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Aye, aye, Captain, it's a tough test

Many boat owners consider obtaining a captain's license. Some wish to charter their boats, others just wish to learn more about boating safety and navigation.

While Power Squadron and Coast Guard Auxiliary courses teach about small boats and basic navigation, they don't really prepare owners for the tough examination required for a captain's license.

The two most common licenses are the Operator of Uninspected Power Vessel (OUPV), commonly referred to as a six-pack license, and the Master's License. To qualify, you must first accumulate 360 days on the water for the OUPV, or 720 days for the Master's; you must have a recent certification in both first aid and CPR; you must be at least 18 years of age for the OUPV and 19 for the Master, and be physically fit and drug-free.

Captain's licenses are administered by the United States Coast Guard. It evaluates the application, gives the test, and issues the license. The cost for the test is $200 in Tampa or $180 at Coast Guard district headquarters in Miami.

With that expense, you want to be reasonably sure you can pass. Therefore, you might elect to study with a tutor or in a preparatory class. This is not an easy examination because of all the information on which you might be tested.

Last week, Adams Marine Seminars of Crystal River held a week-long class for six students in New Port Richey. Tom Lewis, Patricia Silva, Ingred Vecsey and John Campbell were interested in chartering sailboats; Trever Meyer and Larry Roderick were interested in running commercial or recreational fishing boats.

In seven days of intensive study, these students learned about questions that could be asked on the test and how to solve problems that might appear.

Perhaps the most difficult section of the four-part examination is Rules of the Road. This covers navigation lights and day beacons that may be shown by any type of vessel. There is a lot more to know than the red and green side lights of small pleasure craft.

Short verses help students remember what certain lights represent. For example, "Red over white _ fishing by night" signifies a red masthead light over a white one and means a fishing vessel is working in the area. A captain must learn all of the possible combinations, which can include several colors and multiple lights, and their corresponding day shapes, plus whistle signals for maneuvering.

Test takers must commit to memory International, Inland, and Western Rivers Rules of the Road, and while most are the same, it is important to know the differences.

The Rules of the Road section contains 30 questions and requires a 90 percent passing grade. The other sections require a 70 percent grade. These include 50 questions on General Deck, 20 questions on Navigation, and 10 questions on Charting.

General Deck questions may include anchoring, vessel stability, man-overboard procedures, mooring, fire fighting, knots, boat operation under various conditions, first aid, towing and safety.

Navigation can include buoys and channel markers, symbols on charts and what they mean, fog, wind, and other weather conditions, tides and currents, and radio procedures.

In the Charting section, you will be asked to plot courses on a navigation chart, taking into consideration factors such as compass variation and deviation, drift and set from current and wind, and time and speed.

You'll have charts, parallel rulers, dividers, pencils, and various books (such as Light Lists and Tide Table) to help you find the information. Even if you find all the correct information, you must plot accurately in order to get the right multiple-choice answer. Unfortunately, if you make one of the common mistakes, such as adding a correction instead of subtracting it, there is an answer that fits.

There is so much to learn in the charting section that most classes devote the most time to it. As difficult as it is, however, it is also the most fun and the most challenging. Without a Loran or GPS, charting knowledge can get you safely home. It also can help you find fishing grounds.

You can take correspondence classes or get instruction via videotapes, and they will help you greatly, but nothing can help you more than in-person instruction. And, it is still up to you to study afterward.

Do not take the test lightly, or you will fail. If you study diligently, you can pass the test on the first try, although most people require more than one attempt.

Where to get instruction for

the captain's license test


Adams Marine Seminars, Capt. Mike Adams, P.O. Box 99, Crystal River, FL 34423; phone (904) 447-1950.

Charter Industry Services, Inc., P.O. Box 476, Stuart, FL 34995; phone (800) 526-7979.

Chapman School of Seamanship, 4343 SE St. Lucie Blvd., Stuart, FL 34997; phone (800) 225-2841.

Commercial Marine Training Systems, Capt. John Saittis, 4080 Gulfview Drive, Spring Hill, FL 34607; phone/fax (904) 596-4206.

Sea School, National Captains Institute, P.O. Box 13714, St. Petersburg, FL 33733; phone (800) 237-8663


Atlantic Maritime Center, P.O. Box 249, Moriches, N.Y. 11955; phone (516) 395-6426.

Seven Seas Navigation School, 1733 H Street, Suite 330-883, Blaine, WA 98230-5107; fax (604) 929-3738.