A new Coast Guard policy letter extends the renewal grace period for a Merchant Mariner Credential from one year to six years — a decision hailed by the Offshore Marine Service Association, which had pushed for the move.

OMSA officials in a letter that urged the agency “to adopt fair practices that would support merchant marines looking to return to the industry.”

“OMSA has long advocated for ending restrictive policies that needlessly prohibit American mariners from returning to the workforce,” said Aaron Smith, president of OMSA, said in a May 8 statement. “We applaud the USCG for extending the grace period for renewing a Coast Guard license renewal period and for providing American mariners with more flexibility to contribute their expertise.”

Previously, mariners taking leave had to renew their MMC within one year – or deal with starting over as a new mariner, requiring all new sea time, tests and training, according to OMSA.

Extending the return grace period from one to six years “empowers highly skilled mariners to return to the industry thereby improving industry safety and job possibilities for Americans while saving mariners upwards of $40,000 in costs and 100-plus days in classroom,” the group says.

“There is no practical reason for short MMC renewal limits as they do not enhance safety or retention,” says Smith. “Extending these limits will more effectively facilitate maintaining an experienced and qualified workforce and enhance national security by providing an additional source of fully qualified American mariners to be rapidly activated.”

For mariners who want to reactivate their expired Captain’s license, the new policy will save between $12,100 and $43,710 in class fees and between 39 and 124 days of classroom instruction.

The former one-year deadline for regaining mariner credentials imposed huge costs on workers in boom-and-bust maritime industries.  

“Historically, the domestic maritime industry has had periods of high utilization followed by periods of slowdown. This natural fluctuation creates opportunities for mariners to both enter the industry and take leave, rendering it not uncommon for skilled mariners to allow their credentials to expire due to the high cost of maintaining many endorsements during a time it is not being utilized,” OMSA noted. “The one-year grace period for license renewal overlooked the natural cycles of the industry and imposed unnecessary burdens on mariners. The new six-year period corrects the problem by accommodating for industry cycles and individual life circumstances.

“It is a huge win for American mariners,” says Smith. “Doing away with needlessly restrictive policies that negate the needs of industry professionals will create a better environment for mariners to contribute to the needs of the nation.”