulus clouds, MARPOL regs, and the reflective material on lifejackets started to dribble out of my head the minute I left the room.  But that’s fine.  I knew that stuff when it mattered, and I had done it!  Passed the Captain’s Exam!

While I do still have a little bit of work ahead of me in rounding up my necessary Sea Service forms, getting my physical and drug test, the really hard part is behind me.  Now it’s just a formality.

If any of you out there are thinking about going for your Captain’s License, I highly recommend it.  If only just for the education and training.  STCW school was awesome and I have a lot more confidence now that I will respond more calmly and effectively if we do face an emergency out there.

But, for the exam, I also highly recommend you take every single practice exam out there you can find.  Learn the materials, try to make them stick, but after that, try to remember all the answers.  Oh, and don’t forget to actually look at the chart.  Amazingly, there’s a lot of really helpful stuff there.  Who knew?  Stupid Niantic River ….

The pic I texted to Phillip right after I found I had passed.  Happy Cap’n Annie right there!

If any of you are curious about the process or have any questions for me about the study materials or the exam itself, feel free to reach out.  As always here at HaveWind, we’re happy to share!

161 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About this Captain’s Exam

  • Captain’s license is something I’ve been considering for a long time. Congratulations Captain Annie. Very proud of you.

    SV Wild Hare

    • Thanks Chris. Yeah, if you decide to go for it and have any more questions for me, you know how to reach me. Appreciate all the support. It’s definitely been a challenging and fun learning experience. That’s what it’s all about right. Push yourself and soak it all in!

    • wow this is a flash back on what happened to me on my plotting part, only i didnt see the Niantic river and failed ;c

    • ya im wondering where the frequency info is. according to your story it was 13.427. on my chart for Hartford the frequency is 162.475Mhz. maybe typo? im re-testing next Wednesday.

      • Hey Chris. Sorry for the late reply. It seems WordPress thought you were spam. I hope you passed. I’m sure I don’t accurately recall the actual number of the Mhz – it was just meant to be a funny recap of my exam experience (although I know it’s helped many).

    • Thanks for sharing. Awesome read. And good for a few laughs. I’m just in the beginning stage of researching what I need to do to gain my Captain’s license. And your story was very helpful. Cheers!

      • Glad it helped. It was a definitely a learning process, and I tend to like to laugh at myself. Thanks for the kind note. Happy studying!

  • Congratulations again Annie! Intentionally or not, you’ve made a good point about the difference between “passing the test” and “knowing the material”. The sea time requirements are there for a reason … there is no better teacher than experience. There was a sea story up in this area many years ago about an old salt charter fishing boat captain that had a license from long before the current testing system was put in place, that he somehow neglected to renew. To get re-licensed, he had to take the test again, an couldn’t pass it, so for years after he had to have a co-captain (with a valid license) on the boat with him at all times so he could continue to run his charter business. Does that mean the old salt was a bad, or unqualified captain? Hell no, he had over 50 years sea experience by this time. It turned out he just couldn’t read! Carry on, Capt. Annie!

    • Thanks Chuck! Yeah, a few of the guys that took the test with me said they had asked around to some fellow Captains about the exam and many currently licensed (albeit years back) Captains told them they could not walk in and pass the test today without re-studying and memorizing the material again. While I did learn a lot … in the form of memorized answers … I’m glad I took as many practice tests as I could or I would have been dead in the water. No pun intended. Appreciate the support as always Chuck. Thank you! Hope things are going well for you in the cruising department! You’re not getting bored after retirement yet, are you?

      • Bored? I was thinking of going back to work so I can get some rest! The cruising is going well, we got the “new” old boat back to NY from Maine about a week ago. I’m not hanging from the mast on silks, but I’m still having a great time and enjoying every minute of retirement. The trip with Capt. Ryan set me off on the right tack, TYVM! Still hoping to head to FL in the fall.

  • Oh please, there was never any doubt here! We are in Phillips court, you were a ringer and the USCG never saw it coming. :))))))

    In all seriousness, for once in my life, Congrats Captain Annie, way to go!

