Written by Mike – Verena said that I had too much time on my hands this summer and it must have been true. I was actually perusing the internet and found a job that sounded like the perfect fit. I believe a lot of the interest was due to the job being located in Hawaii. The small problem was that I needed a “bigger” ticket, i.e. I needed to have a captain’s license with an endorsement for greater tonnage. Since it was almost time to renew our licenses and we had some down time during hurricane season, we decided to go through the renewal process.
So the ordeal began with renewing and upgrading my captain’s license over two months ago. It may have not been as much of an ordeal if it was not for the fact that we are docked in Mexico. The first thing I did was to gather the necessary information and attempt to understand the process as much as possible. Verena and I had taken a 100 ton captain’s course from Columbia Pacific Maritime for our original application nearly five years ago. Dennis Degner, the owner of Columbia Pacific Maritime, was eager to help me understand what I needed to get through the renewal and upgrade. All of this information is also available on his website and he is always willing to help mariners with licensing questions.
After preparing all of our paperwork and gathering our sea-time we packed our bags and flew to Los Angeles, California.
Sea Service Documentation
This is, in my opinion, the toughest part of the entire process. We had to gather all of our time spent on ships, boats and our own boats in the past five years and get signatures for sea time served. Since we both worked as hydrographers before moving aboard Camille we spent a lot of time on different boats. Each captain you work under has to sign your time spent on his/her boat until you have enough to satisfy the requirement. Dennis has a very succinct explanation of exactly what is needed for any given license on his website. Just choose the license you are after in the left column. Verena and I now have 100 ton near coastal master licenses – upgraded from 50 tons.
Since this was a renewal, all of our STCW endorsements carried over from our original license. If we had waited too long or not had enough sea time since our original licence we would have had to take a Basic Safety Training refresher course (about $750). Thanks to our time spent working for NOAA aboard the Fairweather, we have STCW endorsements for advanced firefighting, fast-rescue boats (lifeboatman) and towing. I have a medical person in charge endorsement.
All USCG mariners are required to have a TWIC (Transportation Workers Identification) Card. This credential is an endorsement from the Department of Homeland Security Administration that says you are not a criminal and are fit, in their eyes, to be trusted to walk the docks in secure areas. With the original issue of our license we each had to get one of these cards. However, the cards expire every five years just like the license. To renew requires that you submit an application and wait for up to two weeks for them to do a background check unless you are eligible for an extension. Thankfully we were eligible for the extension and were able to make arrangements to pick up new cards. This took approximately an hour to do over the phone and $60 each. We had to wait approximately fifteen minutes to pick up our cards at their office near Long Beach Harbor.
Drug Test and Physical
The next step is making sure that you are not a drug addict. We found a lab that was qualified (this is important as the USCG will not accept just any lab results) to do the drug testing and was also able to perform an approved physical. The medical clinic caters to sailors and the ambience of the office was akin to the most dysfunctional DMV office. The clinic offers no appointments, so after walking in we were seen by the physician about two hours later. We took the drug test on Friday and were able to pick up the results on Monday. We spent $110 each for the drug test and physical and waited approximately an hour at the office on Monday to pick up the results of the drug test.
Submission of Application to REC
Then came the actual submission of our application package to the Coast Guard office. The Coast Guard has about ten pages of paperwork that need to be filled out as well as log of all of your sea service. It is recommended that you make an appointment with the USCG REC (Regional Exam Center) office if you want to hand deliver the application package. The package can also be mailed, however we wanted the added assurance that a qualified set of eyes would pass over our application before the REC submitted our applications to a contractor in Washington D.C. The government contracting company actually reviews the paperwork and gives the green light for the license to be issued. This step costs us $95 each and about fifteen minutes in the office.
Auxiliary Sail Endorsement Test
At this point Verena’s application for renewal was done. I wanted to add the sailing endorsement to my license which Verena already had. For this to happen, the application had to be reviewed and then I needed to have an approval from the reviewer to take the test. Two weeks passed and I was approved to test.
I called the Coast Guard REC and scheduled a test for my sailing endorsement for the following week. The sailing endorsement test is a rather straightforward exam comprised of 20 questions. In order to receive a passing score a sailor needs to get 70% of the questions correct. This meant I could miss six questions. After I completed the test I handed my answer sheet to the officer behind the counter. He said he could grade it right away and took it over to his desk across the room. He came back to the counter with a grave look on his face and said that I missed eight! Then he smiled and said I missed question #8. I was one answer shy of a perfect score.
Verena and I are always looking for opportunities to help you get your boat up or down the West Coast, check out our services page.