June 9, 2011
For the past two weeks Bradley and I have been studying at the Maritime Professional Institute in Ft. Lauderdale. I was working on my US Coast Guard 100 Ton Masters (Captain’s) license while Bradley is getting the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) 200 Ton Offshore Yachtmaster certification (he has two more weeks to go). Both these certifications are intended to demonstrate a certain level of mastery and are recognized as maritime credentials, very similar in concept (though perhaps not as tough) to a CPA or Bar exam. My exam consisted of four sections – 1) Rules of the Road; 2) Deck General and Deck Safety; 3) Navigation and Weather General; and 4) Chart Plotting.
My class ran from 7:30am to 4pm each day for two weeks. There was a lot to learn and it was clear the class was solely a “test prep” deal. We were even told “we’re not here to teach you how to be a good Captain, we’re here to make sure you pass the test”. Having spent the past two years of my professional life in Education, this was a little disconcerting. We were not allowed to ask questions outside of specific topics that were included on the exam. We were taught techniques to help us pass the test such as “when in doubt, Charlie out”, meaning that if you have no idea what the answer is on a multiple choice test, pick “C” because that is the most common answer. Also, if ALL of The Above is included as an option, 90% of the time it will be the right answer. However, despite the “teach to the test” objective, over the course of the two weeks, we learned a lot and developed a good foundation.
In addition to the regular class, I also had several additional evening classes. A requirement for the Coast Guard license is a current First Aid/CPR certification, so that took up two nights the first week. In addition, a Captain is required to have a radio license issued by the FCC, which requires another night of class. Because I have so much time on a sailboat, I am also eligible to have a “Sail endorsement” attached to my license, which requires yet another class and test. So it was many long days but I obtained all the required certificates. I also had to pass a physical exam, which consisted of filling out a 9-page questionnaire, having a nurse take my blood pressure and asking “How tall are you and how much do you weigh?”, then recording the answers with no verification – not the most rigorous standard! I did have to have an interview with the doctor, which lasted at least 30 seconds. And I did have to pass a drug test.
The next step was filling out the Coast Guard application, including documentation of at least 720 days at sea which at least 360 days “offshore” (outside the boundaries of inland waterways). That is now complete and my application is in the hands of the Coast Guard.
So assuming the Coast Guard approves, I will soon be authorized to take up to six passengers out for hire on a vessel up to 100 gross tons, provide towing services to disabled boats and charge money, or work on a large ship (such as an oil tanker) as a wiper (wiping up oil in the engine room) or as a food handler. I don’t really intend to do any of those things, but our insurance company is happy and now believes I am qualified to operate our own boat! All in all, it was a good experience and I will soon be an official Merchant Mariner.