What types of boats qualify me for a captain's license? With the wide variety, shapes, and sizes of vessels, this is a common question amongst future captains. For your boating experience to qualify for a captain’s license, the vessel must have at least a 5HP engine and not exceed 200 GRT. You will need to have been underway for at least 4 hours in a 24-hour period to count as 1 day; not docked or anchored. You cannot count multiple days in a 24-hour timeframe.  

The Coast Guard requires you to have at least 360 days of boating experience since you were 16 years old, with 90 of those days in the last 3 years for recency. 

This can include: 

  • Jet skis: only 20% of your time will be counted towards the 360 days of boating experience 
  • Sailing vessels without a motor: only 20% of your time will be counted towards the 360 days of boating experience 
  • Dinghy, if equipped with a 5HP engine all the time can count 

You will be filling out the Sea Service Form to document your boating experience. There is no in-person practical required, the Coast Guard will base everything on your boating experience, so just be truthful! 

If the time was aboard your own boat, you will sign off on that time and provide proof of ownership (examples include registration, vessel documentation, insurance card, or a sales receipt). 

If the time was on someone else's boat, they will sign off on your form for you. 

The Coast Guard is not looking for law books or official records to certify this time. Filling out the forms is done off the honor's system, it is your best guess! 

Here is a short video to explain the process. 

You may claim military time depending on your duties on a ship during your days of service. A mariner can request a transcript of their time by filling out Standard Form 180. Here is an article that will provide the necessary information. 

We recommend you not to be too concerned about a specific vessel that qualifies you for a captain’s license. In most cases, your day-to-day recreational boating time will qualify you for meeting the boating experience requirements.

If you are still unsure or wanted some additional information, feel free to reach out to one of our licensing specialists today!

(609) 303-0664, select option 1 or 2.  

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