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License Requirements for a Tow Boat Captain

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The United States Coast Guard (USCG) issues merchant marine licenses for Masters, Mates and Apprentice Mates of Towing Vessels. These licenses are required to operate a ship or boat over 26 feet long involved in commercial towing. A Masters of Towing Vessels license authorizes the person holding the license to be in command of an uninspected towing boat or ship sailing within the area specified on the license.

Requirements for a Master of Towing License

Applicants for a USCG Master of Towing License must have 48 months of maritime service on the routes for which they are applying. Eighteen of those 48 months must have been a mate or pilot, with a maximum of six of those 18 hours as a harbor assistant. All this qualifying experience must occur on actual towing vessels. Three out of the 18 months as a mate or pilot must involve experience on the routes covered by the Master of Towing License application. The amount of experience is based on an application standing eight hours of watch per day, so it's possible that it will take over five years to accumulate the actual experience needed.

Routes for which Master of Towing Licenses are permitted are the Oceans, Near Coastal, Great Lakes/Inland and Western Rivers routes. Experience on the Oceans routes also qualifies an applicant for a license in Near Coastal and Great Lakes/Inland waters, and experience on the Near Coastal waters also qualifies for a license in Great Lakes/Inland waters. In addition, these routes require 30 days of observation on the specific routes. A licensed mariner with the appropriate levels of experience must operate all vessels involved.

Requirements for a Master of Towing License on the Western Rivers

To achieve a Master of Towing License on the Western Rivers routes, an applicant must demonstrate the same experience as is needed for the general Master of Towing License, but must also have had 90 days of observation on Western Rivers routes. All the qualifying experience must have occurred within the last three years.

Towing Officer's Assessment Record

A Master of 200-ton self-propelled vessels may operate towing ships or boats if he has passed a Towing Officer's Assessment Record (TOAR) and completed a training course approved by the USCG. Such an applicant must also have 30 days of observation on the route on which he wishes to operate towing vessels, including the Western Rivers route. No towing endorsement is required on the existing licenses if the TOAR has been completed. A qualified and designated examiner must sign off on the TOAR for it to be official.

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