Licensed mariner

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A sample United States Merchant Marine license issued by the United States Coast Guard in 2006
Mariners ( Captain, first officer and second officer ) at the controls of the Kristina Regina

A licensed mariner is a sailor who holds a license from a maritime authority to hold senior officer-level positions aboard ships, boats, and similar vessels. Qualification standards for licensed mariners are universally set by the STCW Convention adopted and promulgated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), while the licenses of individual sailors are issued by the delegated maritime authorities of the member states of the IMO; these may vary in the details of the implementation, including the government agency responsible for licensing and the local names of the grades and qualifications in each particular country.

Mariners that do not have a license are referred to as unlicensed mariners or ratings.

Licensing by country[edit]

In the United States, the United States Coast Guard grants licenses to members of the United States Merchant Marine in five categories: deck officers,[1] engineers,[2] staff officers,[3] radio officers,[4] and pilots.[1] The United States Coast Guard has replaced paper licenses with the Merchant Mariners Credential which is a combination of the former Merchant Marine Officers license and Merchant Mariners Document in a small book that looks similar to a passport. Several States within the United States issue a state mariners license for use upon non-federal inland waters. Most of these states honor USCG Merchant Marine licenses as an alternative to state licensing. State licensing programs closely follow the federal guidelines for issuance of these licenses, including the requirements concerning professional maritime training and experience.

In the United Kingdom, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency issue licenses, known as Certificates of Competency, in a similar fashion under the amended STCW convention.


Deck officers[edit]

There are a wide variety of licenses for deck officers, with restrictions of geography and tonnage. Licenses without such restrictions are called unlimited as in Third Mate or Officer of the Watch, Unlimited. The grades of unlimited licenses are:

Mariner licenses range from large to small vessels. Smaller charter boat operators may have a charter boat license or a certificate under the Large Yacht Code.


Licenses are issued in the grades of:

Staff officers[edit]

Staff officers are issued a Certificate of Registry in the following grades:

Radio officers[edit]

  • Radio officer


Pilot licenses vary with tonnage and geography. Types of pilot's licenses are:

  • General routes (routes not restricted to rivers, canals and small lakes)
  • River routes
  • Canal and small lakes routes

Master mariner[edit]

A master mariner is a licensed mariner who holds the highest grade of seafarer qualification; namely, an unlimited master's license. Such a license is labelled unlimited because it has no limits on the tonnage, power, or geographic location of the vessel that the holder of the license is allowed to serve upon. A master mariner would therefore be allowed to serve as the master of a merchant ship of any size, of any type, operating anywhere in the world,[5] and it reflects the highest level of professional qualification amongst mariners and deck officers.

The term master mariner has been in use at least since the 13th century, reflecting the fact that in guild or livery company terms, such a person was a master craftsman in this specific profession (e.g., master carpenter, master blacksmith).


  1. ^ a b "Title 46, Part 10, Subpart D, Section 10.403". U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Archived from the original on October 4, 2006. Retrieved March 16, 2007.
  2. ^ "Title 46, Part 10, Subpart E, Section 10.501". U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Archived from the original on October 4, 2006. Retrieved March 16, 2007.
  3. ^ "Title 46, Part 10, Subpart H, Section 10.801". U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Archived from the original on October 4, 2006. Retrieved March 16, 2007.
  4. ^ "Title 46, Part 10, Subpart F, Section 10.601". U.S. Code of Federal Regulations. Archived from the original on October 4, 2006. Retrieved March 16, 2007.
  5. ^ Master Mariner Requirements

See also[edit]