In accordance with 46 CFR 10.209(d), it was time to renew my U.S. Coast Guard-issued medical certificate. Getting ready the night before the trip into town for my physical and drug screen, I went to the Coast Guard National Maritime Center (NMC) website (www.uscg.mil/nmc) medical page to download a blank copy of CG-719K, the Coast Guard physical examination form, to take with me.
While I was on the site, a link on the side of the page caught my eye. It read, “Common Errors on Application.” I clicked on it and a page came up that had links to two documents. One of them, titled “Physical Examination Checklist,” gives guidance to the medical professionals conducting and certifying the examination results to ensure that everything is done in accordance with the requirements set forth in Coast Guard Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular 04-08. The second link went to another document, titled “Common Errors Mariners Make When Submitting Form CG-719K.” It revealed a list of 16 omissions and mistakes that have resulted in delays or denials of merchant mariner medical certificate applications. I downloaded a copy of each and brought them with me the next day.
It was a partly sunny Puget Sound autumn afternoon, and there were three other people ahead of me in the waiting room. I was at this particular clinic unexpectedly, and only because the medical company’s Seattle office had lost my appointment. Having already taken a ferry and driven over to the mainland, I was luckily able to schedule another appointment at this clinic, one operated by the same company and even closer to my home. After I signed in and wrote a check for $187, I filled out the required registration forms and waited for my name to be called.
A few minutes later, a tall young man with a nurse’s assistant badge pinned to his uniform came out and motioned for me to come with him. He walked me back to an area dedicated specifically to conducting drug screens. After reading and signing the appropriate paperwork, I was given a small cup enclosed in plastic, along with the procedures for providing a sample. I went inside the designated “drug-screen collection toilet,” which among other things had blue coloring in the water to foil any attempts to cheat. After initialing the samples and getting copies of the paperwork I signed, he said, “OK, time for your physical exam.”
We went into a room where he checked my vision, including a test for colorblindness, then went into a different exam room where he took my blood pressure, pulse and other vital signs. Finished, the assistant left and a few minutes later the nurse practitioner, who’d be conducting the rest of my exam and signing my CG-719K form, came in. Before we got started, I gave him the copy of the physical examination checklist I had downloaded the night before. He read it quickly and then continued with the exam. Close to an hour later we were done.
The nurse practitioner, looking once again at his copy of the checklist, said, “I’m requiring you to take a physical ability test (PAT) before I’ll sign you off.” He told me that it would have to be done at a specially equipped clinic in south Seattle. Unfortunately, there were no appointments available, so I had to come back into town another day. After taking the ferry again and making the two-hour drive, I walked into the facility and paid the additional $107 for the test. Upon successfully completing my PAT, I drove back to the original clinic where the nurse practitioner finished up and approved my CG-719K, signing it and giving it back to me.
Standing up to leave the exam room, I asked him to hold on a minute. Taking out my printed list from the NMC website, I checked for all 16 common errors on the page and found to my surprise that there were three on the form. The first error was on page 5, section II (b), where he omitted required information regarding my medical history. The second and third errors, both on page 8, were not making the required entry in the comments box in section VII, and neglecting to complete the food handler’s endorsement in section VIII. I got him to make the changes and then left the clinic, thankful for the NMC’s list of common CG-719K errors that I had been able to download from the website.
I sent my completed CG-719K and drug screen results to a license consultant in Michigan I was using. He submitted my paperwork to the Regional Exam Center in Toledo, Ohio, on Oct. 11, which forwarded it to the NMC in West Virginia. Just eight days later, the NMC notified me by email that my new medical certificate had been approved. A week later, on Oct. 26, I went to our post office box and had my new certificate in hand. The entire process, from the day I sat in the clinic waiting for my exam until I got my new certificate back in the mail, took only 27 days.
Having heard some horror stories from other mariners about their experiences with renewing their medical certificate, I had some trepidation as the time for my renewal approached. I was both pleased and impressed that everything went so well, and I give credit to the Coast Guard for providing the links to the physical examination checklist and “Common Errors Mariners Make When Submitting Form CG-719K” on the NMC website. An omission on the paperwork or an oversight in the physical exam can cause a delay or an outright denial in getting a medical certificate. Consequently, what I learned from my recent experience was the importance of knowing when you need to renew your certificate, giving yourself plenty of time by starting early, and using the checklists and guidelines available. It worked for me.
Till next time, I wish you all smooth sailin.’
Kelly Sweeney holds the licenses of master (oceans, any gross tons) and master of towing vessels (oceans), and regularly sails on a wide variety of commercial vessels. He lives on an island near Seattle. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.