Thursday, June 25, 2009

Mariner Credentialing

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine.

Full article by Mr. James W. Cratty, Marine Transportation Specialist, U.S. Coast Guard Mariner Credentialing Policy Division, is available at

The Coast Guard issues mariner credentials (please see “definitions” after “about the author”) to individuals found qualified as to age, experience, professional qualifications, physical fitness, character, and lifestyle habits. All applications for a mariner credential must be submitted to a Coast Guard regional exam center (REC). Evaluation of these applications is performed at the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center (NMC). There, applications are reviewed for:

Age—An applicant must have attained the minimum age required for the holder of the requested credential. For most licenses and certificates of registry (CORs), the minimum age is 21 (in some instances 18). A merchant mariner document (MMD) may be issued to a person at age 16 with parental consent; however, by law an able seaman must be at least 18 years old. There is no minimum age for any other qualified rating.

Citizenship—Licenses may be issued only to U.S. citizens, with the lone exception of a license as operator of uninspected, undocumented passenger vessels. This license is limited to domestic near-coastal waters not more than 100 miles offshore. An MMD may be issued to a U.S. citizen or to a foreign national who has been lawfully admitted to the United States for permanent residence.

Character—The Coast Guard must assure that the holder of a mariner’s credential can be entrusted with its inherent duties. All applicants are fingerprinted and the results are reviewed through national databases to determine if they have criminal backgrounds or terrorist affiliations. In addition, the national driver register is reviewed to see if the applicant has been convicted of certain vehicular offenses within the three years preceding application.

Physical competence—Mariners must be in good health and physically able to perform the duties required by their licenses or MMD endorsements for a rating (such as able seaman, qualified member of the engine department, or tankerman). All applicants for these positions must submit a report of a physical examination. A person applying for an “entry rating” as an ordinary seaman, wiper, or member of the steward’s department does not need to undergo a full physical examination. Deck officers and able seamen must be able to distinguish colors to identify aids to navigation, colored lights that provide information about the course of a nearby vessel, and colors printed on navigational charts. Engineering officers, qualified members of the engine department, and tankermen are required to distinguish between the colors red, green, blue, and yellow.

Training and experience—Applicants must provide proof that they have completed the required training and/or assessments to qualify for a credential. Many licenses, CORs, and qualified ratings require the applicant to present evidence of seagoing service. This may be submitted as certificates of discharge, letters, or other documents certifying the vessel’s name, amount and type of experience, tonnage, route, and horsepower and propulsion type. Foreign and military sea service may be acceptable.

Fees—User fees are required to process mariner credentials, and are divided into three areas: evaluation, testing, and issuance. The typical fee for most license and merchant mariner document transactions is either $50.00 or $100.00. Checks, money orders, and credit cards are accepted. Applicants may also pay online at

About the author:
James W. Cratty is a marine transportation specialist in the mariner credentialing program policy division at Coast Guard headquarters, and is a licensed mariner.

Merchant mariner document
Merchant mariner documents (MMDs) are issued to the crewmembers of commercial vessels for two purposes. The MMD serves as an identity document by depicting the photograph and other personal information about the mariner. It also serves as a qualification document by noting the unlicensed capacities in which the mariner is qualified to serve. Because service on vessels of more than 100 gross tons on other than inland waters requires an identity document, license holders engaged in such service must also have an MMD. This rather confusing array of credential requirements means that some mariners have only a license record, some have only an MMD record, and some have both.

License—Licenses are issued to people responsible for the safe navigation and propulsion of a vessel. The license certifies that the holder has the experience and knowledge to serve in a specified position of a particular vessel.

Certificate of registry—A certificate of registry (COR) as a staff officer is a mariner credential issued to individuals who serve aboard vessels as a purser, medical doctor (formerly surgeon), or professional nurse. For a COR as a medical doctor or professional nurse, that person must hold a valid medical license issued under the authority of a state or territory of the United States, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, or the District of Columbia.

Radio officer’s license—This mariner credential is issued to an individual who serves aboard a vessel to operate the shipboard radio equipment. That person must hold a valid first- or second-class radiotelegraph operator’s license issued by the Federal Communications Commission.

Merchant mariner credential—This is a general term that may refer to a merchant mariner document, license, certificate of registry, STCW certificate, or radio officer’s license.

For more information:
Additional information about mariner credentialing may be found at or under “merchant mariners” in the list of missions.

Full article and 124-page “Focus on the Mariner” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at Subscribe online at

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: