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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, 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).
In Norway, the title of Master mariner (Sjøkaptein) is a protected title to which holders of a license as deck officer class 1 in accordance with the "Regulations on qualifications and certificates for seafarers" have the exclusive right. The license is the highest qualification document issued to deck officers.
To be licensed as a Master mariner, the candidate must be:
- Either a licensed senior deck officer on ships of 3000 GRT and over, with an additional 12 months' sea practice of as a senior deck officer on commercial seagoing vessels of 3000 GRT and above in international shipping
- Or a licensed master of ships of 500 to 3000 GRT, with an additional 6 months' sea practice as a senior deck officer on commercial seagoing vessels of 3000 GRT and above in international shipping.
- And pass an qualifying exam as Master mariner of great shipping.
The Extra Master's qualification (issued only in the United Kingdom), which was discontinued in the 1990s, used to be the highest professional qualification and it was the pinnacle for any mariner to achieve. There are also various other levels of master's certificates, which may be restricted or limited to home trade/near coastal voyages and/or by gross tonnage. The holder of a restricted master's certificate is not referred to as a "master mariner".
In the British Merchant Navy a master mariner who has sailed in command of an ocean-going merchant ship will be titled captain. A professional seafarer who holds a restricted or limited master's certificate who has sailed in command of a ship (i.e. appropriate to the size, power or geographic limits of their certificate) can also be titled captain.
In the UK, an unrestricted master's certificate is colloquially called a "master's ticket" or a "master's." It is sometimes still referred to as a "Class 1" or "Master Foreign-Going" as it was named during the latter part of the 20th century. The conventions or acts governing the certificate have evolved alongside the shipping industry and the official name of a master mariner's qualification has varied over the years. The UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency, in line with the amended STCW convention, currently[when?] title the certificate Master Unlimited.
The qualification is awarded to those senior ships officers whose competency has been assessed under the STCW A-II/2 syllabus. sac
To become a master of vessels of any gross tons upon oceans  in the United States, one must first accumulate at least 360 days of service (including 90 days in the most recent three years on vessels of appropriate tonnage) while holding a chief mate's license. The chief mate's license, in turn, requires at least 360 days of service (including 90 days in the most recent three years on vessels of appropriate tonnage) while holding a second mate's license, passing a battery of examinations, and approximately 13 weeks of classes. Similarly, one must have worked as a third mate for 360 days (including 90 days in the most recent three years on vessels of appropriate tonnage) to have become a second mate.
There are two methods to attain an unlimited third mate's license in the United States: to attend a specialized training institution, or to accumulate "sea time" and take a series of training classes and examinations.
Training institutions that can lead to a third mate's license include the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and the U.S. Naval Academy (with approved courses and requisite sea time as an Officer in Charge of a Navigational Watch), the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (deck curriculum), the Great Lakes Maritime Academy, and the six state maritime academies in Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, or California. Third mate's licenses can also be obtained through a three-year apprentice mate training program approved by the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.
A seaman may start the process of obtaining a license after three years of service in the deck department on ocean steam or motor vessels, at least six months of which as able seaman, boatswain, or quartermaster. Then the seaman takes required training courses, and completes on-board assessments. Finally, the mariner can apply to the United States Coast Guard for a third mate's license.
An alternate method of obtaining a license as a master of vessels of any gross tons upon oceans, without sailing as a third, second, or chief mate, is to obtain one year of sea service as a 1st class pilot of any gross tons or mate of vessels of any gross tons upon Great Lakes and inland waters. Then pass an examination for the license of master of vessels of any gross tons upon Great Lakes and inland waters. A master of vessels of any gross tons upon Great Lakes and inland waters may, without any additional sea service, take the examination for master of vessels of any gross tons upon near coastal waters. If the candidate does not already have sufficient deep sea experience he may with six months of additional sea service, in any licensed capacity, take a partial examination consisting primarily of celestial navigation and have the near coastal restriction removed. 46CFR 11.403
A master of 1,600 ton vessels can, under certain circumstances, begin the application process for an unlimited third mate's license.
Some employers offer financial assistance to pay for the training for their employees. Otherwise, the mariner is responsible for the cost of the required training. A Chief Mate to Master formal training generally takes about 12 weeks and provides the knowledge, skills and other soft skills training to take on the duties and responsibilities.
Various US states require and issue shipmaster or captain licenses in order to be employed in operating a vessel for hire while navigating within "non-federal" waters. (Such as a lake or river charter boat "skipper"). Most states honor a USCG master's certificate as an alternative to their state licensing. These state licenses certify that the captain has given satisfactory evidence that they can safely be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities of operating or navigating passenger carrying vessels of the tonnage and upon the waters specified. The state licensed captains command vessels that range from small uninspected vessels to large excursion vessels that carry over 100 passengers, so the licenses are not issued haphazardly. For example, see Washington State's Certification of Charter Boats and Operators licenses.
- Captain (nautical)
- Licensed mariner
- Senior captain
- Honourable Company of Master Mariners
- Harbour pilot
- Shipping Master
- Unlimited oceangoing shipmaster senior grade
- Master Mariner Requirements
- "Forskrift om kvalifikasjoner og sertifikater for sjøfolk - Lovdata". Lovdata (in Norwegian). Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Ustawa z dnia 18 września 2001 r. Kodeks morski http://isap.sejm.gov.pl/isap.nsf/DocDetails.xsp?id=WDU20180002175 Retrieved 2021-05-25.
- Rozporządzenie Ministra Gospodarki Morskiej i Żeglugi Śródlądowej z dnia 23 kwietnia 2018 r. w sprawie wyszkolenia i kwalifikacji członków załóg statków morskich http://isap.sejm.gov.pl/isap.nsf/DocDetails.xsp?id=WDU20180000802 Retrieved 2021-05-25.
- "Maritime and Coastguard Agency".
- USCG Master License Requirements
- "U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, Title 46, Part 10, Subpart 407". Archived from the original on 2007-09-30.
- USCG Mate License Requirements - Merchant Mariner Credential
- "Chief Mate Master Training".
- "Charter Boats". Lni.wa.gov. Retrieved 2016-04-17.
- City of London Livery Companies
- US Coast Guard - National Maritime Center
- STCW Convention
- Maritime Education Services
- Glasgow Maritime Academy
- MCA Guidance on Training and Certification (Deck Department)
- The Master Mariner
Master Mariner Associations
- The Council of American Master Mariners
- The Honourable Company of Master Mariners
- The Company of Master Mariners of Australia
- The Irish Institute of Master Mariners
- The Company of Master Mariners of Canada
- The Company of Master Mariners of Sri Lanka
- The International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations