Maritime Certifications You Need to Crew on a Boat

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So, you want to look out of your office window and see turquoise waves and sparkling water instead of concrete and metal? You’d rather travel somewhere new every day than make the same boring commute to punch in for work? Ahoy, matey. It might be time to get on board—the boating industry in the United States has millions of boats cruising over the oceans every year, so there’s always room for a novice mariner. Here’s a look at some of the maritime certifications that can help you find a new career as a crew member.

Working as a sailor doesn’t necessarily mean roaming around the world, although circumnavigating is an exciting possibility. The charter industry, which thrives in places like the Atlantic and Caribbean, targets tourists who want to experience the water for various lengths of time. Day sails and week-long charters are some of the most popular ways for visitors to snorkel and see nearby islands, which means crew members are able to have a home base that’s not constantly floating. Unless, of course, that’s what you want. Boats are complex machines, and many need a handful of crewmembers to operate smoothly. The crew is responsible for everything from hoisting sails, to washing dishes at the end of a charter, to operating water sports equipment. Whether your goal is to become the captain of a catamaran or whether it’s to spend a summer as a first or second mate on a monohull sailboat to get your sea legs, you’ll need some credentials before landing a job.

CPR/First Aid

The most basic certification that the U.S. Coast Guard requires for working on a boat is CPR. This is not only to help others if something unexpected happens, but it’s also to protect you. A CPR or First Aid course goes into detail about what to do in emergency situations, including when to take charge of a situation and when to simply offer assistance. CPR courses typically only last a day or two and are easy to find through a hospital or the Red Cross. With a simple CPR certification, you can score a position as a third or second mate as long as they are sailing in U.S. waters. Many charter boats need crew members who focus on attending guests; they are responsible for serving food and drinks and handing out snorkel or swimming gear. However, mates can also help operate the boat, depending on the type of boat. While knowing CPR won’t help you distinguish between sailing lines, it does ensure that you will be useful in an emergency situation.

TWIC—Transportation Worker’s Identification Cardmari2

For vessels that will be crossing into international waters and using foreign docks, which is common in the Caribbean island chain, a Transportation Worker’s Identification Card (TWIC) may also be needed. This is a maritime security measure that applies to sailors who need unescorted access to secure maritime facilities as determined by the Coast Guard. Sort of like the CDL that allows taxi drivers and shuttle drivers into special lanes at the airport. However, not all crew members or boats are required to have one.

STCW Basic Safety Training

The Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping, or STCW for short, is the international program that sets standards for maritime qualifications. The Basic Safety Training Course is the introductory level of education that covers basic concepts of boats and sailing. The main points of emphasis in the course are firefighting, personal survival, personal safety and social responsibility, and elementary first aid. This course takes between four and five days and has to be renewed every five years. The STCW is required for crew members that have more advanced roles on the boat with more responsibility, as with a large boat that holds more guests. The BST is also the first crucial step for sailing in international waters, as it’s required for crewing in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.

Once you’ve earned these certifications, you can chart your career course and take advanced classes. It’s helpful for new sailors to take classes such as the STCW Crisis Management and STCW Crowd Management (for larger boats). Most of this classwork can be counted toward a captain’s license, which is a much more intense certification covering topics like maritime law and radio operation.

Although the CPR and STCW certifications are required to get a job, the majority of a sailor’s knowledge comes when you’re actually on a boat and gaining first-hand experience. Nautical terminology is easy to find online and learning some terms will boost your confidence level for your first cruise as a crewmember. Knowing how to tie a few knots is also a plus before jumping aboard, but what you don’t know you’ll learn quickly. Preparation only goes so far, though—you actually need to be on the ocean to earn your sea legs!

Last modified: September 5, 2015

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