A boat’s size does not necessarily dictate whether a captain’s license is required. Rather, financial consideration for operational services, the presence of paying passengers, or insurance companies will determine if a captain’s license is required.
Financial consideration refers to an economic benefit that is given either directly or indirectly to an individual person or entity. In the maritime world this does not include voluntarily sharing of a voyage's expenses such as food, beverages, fuel, and supplies such as bait.
A passenger-for-hire, also known as a “paying passenger,” means somebody who is directly or indirectly contributing for the services upon a vessel resulting in the owner, operator, or entity with ties to the craft reaping financial benefit.
Examples of direct payment would include, but are not limited to, purchasing a ticket to board a vessel such as a ferry, fees for a fishing charter, or admission onto a sunset cruise.
Indirect payments would refer to an entrepreneur taking out clients with the intention of building a relationship that can lead to some economic benefit down the road. Even if there is no financial exchange on board, since the gathering carries potential financial ties elsewhere, it is no longer considered “social,” and therefore would require a captain on board.
If individuals are embarking on a fishing trip sharing the cost such as ice, bait, and fuel they would not be considered a paying passenger. The same can be said for friends and family members enjoying a sunset cruise or social sail.
One of the most common reasons individuals seek a captain’s license is not for commercial reasons, but insurance purposes! The holder of a USCG captain's license demonstrates being a well-educated mariner to an insurer, thus can be financially rewarded with significant insurance breaks. An individual wishing to operate or purchase a larger boat may be required by their insurance carrier to hold a captain’s license too. Lastly, insurance carriers may require you to hold a captain’s license if you plan on lease or finance your vessel.
Plan on having paying passengers aboard? Check out our suite of USCG approved courses now to obtain a captain's license to legally be able to operate.