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Can a Felon Get a Captain’s License?

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There are resources available for felons looking to establish themselves in a new profession. Some felons may have experience in boating and an interest in a career chartering a boat.

This blog post will address the issue of whether or not a felon can get a captain’s license.

  • What Is a Captain’s License?
  • What Is Required to Get a Captain’s License?
  • An Opportunity for Felons?
  • Recommended Action


What Is a Captain’s License?

A license is issued by a state agency to practice a profession and is required in order to call oneself a licensed professional. A license shows that someone has specific knowledge or skill necessary to do a job. Typically, these types of credentials are obtained after completing certain education.

Licenses are legally required by the government to work in an occupation. A license:

  • Is awarded by a government licensing agency
  • Gives some legal authority to work in an occupation
  • Requires meeting certain criteria, such as having a degree or passing a state-administered exam

A captain is the leader of a vessel and is responsible for its navigation and operation of all equipment, along with commanding all crew members.

A captain’s license, often called a Merchant Mariner’s Credential, is a permit issued through the U.S. Coast Guard allowing someone to legally carry, “passengers for hire.” This will allow a person to do such things as book charters for fishing, sightseeing, or transportation on the water.

What Is Required to Get a Captain’s License?

There are two types of a captain’s license:

  • Operator license – This is for uninspected vessels (boats that hold up to six passengers, weigh up to 100 gross tons, and travel up to 100 miles offshore).
  • Master license – This is for inspected vessels (larger boats that can carry seven or more passengers and travel up to 200 miles offshore or on inland waters).

An applicant for a captain’s license must meet the following requirements:

  • Must be at least 18 years old
  • Must be able to documents 360 days of experience on a vessel
  • Must have accumulated these days within the last three years
  • 90 of the 360 days must be on the ocean or near coastal waters

Any applicant must complete a captain’s course certified by the U.S. Coast Guard. The following information must be submitted for a captain’s license after completing that course:

  • Social Security card
  • Application for license
  • Documentation of sea-time experience
  • Physical exam
  • Drug screening
  • Proof of permanent residency
  • TWIC card
  • Course certificate from an MPT certification course within the last year
  • First aid and CPR certificates
  • Three written character references

Classes in a certified course to obtain a captain’s license include:

  • Navigation
  • Tidal calculations
  • International and inland rules of the road
  • Coastal piloting
  • Meteorology
  • Anchoring and mooring
  • Docking and undocking
  • Safety
  • General ship knowledge regulations
  • Stability and vessel construction

Following completion of the course, an applicant must pass an exam covering general areas of knowledge:

  • Coastal navigation
  • Deck knowledge
  • “Rules of the road”

 An Opportunity for Felons?

There will be a background check for a captain’s license. The Coast Guard conducts a criminal background check and a National Driver’s Registry report on all applicants. When applying for a captain’s license, there will be a series of questions relating to the use of dangerous drugs or convictions by any court for offenses other than minor traffic violations.

A conviction means an applicant for a Merchant Mariners document has been found guilty by judgment or plea in a court of record of the U.S., District of Columbia, or any state territory of the U.S. along with any foreign country or military court.

The Coast Guard will consider an applicant to have a conviction if he or she:

  • Pleads guilty or no contest
  • Is granted deferred adjudication
  • Is required by the court to attend classes
  • Made contributions of time or money
  • Received treatment
  • Underwent probation or supervision

All convictions for DUI, drug, and felony offenses are reviewed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Depending on the offense, a holding period of one to ten years may be applied before becoming eligible for a captain’s license. This will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

A later expungement of the conviction will not negate that conviction unless the Coast Guard is satisfied that the expungement is based on a showing that the court’s earlier sentence was in error. The Coast Guard is not interested in whether a conviction was erased through expungement; they want to know whether a conviction has occurred in the first place.

When applying for a captain’s license, is important to disclose any felony convictions. Not reporting a conviction will mean that the Coast Guard will consider the applicant to have submitted a fraudulent application. This will result in immediate denial of any captain’s license.

It is essential to be honest in filling out an application for a captain’s license. If a felony isn’t disclosed but found on a background check, this is fraud which is a punishable crime, which could result in being sent back to prison.

