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Become a Ship Captain

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A a ship or boat captain, also known as a merchant mariner, commands and supervises the crew of civilian owned vessels, which include deep-sea merchant ships, cruise ships, barges, ferries and tugboats. Captains operate ships over various types of waterways such as oceans, rivers, canals and harbors, and they oversee piloting functions like safety, course, speed and position of vessels.

Should You Become a Boat Captain?

A boat captain loves spending long periods of time on the water traveling to different locations. Additionally, a captain must have good leadership qualities and a vast knowledge of maritime law and practices.

One way to become a boat captain is to start as a deckhand, so you can acquire experience and accumulate the needed credentials for promotion. Alternatively, you can attend a maritime school or merchant marine academy. All of these paths assist you in learning about the daily operation of a ship and the jobs duties of the crew, as well as safety regulations and procedures.

Career Requirements

Get a Bachelor's degree. While it is not strictly necessary, it is strongly recommended that you obtain a four-year Bachelor's degree at a Coast Guard approved training academy or college.

You can usually become captain of a supply boat or inland waterway vessel simply by starting as a deckhand on a boat and working your way through the ranks. If you want to captain a deep-water vessel, however, you will usually need formal education.

Get a degree in the field of marine transportation, marine engineering, maritime operations and technology, marine engineering system, or marine engineering and shipyard management.

Gain the necessary skills and knowledge. Regardless of whether you have formal education or not, there are certain skills you will need to study and practice if you want to be a good captain.

Study topics dealing with navigational software, facilities management software, marine communication system operations, and the structure of mechanical ship equipment.

You also need to build up good coordination and good communication skills.

Log at least 360 days of sea-time. Before you can obtain a captain's license, you must have a minimum total of 360 days worth of sea-time over the past five years. A "day" in this context refers to a period of four consecutive hours.

If this sea-time is spent under another captain's command, you will need to have this captain sign your license application when the time comes.

Note that this sea-time does not necessarily need to provide you with experience directly related to being a captain. For instance, you could be a maid or deckhand on a cruise ship and the hours would still count.