Mariner licensing: Tonnage and other surprises

When is a 1,600-ton master license not really a 1,600-ton master license?  According to the Coast Guard, the answer is right now.

Shocked? Let me explain. I hold three Coast Guard licenses — a 100-ton master on inland waters, 1,600-ton master on inland waters, and an unlimited master of towing on inland waters. These are common licenses, especially if you operate on the inland rivers.

The reason I bring up this subject is because I renewed my licenses recently and they came back with different tonnage limits than on my previous ones. To my surprise, I had lost one ton on my 1,600-ton, 500-ton and 100-ton licenses. Why? The answer is simple.

On Dec. 24, 2013, the Coast Guard published a regulation that reorganized and updated the licensing program for domestic and international mariners. Part of this was to harmonize the 1,600- and 500-ton licenses with the International Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW). The new rules state that endorsements are issued for vessels of less than 1,600, 500 and 100 tons.

If this is making your head spin, you’re probably not alone. These changes are what I call “regulatory housekeeping.” In reality, while these changes make our federal regulators feel better, they really have no effect on our ability to continue operating vessels as before.

According to the Coast Guard, there are actually no 1,600-ton vessels in operation anyway and there are probably no 500- or 100-ton vessels either. Vessel designers do everything they can to design vessels that get under these tonnage thresholds. So, while this all turns out to be a big “nothing burger,” it has created some confusion among mariners, including me.

I encourage you to carefully read your licenses and endorsements to ensure accuracy. The Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center should be required to notify mariners of any regulatory change to their licenses, but it is really your responsibility to make sure that everything is correct.

Things are often not as simple as they may seem.

About the author

Capt. Alan Bernstein

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or abernstein@bbriverboats.com.

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