In order to be successful in obtaining a captain’s license, it is essential for felons to be honest about their background. They are already working with negative perceptions of being:

  • Dishonest
  • Untrustworthy
  • Unwilling or unable to follow directions from authority figures

Having their felony expunged may or may not give them the chance needed to begin with a clean record and succeed in getting a captain’s license. Expunging a criminal record typically allows anyone to honestly state on an application that he or she has not been convicted of a crime. This is not the same according to the Coast Guard, however.

Recommended Action

It could be worth the effort to go through the steps in obtaining a captain’s license. Giving him or herself the best chance for success by having his or her record expunged and also documenting any programs, education, or training completed could have a critical impact for any felon that has had a hold placed on his or her record as a result of a felony conviction.

Having support from family, friends, counselors, or previous employers can make a huge difference. A felon doesn’t have to be defined by his or her crime.

What do you think about this blog post? Have you or someone you know been in the situation of trying to get a captain’s license with a felony? What was that like for him or her, and how did he or she achieve success? Please tell us in the comments below.

9 thoughts on “Can a Felon Get a Captain’s License?”

  1. I was convicted of several felony drug possessions over 8 years ago and plead guilty and no contest. However, I have been sober and an upstanding member of Alcoholics Anonymous for many years. I’m grateful that I have been able to share my experience, strength and hope with many men who have struggled just as I did. I have a love and passion for fishing and sharing it with novices. I’m interested in obtaining a six pack license. Having faith and trusting the process I am hopeful that I will be able to obtain my CGL and take my fishing career to the next level. Wish me luck and God bless us all

    • My son is a felon and loves fishing and being out on the ocean. He wants to get his captains license. He needs some guidance and reassurance from someone who has been down the same road. I would love for you to contact him if possible. Thanks!

  2. I Think Melvin Needs to go on the TWIC website and look at the rules for felons because it looks as if most felons can get TWIC card no problem if they meet the requirements.

  3. Thanks Charles and Jason. Yes it was hard to start a new life. My felonies are 10 years in my past and since release, I have built a good life with retirement 2 years on the horizon. If my felonies need to be revisited and investigated in order for me to attain a Captain’s License, I am ready to give full disclosure. I realize that, out of abundance of caution, these issuing entities (USCG) have the public’s best interest to protect.

  4. Melvin Clyde ^^ doesn’t know what he is talking about, and should keep his fingers in his mouth and off his keyboard. The USCG WILL issue Master Captains Licenses to conviceted felons if you have kept yourself out of trouble for a period of time that is based on what you were convicted of. You WILL also recieve a TWIC card with felony convictions if the waiting period has been met (1 – 10 years) depending on conviction. I have 17 felonys that were just over 10 years old when I got my Masters and TWIC. Drugs, theft, burglery, breaking and entering, etc. etc. and they gave me mine no problem. Disclose your convictions in your application and provide all of the ocumentation that the USCG requires and you will more than likely be issued your license. As for Melvin Clyde, he is full of hot air,

    • I’m a convicted Sex offender I did my time in prison got out and I’m currently a deckhand and working hard to obtain my masters license. As of now my conviction was in 2012 its 2023 now and I have my twic.

  5. Don’t let the nay sayers keep you down. They’re worse than The Man. People will always cry the deck is stacked against them and come up with excuses. You may have a harder go at thing because of your felony, but there are plenty of opportunities still there. Life is hard felony or not. Don’t let it be your excuse

  6. Any job that reuires a TWIC card (which, with the new laws enacted to create the Dept of Homeland Security, includes anything to do with ANY port at sea or on inland waterways) no felon will EVER get that job. Anything that might be “interpretted” as a lack of “moral terpitude” (aka- fraud, theft, sex offences [including (but not limited to) “downloading,” streaking back in the 70’s, mooning somone, etc]), drug offenses, etc will be grounds for refusal of licensing. It is a way to prevent those with a record from getting ANY job where they might actually be able to make an actual, survivable living for themself and their families. So… while there may not be any specific rules against a felon getting this type of job (let alone a license) they have stacked the deck with “wild cards” to keep people down for the count…


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