    I remember oh so many years ago when I took my exam and marveled at the plotting portion. It is as you said, a few degrees here or there and boom, a missed question if not careful. I figured the way the USCG did it was have a nerd look at each question, figure out the most common mistakes and what answer those mistake would yield. Those close answers from silly mistakes then became the foils in their multiple choice answers.

    It was many sleepless nights for me as well leading up to the exam but I managed to pass, somehow. I took mine in Miami as I was on the way to Key West, riding my Harley. Needless to say I did consume some alcohol that week!

    L of TLC

    • Ha, yes, yes. Plenty of alcohol was consumed here after I passed. I got all Bacchus with it ; ). Thanks Lyle. I certainly spent a TON of time studying but it was most definitely those last few days pounding back practice exams that enabled me to pass. I’m with you on the plotting. Scooching the parallel ruler over a few times often put me just a hair off and when the answers were sometimes within three degrees of one another, that made a huge different. I did notice the common mistakes you’re mentioning. It seemed it was mostly in what direction you were heading. The parallel ruler crosses the compass rose at two points and you have to remember which direction you were theoretically “heading” in the question. I’ll be honest, it’s easy to make that goof-up. Thanks for all the encouragement … Captain Lyle!

  • You crack me up! Congrats. Hope to see ya in the bay this weekend!!!

    Sent from my iPhone


  • Hey Annie! Congrats!!! A couple of questions for you. what the cost of the exam included with the “Captain in a box” , or was that a separate expense? Did you take the regular ASA courses, and if so, did they help? would you still recommend taking them if you were considering taking the Captains exam?

  • Annie, thank you for that story. I am about to take the Mariner’s Learning System test very soon. As a matter of fact I just cancelled my August 3rd test sitting because I got so damn nervous. I do think I will take the next one which is on August 21st of this year.
    I searched all over the internet about the final “Mariners Learning Systems” exam. I’ll I could find or come across was I passed the test. I am very worried because there is not enough time in the day to memorize all of this information.
    So you say the Final Proctored Exam had the same questions that were from the online/book exams, all four modules?
    I too have found several issues with the study exams even with the one you posted. There was one example that stated you would receive a find of $5,000 for not have the proper equipment aboard your vessel (online version) and the book stated $500 fine. I just keep scratch my head with all this information that seemed to contradict itself. I to wish I would have taken a in person school. Two of my friends took a class in Aransas Pass Texas and passed with high 90’s to 100s on their final. I am very nervous and probably will not tell my wife about how nervous I am. She keeps telling me I will pass with flying colors….LOL. I will include my email if you could help me with anything else as I will do the same WHEN I pass this Damn test.

    • Hey Roy. I completely feel for you. I actually got very nervous when I first started studying the Mariner’s materials as there was (like you said) just SOOOO much information. I could read 10 pages, thoroughly, slowly, and still not absorb it ALLLL. And that was just 10 out of the 800 I was supposed to know by heart? It was overwhelming. But, then I started taking all the practice tests. (And I hope you’ve taken both those in the Mariner books and the online Mariner course — I didn’t realize there was an online course until just days before the exam, that would have helped a ton … true blonde here). And I was acing them left and right. The world was my oyster. Then I (like I said in the post) happened by chance on some other online USCG 6-Pack practice exams and I was failing them left and right. THEN I got super nervous. But, from my experience, the questions on the exam were the EXACT same, word for word, as every previous question I had seen. The problem with Mariners, and I hate to say it because the books are very thorough with all the information you need, I just don’t think unless I used all of that information day in and day out that I could commit it to memory, was there there wasn’t enough practice tests to cover ALLL of the possible questions you could see on the test. I would recommend, as I mentioned, going to the practice test links I included in this blog and every single other practice test you can find out there and taking those over and over and over again. Every single question I saw on the exam that I had seen before looked exactly the same (often even with the answers in the same order). That was my experience anyway, so that’s how I would approach it if I had it to do over again. If you can answer just about every question you find out there right, you’ll probably be fine for the test. On the plotting, just go slow, re-plot and re-check and take your time picking an answer. They try to trip you up picking the right heading but the wrong direction, stuff like that. Best of luck Roy. Let me know how you do!!

