If you are planning on becoming captain of your own boat and using it for charter operations, you will need to be licensed by the United States Coast Guard (USCG). If you plan on using your boat only for recreational purposes, a license is not required. Most boaters seeking a captain's license receive the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV) License, which allows captains to charter a boat up to 100 tons and carry up to six passengers. This license can be upgraded to include larger boats with more passengers with a few extra requirements.
To get an OUPV License, you will need to have at least 360 days of "sea service," 90 days of which must be in the last year. This may include experience after the age of 13, but half of the required days must be acquired after age 16. To get a license, however, you must be 18 or older.
Take boaters courses and pass the test at a Marine Safety Office Regional Examination Center. The USCG will test potential boat captains on subjects including tides, lifeboats, radio communications, nautical charts and safety. Online courses can prepare you for this test, as can USCG-approved courses throughout the United States. Items on the examination may be satisfied through the successful completion of approved Coast Guard courses. (See Resources.) You will also need to be CPR and first-aid certified.
Complete other requirements. You will need to be tested for drugs, have a physical, take an eye exam, have three references and get fingerprinted. Visit the USCG website for more details. (See Resources.) For example, you can download the medical exam form, pass a physical exam and have your doctor, physician's assistant or nurse practitioner fill out and sign the form to fulfill this application requirement.
Fill out and submit the application. Download the USCG application for an OUPV License. (See Resources.) You will need your Social Security Number and all forms completed. You can also apply for a master's license, but this will require an inspection of your vessel by the Coast Guard. And you can apply for a license that permits a higher passenger capacity and higher boat tonnage, but there are more required sea hours and courses, in addition to a minimum age of 21 and US citizenship.