My, my, the paperwork for this thing! It was almost as hard to complete as the Captain’s License exam. Okay, not really. That exam was no freaking joke. But the paperwork was a bit of a hurdle to overcome too.
Applicant Annie, mailing off her paperwork September 13, 2017.
Ahoy followers! Hello from … now I can officially say it … Captain Annie! If you haven’t seen on Facebook yesterday, I GOT MY CAPTAIN’S LICENSE!!
Man, I take a lot of selfies! But, I’m not ashamed; I’m mighty proud of mySELF! : )
That is super duper cool. But, just like the exam, it was no small feat. For any of you out there thinking about going for your USCG Captain’s License, too, we wanted to share with you all the process and what all was required for me to obtain my license. I wrote previously about my experience studying independently for and passing the Captain’s Exam (whew!), article here. Now that I’ve received the official license, I thought I would share with you all the process of compiling all of the necessary paperwork for my application and my experience with the Coast Guard submitting and supplementing my application.
So, what all is required to apply to become an Operator of an Uninspected Private Vessel (OUPV)? The checklist published by the National Maritime Center (“NMC”) was, in my opinion, the most organized, easy-to-follow list I found that sets out the OUPV License Application Requirements. So, let’s start there. Here’s the link.
Looks pretty straightforward, but I did have some hang-ups. Perhaps there were blonde moments on my part (likely), but just in case some of you run into similar issues, here’s how the process played out for me:
1. Transportation Worker’s Identification Card (TWIC)
No more bank robberies! You’re in the system now, ha! A TWIC card is basically an identification credential issued to Merchant Mariners to allow them unescorted access to secure areas of port facilities, outer continental shelf facilities, etc. To get a TWIC card, you simply visit this website and fill in an application online or schedule an appointment and complete the entire process at one of their processing centers. You can find an application center here by inputting your zip code. The center closest to Pensacola was in Mobile, so not a bad 45-minute drive for me. And, it was a quick 15-minute in-and-out process. They took my photo and fingerprints and filled out my application. I was then issued a TWIC card that came to me in the mail about two weeks later. You will have to include a scanned photocopy of this card, front and back, in your OUPV application packet.
One rub. I hate my picture! The TWIC guy (we’ll call him that), told me specifically to not smile. “Hold a slack face,” he told me. And, look at me!
There, I do look like a bank robber. Why couldn’t they have used one of my typical, open-mouth selfies?
At least that way people wouldn’t question as often whether the woman on the TWIC card is me. But, c’est la vie. Moving on.
2. Evaluation User Fee
This should be paid online, your receipt printed and included with your Captain’s License Application. Initially, I did not know this and was planning to pay by check. But, first I checked with my contact at the Mariner’s Learning System (recall this is the company I used to buy an independent study packet for the exam so I could study at my own pace). I wasn’t sure whether, having purchased their Captain’s License Package, the Mariner’s folks would help me compile my application to make sure it was correct and complete, so I sent an email inquiring. Lisa over at Mariner’s (who was phenomenal and very patient with my many, many questions) confirmed they do not offer a document check, but advised she was available to answer any specific questions I might have (which were many). The first of which was this payment issue. You’ll see here, Lisa sent me the link to pay online and advised me it would cost $145.
You can also access the Pay.Gov payment center through the National Maritime Center here; it just takes a little more navigating to get to the Captain’s License page.
I got confused, however (who me? nooooo …), when I got to the actual payment page as to whether I was paying for an “officer endorsement” or “rating endorsement” and whether I needed to pay my “exam fee” or if that was waived because I had purchased the Mariner’s system. So, again, I reached out to Lisa and, again, she steered me in the right direction. Here is what she advised (you’ll see the drop-down menus filled in appropriately below):
Once the payment was processed, the NMC emailed me a receipt, which I printed and included in my final Captain’s License Application packet. You’ll also notice I had to select a USCG Regional Exam Center during my check-out process. You have to be sure to send your Application to the same REC you select during the check-out process to make sure all of your license requirements and fee are processed at the same facility. Here is a list of the centers. I just chose the one closest to me, in New Orleans. And, I love NOLA, so I was hoping it would make for a little good luck boost on my application. : )
P-Dub and I biking the beautiful oak-lined streets of NOLA April, 2017.