      • Annie, Thank you so much for sharing your story. It’s nice to know someone else was in the same boat as I,”lol” and you accomplished what needed to be done. I know for a fact that there are questions from the book, online quizzes and the final exams that don’t show up in all three areas. I have dissected crossed out the questions that showed up in all three areas and found about 25% of the questions may not show up in the other two areas, (book, quiz or final.) I was also afraid of the questions being totally word differently. Thanks again and I will let you know how I do on the test. Please send a link so we can support you and your boyfriends journey around the world. My story is yet to come….

    • Ha! I just saw this. Many boyfriends might be fun, but I’m happy with the one for now. No need to support. We happily work remotely to fund our hybrid cruising/landlubber lifestyle, but thank you. Best way to say “thanks” if you’re enjoying the content is by buying some copies of my books. (You’ll like them if you haven’t read them yet, or they make great gifts). Enjoy! And thanks again for reaching out. I was definitely in your “boat” : ) https://www.amazon.com/Annie-Dike/e/B00T25NBVO/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

    • Hey James. I had not. And Brittany and Scott are friends, so it’s cool to pass folks on to a link they have endorsed. Practice, practice, practice is definitely the key. Thanks for adding this to the post. Very helpful!!

  • Annie, I cannot tell you how much this post soothed my nerves about taking the exam. I just took the test for the OUPV and the Masters upgrade and crushed it. There were definitely a few new questions that I had not seen before, however most of them came right out of the book, or off of the online course. Anyways I just wanted to drop in and say thank you so much!

    • Wow, Steven, I can’t tell you how much this means to me. I often put a lot of work into these blog posts to truly share the experience and I’m so glad this one helped you. I certainly learned the best way (for me) to study and prepare for that exam and I wanted to share it in case it was also the best method for others. I’m so glad to hear you CRUSHED IT! Kudos, congrats and a big hallelujah to you! You’re more than welcome. Thanks for leaving such a nice comment behind. Now get out there and sail on, Capitano!

  • the trick to passing any intense exams is to be able to explain a concept to someone else that helps you realize what you know or don’t know. That is why Rules of the Road is so difficult to pass because you cannot memorize answers as the presentation of the question could be different.

    • Thanks Patricia. I would agree that is the case with most intense exams. Unfortunately, I found the presentation of the questions on this exam to be exactly the same every time. Often even the multiple choices answers were in the same order. It was very surprising, and unlike other exams I have taken. While I wouldn’t normally encourage memorization versus true absorption of the knowledge and ability to apply it to real-world situations, with the nature of these questions in that they continued to present in the same manner over and over and over again, memorization was helpful and was the primary reason I passed.

  • Awesome read Annie! I’ve had this on my bucket list for a while now.. I’ve took some of the tests you spoke of and failed pretty bad.. Lot’s of information I’ve never had to use.. I’ve been on and owned boat’s my whole life. Would you recommend the Kit if your really in the dark about a lot of this information, just as a prerequisite to taking the test.. The courses here seem like a crash course to me.. Lot’s of info in short amount of time.. I guess my question is should a novice get the kit and study or just jump in and take the course..

    • Hey Barry, sorry for the delay in getting back to you. We were offshore traversing the Bahamas. What a beautiful place. I found the kit helpful but, like I said, I definitely needed the online supplements. To be honest, I’ve heard the classes are incredibly boring, that they just read to you straight from a script, but that they do drill home what you need to know and it’s all packed and fresh right then when you take the test so most people who do the class pass (is what I’ve heard anyway). I enjoyed studying on my own better but highly recommend taking EVERY SINGLE POSSIBLE online multiple choice “test quiz” you can find. Good luck!

      • Oh great. Best of luck to you! Let me know how it goes. Take TONS of practice exams, I put links in that blog post that have thousands of questions. Excited for you!

      • Oh awesome, best of luck! Take TONS of practice exams. I put links in that blog post with literally hundreds of sample questions. We’re excited for you, let us know how it turns out!

