For a captain’s license, book smart should not be enough

I’m writing because of something that is very alarming to me and should be to all Coast Guard captains. I work on the East Coast and for a long time I have been involved in the charter business.

When I was growing up, you almost went through a rite of passage working on boats of all kinds to learn the ropes. I started working on what we call head boats or party boats that would take people deep sea fishing. During this process I would learn about how a boat worked with on-hand knowledge and getting my hands dirty, like if we lost a motor 50 miles offshore with 115 head on board or pumps going out.

As the years have gone by, I have noticed a very disturbing trend. It looks like — well it doesn’t look like — it is a fact: You only have to be book smart to get a captain’s license. During trips offshore, it is not uncommon to see an 18-foot Whaler with 6 people on board on a fishing charter with an 18-year-old captain. There are tons of stories I could list, and I’m sure everybody could list, about unqualified captains, but the point is this should not happen.

It’s alarming to me how easy it is to get a license when you do not even have to pass a test to drive a boat. I think the Coast Guard needs to strongly make some improvements on handing licenses out. Not only is it very unsafe for these people to be working, but it hurts the qualified captains out here that have been working for years, and the market is flooded with green captains.

Jeb Burroughs

By Professional Mariner Staff