3. CG 719B Application
You’ll notice it says “CG 719B” application. That means it is an official Coast Guard form. Before I found this detailed NMC checklist, I didn’t know some requirements had to be completed on an official CG form and, as a result, almost made a big mistake on my medical certificate, see #6 below. Here is a link to the CG 719B Application. You can fill it out online or print and fill it out by hand. It’s pretty straightforward, just be sure to read each section carefully and make sure it is a section they want you to fill out or one that is for USCG use.
You’ll note in this paragraph on the NMC checklist that the Coast Guard requires an oath, stating the oath “may be administered by a designated Coast Guard individual or any person legally permitted to administer oaths in the jurisdiction where the person taking the oath resides.” Hmmpfh. Again, I haled Lisa as I wasn’t even sure what the oath should say. Again, Lisa saved me by directing me to this form in the “Resources” section of the Mariner’s Learning System website, which I was able to print and sign.
Also, lucky for me, Phillip is a registered notary in Pensacola, so I had a readily available notary to notarize my oath. Done. What’s next?
4. Form I-551 Alien Registration Card
Applies only to foreign nationals, so this was not a requirement for me.
5. Signed Conviction Statement
Thankfully, this “statement” is included in the CG 719B application, Section III, page 5, so completing and signing this section of the application satisfies this requirement.
6. CG 719K Physical Examination Report
Here’s where I almost goofed. As I mentioned, this NMC checklist was the most useful to me because it was detailed and explicit in the types of forms required by the Coast Guard. Many other “license requirements” checklists I had found on other websites (example here) merely stated a “physical examination” was required, not a CG 719K report. I made an appointment with a doctor here in Pensacola before I knew anything about this specific CG 719K form. Thankfully, my doctor (Dr. Tim Tuel with Baptist Medical – “Thank You Dr. Tuel!”) was much wiser than me. It’s a good thing I told him what the examination was for, just for fun. As you can imagine, Applicant Annie was excited about this whole process and willing to share with anyone willing to listen. “I’m going for my Captain’s License!” I told Dr. Tuel, which made him chuckle at my energetic burst. This tan little toned-up blonde trying to be a Coast Guard Captain. It is kind of funny when you think about it. But, Dr. Tuel just smiled and asked, “Where’s your form?” [Insert Annie’s look of bewilderment here. Form? What form?] I asked, “How do you know it has to be on a certain form?” To which Dr. Tuel replied, “This ain’t my first rodeo.” Ha! Love that guy. He was a lot of fun. Dr. Tuel Googled and pulled up the correct form himself right there in the examination room, took the time to fill it out and even printed it for me. Nice guy, that Tuel.
Unfortunately, he missed one section of the Report (I’m telling you, these things are tedious). The first response I received from the Coast Guard after sending in my application was this:
That’s right, “Notice of Incomplete Application.” Uggh. Not the best feeling in the world. But, when I read through the email, it seemed it was just a simple mistake of Dr. Tuel failing to state on my CG 719K form which methodology he used to test my vision. So, I went back to Dr. Tuel with my previous 719K form and asked if he would complete the section and initial it and then re-sign the certificate at the end. Thankfully, I caught him on a slow day and it was just a 15-minute wait while he finalized my report.
Also, after speaking with Beverly at the USCG, I was advised the completed medical form could be emailed in for processing (as opposed to snail mail) and that was helpful. So, one glitch there. Fixed and re-submitted. Moving on.
7. CG 719P Chemical Testing Report
Ahhh … the drug test. I knew I was totally clean there. While I will readily admit that I love my wine and liquor, Captain Annie does not do drugs. No judgment on folks who do. It’s just not my thing. But, mean ole’ Brandon had me really freaked out about it when I stopped by the shipyard to pick up some parts we had ordered right after I had already taken the test, and he told me they were going to analyze my urine for alcohol. “If you still have alcohol in your system, they’ll pick it up. Did you drink last night?” Brandon asked. “Did I drink last night …. Is it a Wednesday?” I thought. Of course I did! I think most sailors operate on a pretty base-line low-alcohol level, am I right? But, what was done, was done. I had already pissed in the cup, and sent it up the chain, so I just had to be a little freaked out about it for a few weeks before it came back COMPLETELY NEGATIVE.
Take that Brandon! Ha! My piss is primo! (Love that guy.)
But, how did I go about getting a test conducted that would be sure to meet the USCG requirements? Again, like the medical certificate, the drug screen must be completed on the Coast Guard’s specified form, here, the CG 719P. The gal at Mariner’s Learning System recommended I contact Quest Diagnostics to handle everything. It was a breeze. I called to request a drug screening specifically for my Coast Guard’s License application, paid over the phone (I believe it was $65.00), and set up an appointment online at a local facility. Luckily, there are two facilities in Pensacola, so this was an easy 30-minute appointment to make and the results were emailed to me by Quest a couple of weeks later on the appropriate CG 719P form, which I printed and included in my Captain’s License Application packet. Voila! Next up?
8. Front and Back Copy of Driver’s License
Piece of cake!
9. 3rd Party Release
This is needed if you want the NMC to be able to discuss, release or receive information or documents from a third party (i.e., spouse, employer, etc.). This didn’t apply to me.
10. Evidence of Appropriate Sea Service
This is the real meat of your application (or at least it was for me). In order to apply for an OPUV 6-Pack license, the applicant:
- Must be able to document 360 days of experience on a vessel
- Must have 90 of these days within the last 3 years
- 90 of the 360 days must be on the ocean or near coastal waters, or the license will be limited to inland waters only.
The license will be limited to uninspected vessels of less than 100 gross tons. When calculating qualifying sea time, you must have been underway on the water for a minimum of four (4) hours to count as one (1) sea day. (Only one day’s credit is allowed per date.) And you must document the time on the Coast Guard’s specified Sea Service form, the CG 719S.
I had not been keeping up with my sea time since I started sailing in 2013, but I would recommend anyone who is thinking about going for a mariner credential at some point in the future to do this along the way. Bring along a few blank Sea Service forms when you know you’re going to make a passage or be on the water for several days and get the Captain or Owner of the vessel to sign off for you once your sea time is complete. Because I had not been doing this, I had to sit down with a calendar and re-construct my time over the last four years and obtain signed Sea Service forms from the various Captains and Owners I had sailed under. It was actually a very fun escapade down memory lane and I did a brief write-up and tribute to each of those captains here. Thankfully, with mine and Phillip’s many offshore passages on our own boat, our Atlantic-crossing in 2016 and the handful of passages and sails I have done on friends’ boats, all within the last four years, it was fairly easy for me to meet the “90 days within the last three years” and “90 days offshore” requirements. It was really cool, too, to tally these up and see how much awesome sailing I’ve done in such a short time. I’m quite proud of these days!
Total days experience: 368
Number of days offshore: 112
Wow. I hope I double those numbers over the next three years. Sail on Captain Annie!
11. Photocopies of all applicable Training Course Certificates
This is why Phillip and I went to STCW school back in June!
While the firefighting was wicked cool, and I got an awesome burn, the first aid, CPR, fire-fighting and water survival training included in this certification sufficed for my Captain’s License “training course” requirements, which is the primary reason Phillip and I took the course. We went through the Sea School because they had a facility relatively close to us in Bayou la Batre, AL. After completing the course (there were some moderately difficult tests involved, but the instructors worked hard to make sure you passed), the Sea School sent Phillip and I a packet of certificates for the courses we completed, copies of which I included in my Captain’s License application.