  • Hi Annie! I’m Lauren and I just took the OUPV exam yesterday and I PASSED!! You are so right, it is NO JOKE! Definitely one of the most intense tests that I have taken. However, I just needed to write to you and say how extremely thankful I am for your post. I would have never passed if I didn’t have your helpful tips and the links you posted. I cannot thank you enough!! You are the BOMB!
    Thanks a MILLION times Captain Annie!!

    • Man! So cool to hear this. It seems everyone is taking their Captain’s License exam right now. I’ve heard from several folks already, who all said they passed with this help. Thank God. Wasn’t it kind of crazy how everything was verbatim? I’ve heard many very experienced, twenty-years-on-the-water captains out there say they could not sit down and take it now and pass. It’s just all too tedious. But, knowing that and studying that way, sure makes it manageable. Right?! I’m so glad you passed Lauren! Kudos! Hope things go well with your chartering/captain plans! Best of luck and thanks for sharing the freaking awesome news!

  • Did you take the test at an MLS proctored site or at a coast guard offered location? Is one location easier than the other or is MLS just using the coast guard exam? What I am getting at is… If I study the MLS program and take all the practice tests I can find online but take the test at an MLS proctored site will I see the same questions?

  • I passed my final exam today. You were a great help towards that. I was able to find nanituck (or whatever) river and the chart number, as well as the radio freq for Hartford. I finished my whole test and was like,,,wait a min I never used the light chart, what have I done? Then there was the 5-6 questions that I never saw anywhere, Boatsafe or mariners learning. LIke what is not on the metal label of a fire extinguisher? Or When backing were is the pivot point located? ( or something along those lines)Or what is the first thing you do after making landfall in a life raft?….I hope to see you on the water some day as I owe you a drink at least.

    • Hey there Mark! Sorry for the delay in getting back to you on this as we are slowly cruising our way up the west coast of florida and usually snag whatever wifi we can for work stuff. But, I was so excited to see this email when I finally made it through my Gmail heap. You brought back a lot of memories with the Nantuck (or whatever you call it ; ) River and radio info on the chart. I felt like such a goober struggling with that one for as long as I did. I’m so glad my posts helped you pass. Unfortunately, I just saw it as a big (kind of useless) memory game, but that’s how I had to approach it to cram all of that stuff in order to pass. Sadly, a lot of the useless stuff crowded out the important stuff (like who has the right of way when we’re approaching a boat off our port bow), and I sometimes still struggle with those. So glad I could help. Now get out there and rock that license! Fair winds! And congrats!

    • Oh I’m so glad to hear it. Thanks Don. I definitely felt like this advice could help those studying and stressing about the exam. I’m sure you’ll do great. Thanks or sharing this link as well. Best of luck.

  • I’m still on the last module and was wondering on the boatsafe.com quizes did you do every topic? Ty in advance

    • I believe so. I can’t remember all of the topics. If there were some that seemed remote (or applicable only to a certain specialty license) then I would skip those, but all the main ones (marlinspike and seamanship, navigation, rules of the road, safety, fire-fighting, etc.) do those … a thousand times! Best of luck!

      • Ty that’s what I’m doing but I noticed no of the questions ever change on boat safe…

  • Thanks for your post. I am taking the Mariners Learning System Online and doing more plotting practice questions.
    Are the exam questions (10) on the plotting portion also similar to the quizzes online and on the book for Mariners Learning?

    • They were. Actually the ones in the Mariner’s system were far more actual plotting when (for me, on my exam, so I can’t say if this is the same for all) there were several that were far less plotting and far more about the information on the chart (for example, what frequency certain areas broadcast in, the stuff about the Niantic River). So, one tip, study the actual chart itself (every single scrap of information on it) and be familiar with how all of that information helps you better use the chart. Hope that makes sense, and best of luck!

  • I think that you are much more intelligent than I, so I think I will give up and quit before I start. (I am joking) I now at least know where and how to start.

    • I doubt that. I just work really hard and I’m stubborn as hell (sometimes mistaken for intelligence). But, thank you! I’m glad it was helpful. Good luck!

  • Hello – I am planning to take the Mariners Learning system exam next week. The guys at Mariners Learning System are telling me that the questions on their quizzes and in the reading material are the same as on the exam. Did you find this to be true?