12. Course Certificate
Proof that you passed the MPT Captain’s Exam within the last year. I took my Captain’s Exam on June 26, 2017 at a USCG testing facility (a.k.a. a conference room at a Holiday Inn here in Pensacola) and thankfully passed! After Mariner’s Learning System was notified of my score, they emailed me a certificate documenting my accomplishment which I printed and included in my application packet to prove I had passed the exam. That was a biggie. Whew!
13. Three (3) Letters of Recommendation
This was one requirement that was a little hidden in my opinion. At least not every Captain’s License requirement checklist I found on the web included this. For example the NMC checklist I cited primarily above did not mention this. But, if there was anything I learned from studying for the Captain’s Exam, it was to consult a lot of different sources. Several other sites I found mentioned this “letters of recommendation” requirement for original license applicants, meaning, those who were seeking issuance of a license for the first time. ‘Tis me!” I said, and promptly Googled around to see what an acceptable “letter of recommendation” looked like and found this website, with a sample letter of recommendation.
I typed up three of these for three of the captains I had sailed under to sign and complete and that sufficed for this requirement. But, I have talked to several other applicants during this process who did not know about this “letters of recommendation” requirement. So, there are many potholes to fall into, so to speak.
The good news? I found the Coast Guard folks were very forgiving and easy to work with. They were responsive and notified me immediately of any deficiencies in my application, noting I had 60 or 90 days to fix each one. So, that was comforting. After my incomplete Medical Certificate issue was fixed, the next errors the Coast Guard caught were a few places I forgot to sign my own Sea Service forms (doh!) and areas on my Sea Service forms where I had filled in the vessel owner’s name, when I should have put my own. However, the Coast Guard folks advised I could cross-through the wrong name, fill in my own and initial it and that would remedy things. And, I was notified of all of these issues and errors via email from the Coast Guard and offered the ability to send in supplemental portions via email. So, that made things a lot easier for me as I do most of my work remotely via email and digital documents.
In all, the OUPV documentation process took me about four months to complete (although, granted, I wasn’t focused on it every day, but there are many moving parts and you have to rely on the cooperation of other people, so it does take time). I was advised by the Mariner’s Learning System folks that I had to complete and submit my application within one (1) year of successfully passing my Captain’s Exam (for me, that would be June 2018), so I was well within the time limit. But, it is definitely a project you want to get started on early as there are a lot of hoops to jump through.
Many thanks to all of the Captains I have sailed under who were generous enough to review and sign my Sea Service forms and provide letters of recommendation and the very patient folks at Mariner’s Learning System and the Coast Guard who helped walk me through the process and answer my many questions. I hope this post will help shed some light for those of you out there who are also thinking about pursuing a Captain’s License to get a better understanding of the paperwork and requirements involved.
I honestly can’t believe I have obtained this credential. While Phillip and I decided this would be a good endeavor for me to help shape me into a far more capable and knowledgeable mate (and now sometimes Captain!) on our future travels, it still shocks me a little that I, who only started sailing four short years ago, was able to accomplish this so soon in my sailing career. The training and education I have acquired have already started to show in mine and Phillip’s passages and cruising, and I am so proud that I am able to offer him, now, so much more insight, input as well as a sounding board for some of our very difficult decisions when navigating, weather routing, deciding on destinations, passages and – oh yeah – docking! I’m getting better at that, too. Primarily the goal was to grow my skills so that I can contribute more to help share the “stress of cruising” so that the entire experience is more comfortable for us both. It’s also a very good benefit to know this license will help decrease our annual insurance premiums (yay!) and will allow Phillip and I to earn money on the occasional offshore delivery that works with our schedule and plans. In all, it was an educational and enlightening process that I am proud and glad I completed. If any of you out there are thinking about going for your Captain’s License and have questions this post and my previous “Let’s Talk About This Captain’s Exam” post did not answer, please feel free to email me and reach out. I’m happy to share.
Now, when Phillip and I head off on our next adventure, it will be Yours Truly more often at the helm, scanning the charts, checking the weather, and shouting to Phillip, “Hey Swab, while you’re down there, tighten that hose clamp.” Ha!
Thanks to my followers, as well, for your support and encouragement.
Captain Annie, signing off.