    • Hi there! Kudos to you for going for your Captain’s License too! Did you read through this blog post. I talked a lot about the similarity of the questions from my practice guides to those on the actual test. (Quote for you from the blog below.) However, I found while all the questions in the practice materials were the same on the exam, not ALL questions that appeared on the exam were in the practice materials. I would highly recommend you take as many (and I do mean hundreds) of practice exams as you can. I included links to several in the blog post. Those will help a lot. It was all a multiple choice memory test. Good luck!

      From the blog: “They’re going to look just like that on the exam. Exactly like that. Word. For. Word. Every single practice question I took in the months and weeks before the exam, when it appeared on the exam, read verbatim (both the questions and the available answers) from the questions and answers I had studied. So, any question I had seen and studied before, always appeared exactly the same in subsequent practice tests, so choosing the right answer was easy.”

  • Thank you! Just trying to make sure I focus my study time in the right places. I did read your blog and have been taking the practice tests as suggested. Thanks for all the info.

  • wow this is a flash back on what happened to me on my plotting part, only i didnt see the Niantic river and failed ;c, im wondering where the frequency info is. according to your story it was 13.427. on my chart for Hartford the frequency is 162.475Mhz. maybe typo? im re-testing next Wednesday.

  • Thank you for the insights! I have been using the test bank from USCGQ and its has been a wonderful way to study! But, I am having difficulty researching General Deck questions and answers. I have the Mariners Learning System set and Get Your Captains License by Charlie wing and have had no problem finding, referencing and reinforcing the notion with the exact answer to the questions on Rules of the Road. Not so much on the General Deck. it seems to be more a ‘scavenger hunt’ for the answers in the material- was that your experience as well or am i missing something? let me know and thank you again!!!


    • No, I had the same experience here. That was actually the section that gave me the most trouble because there are sooo many topics and so many questions to find and memorize. So, it sounds like you’re right on track. Thankfully you have a pretty good margin on that section so just keep scavenging and when it comes time to take the test, answer the ones you know quickly, then tally up the unknowns and if you’re still in the “good” (I’ll be honest, I’m trying to recall but I think you can get a 70% on that section to pass … something like that, I had the exact number in my blog post when it was fresh in my mind), but if you’ve already answered enough right to pass then you’ll feel fine guessing on the unknowns. Best of luck!

  • Annie- Would it make sense to go for the 25 ton (my boat is 12 gross tons) instead of the OUPV? Did you look at that or just go with OUPV?

    • Hey Mark. I just went for the OUPV to give me the flexibility to captain on deliveries of boats other than ours. It just seemed like the best option to give me the most flexible use of the license. But, that said, Phillip and I never plan to charter our own boat. The license just helps us with insurance, helps us get paid if we want to do deliveries and was a great educational experience for me. Hope that helps. Best of luck!

    • The major difference is the amount of sea time you have. 720 4-hour days for the masters, 360 for the OUPV. There’s an additional section on the test for the masters but you’re already learning so much for the OUPV I’d go for it if I were you if you have the required sea days (I’m about to do the OUPV because I only have about 500 sea days).

      Also, if you have one day of sea time before March 1st 2014 (i think, look up the exact date) you can get a 50 ton rather than 25 ton Masters without needing sea time on a 26 ton or better boat. That was grandfathered in.

      If you can get the Masters, might as well go for it, because once you have it, you have it, with the renewal requirement being 360 sea days over the last license period, or the taking of an open book test as long as you do so within a year of the expiration date.

      (I know a bunch of people who run whale watching boats so am up on this renewal stuff.)

      • Not a bad suggestion. I hadn’t thought about it but we did just cross the Atlantic again so I may have the hours. But, to be honest, I really don’t need it and I would hate to do all of that memorizing again. I’ll think on it, though. Thanks for sharing!

      • Annie – my response was really meant for Mark, but I didn’t reply under his question …

  • Getting ready to sign up for online course. I feel that online learning at my own pace would work best for me. Your comments are extremely helpful. Congratulations Captain Annie!

    • I found it worked really well for me, too, although I have heard good things about the in-person course and it’s pass rate. But, I believe that method is better for people who get distracted easily and wouldn’t have the discipline to make themselves study. That is definitely not me. I’m super hard on myself. Good luck. And BE SURE to take as many practice tests as you can. That was my saving grace. I included links for many in this post.

  • Hi Annie, thank you for your detailed description and for all of your support. My exam date is in one month.. How many hours a day should I be doing the practice tests to be prepared? Do you suggest making flash cards to memorize certain things ? Thank you, Chris 🙂

    • Hi Chris! It’s really up to you. Everyone studies and learns in different ways. While I was spending 2-3 hours a day in the month before the test, in the two weeks before, I was probably spending 5-7 hours a day. I spent the entirety of the last two days taking practice test after practice test, literally hundreds of them (I provided links to them in my blog post), over and over. I didn’t make flash cards, I just kept taking them until I could get the majority of them right every time. That’s what I did. Do what feels best for you! Good luck!

  • my instructor, three times, refused to give me back my failed written test on rules of the road. is this legal? how do i know he didn’t make a mistake while correcting it. how do i know he just wants me to retake the course for another $550. is this legal? seeking advise before I pay for some from an attorney.

    • Wow, that’s interesting. I’m sorry that happened to you. First, I have to say I cannot give legal advice. My license is in an inactive “good standing” status that does not allow me to actively practice (which means give legal advice) unless I reinstate it. Sorry, CYA, I have to do that. But, as a mere friend and fellow sailor, that does sound odd. I would try to talk to the organization that hosted the exam, Mariner’s Learning System or whoever. The USCG. But, if you don’t have any luck there, sure, go talk to an attorney. Most do not charge for an initial consultation to simply explain your rights. I’m not sure if you have a claim against him. Try the administrative channels first, and after that best of luck. Again, so sorry this happened.

  • Awesome! I am about to start classes, in a class room type. If I got the captain in a box, I would never have done it. Thank you for the info and practice test info, super super helpful.

  • I have a master’s license and am pursuing a federal career (from county law enforcement) and have a written test as a portion of the evaluation in the not too distant future. A friend of mine let me use his captains in a box and I found it was a small portion of information. I highly highly highly recommend U.S. Captains Training (online 100%). It is pricey ($165 per module with 4 modules- rules of the road, aids to navigation, deck general, and charting), but he has youtube videos going in depth into the materials. Between the time I took my oupv couse and now, I forgot so much material (took the in-classroom course kn 2012) , but these courses (plus the links in this forum) have me sleeping colregs. Good luck to everyone pursuing their OUPV.

    • Thanks for adding this Russ. I agree that the Mariners system does provide a lot of information but not enough and not with an easy way to make the information stick. I found I had to take hundreds and hundreds of practice tests before I started to feel comfortable. But, it’s good to know this resources is out there as well. Thanks for sharing.

    • I love the videos they put out, helps me understand the methodology of Nautical Navigation, after years in the Army, We had our own way so it US Captains training videos helps me to adjust my thinking in that regard.

  • Congrats on passing. The test was waaaaaay easier than everyone makes it sound. I over studied after reading your blog and all of these comments. I found the online quizzes and the quizzes from the book to be the most useful. Memorize those questions and you’ll surely pass. Thanks for the Niantic river question help, I had two of the exact same questions you mentioned on here. I would’ve been pulling my hair out on that one.

    • Happy to help! I’m sure glad I freaked out at the last minute and crash studied so many practice multiple choice exams. That definitely saved me. As far as the Niantic River … I’m just glad my brilliance finally broke through my blonde, at least for one shining moment. I’m glad it helped you, too. Congrats to you as well. Thanks for sharing here.

  • I am in the process of studying for the exam and just want to make sure I am studying the correct material. I am using http://www.uscgq.com but the question are very difficult and not in the study material books. Are you familiar with this site?
    Also, the three links you provided, are those enough for all of the questions on the exam?

  • Can you master the practice exams and pass or is the knowledge you learn from taking a course a necessary learning element?

    • Hey William. What’s “necessary” is entirely relative to each person. The knowledge from the course is definitely helpful (both in practice and for the exam) but for me personally, I found repetitive taking of the practice exams is what helped me pass the course. Now, will that help me in practice when I’m out there in a heavy shipping lane trying to decide who has the right of way? Probably not, repetitive application of those rules in practice out on the water would. But, that’s why test-taking is different than real-world application. Hope that helps.

    • Hmmph. That’s unfortunate. Looks like the entire boatsafe.com website went down. Sorry. You’ll just have to use the other links I provided and Google your heart out for more USCG practice tests. Good luck!

  • Thanks, would you say that memorizing the tests for deck general through mariners is not sufficient? I feel confident about the rules to navigation and plotting, I’m just unsure about the deck general. Also did you find that most of the questions on the deck general test came from the lecture notes and study guide from each chapter?

  • Thank you. Enjoyed your insights at a time I was feeling overwhelmed by the Mariners Learning System. Too many light, noises and minutia.
    I like using the practice exam method.
    It appears that http://boatsafe.com/uscgboat/ (my favorite, covering all potential topics on the exam) is defunct.
    Any thoughts on how to find that test bank?

    • Hey there. So glad you found it helpful. Once I learned the better way to approach it, I felt much more relieved about whether I was actually going to pass or not. I believe another follower told me recently about the failure of that link. I honestly don’t know. I would just poke around on the internet and try to find another treasure trove as it looks like BoatSafe.com took theirs down. In fact every link leading to boat safe.com is broken and I don’t know of a way to find out who used to run that site and how to get information off of it that is no longer accessible. Sorry! Best of luck to you though!

  • Captain Annie! I passed this thing! Thanks for the heads up on the Niaantic River and the Hartford megahertz! So glad I found your blog a few days before my husband and took the exam!

    We’ll be out on the high seas this year! Hope to run into you!!

  • Hey there! Thanks for the great word you shared!! When you said many of the questions were verbatim, was that from the MLS material or also the web sites you used. The one you liked best is down (bummer) I am though the material and not ready to test yet. Hoping soon!!

  • Annie,
    Thanks for a very entertaining and INFORMATIVE article. I’ve “messed around with boats” for over 40 years (up to 68′). This past Christmas I gave my son and my step-son the Mariner 6-Pack Course and then decided that maybe the old-man ought to get documented also after reading your article. So, at 74, here we go. Believe me, I am going to follow your advice to the letter. Thanks again.

    • Awesome, so glad you found it helpful. I love messing around on boats too. Good luck on the exam. Take a thousand practice tests and you’ll do fine!

  • I’m really glad you wrote this. I’m a nervous test taker and you confirmed for me that there will in fact be questions that are not in the MLS quizzes and tests. While I was hoping the test would be the same for ease, now I know what I am going up against.

    Do you know if one were to pass three of the modules but fail the fourth, do you have to retest all four modules, or just the one you failed? I have written MLS twice asking with no response.

    • Hi there. I’m glad this post helped you. I definitely felt like the more practice tests I took, the better equipped I was to answer the questions on the actual exam. I believe you have to pass all modules to pass the exam or you have to take the entire thing over again. That’s just my recollection. Best of luck!

  • Annie: Your info has been invaluable. In my MLS material I got the Long Island Sound chart. Did they use that or Block Island in the proctored exam? Thank you so much. Randy

    • Hey Randy. I’ll be honest, I don’t remember at all. I just studied my best and was prepared to answer whatever questions they threw at me in the charting portion.

  • My wife and I passed the exam yesterday in Deltaville Virginia. We followed your advice and did practice questions for days preceding the exam. Also we knew where the chart information was for the Niantic River and the frequency of Hartford. 162.475 MHz. Seeing the Niantic River made each of us smile.
    Thanks for the advice.

    • Funny, I’m so glad you found it helpful. As I mentioned in the post, I am confident I would not have passed had I not taken hundreds of practice exams. The River and the MHz were just a total fluke to me. I’d never looked at a chart that closely or knew info like that could be on there. Good to know! Congrats on your licenses! Captain up!

    • Hey, I took an exam in Deltaville yesterday! I was in there for 120 seconds, lol. I tested for Assistance Towing (10 questions and super easy) 3 hour drive each way though. I passed my OUPV in March and Annies page was a great help! Also a great help on the paperwork!

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