To be a ship captain requires several steps to gain appropriate education and experience relevant to the position. The U.S. Coast Guard regulates the training and licensing of maritime occupations in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, the International Maritime Organization regulates educational and licensing standards. Each organization has a limited number of schools approved to train and prepare for the licensing exam. Qualifications for the licensing exam include earning a 4-year Bachelor of Science degree, with coursework in meteorology, navigation, and cargo management. After meeting these qualifications and passing a licensing exam, candidates may find work as a deck officer or third mate on board a ship.
The process of working up the ranks of the crew is strictly outlined in terms of time served as certain members of the crew. Once qualified to act as the third mate, a year of service is required to become the second mate. After becoming the second mate, another year of service, 13 weeks of classes, and the passing of multiple examinations are required to graduate to chief mate. And similarly, after becoming the chief mate, one more year of service is required to qualify for the master of vessels licensing, a vital step to becoming a ship's captain.
The military provides a second avenue in training to eventually become a ship captain, and often provides on-the-job training for lesser positions, such as officers, quartermasters, and ship operators. Training through the military typically requires a period of committed service and potential combat duties, following completion of the training period.
Whether training is obtained through academic or military experience, the U.S. Coast Guard requires anyone who intends to seek a maritime occupation to receive further licensing. A Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) must be approved and certified through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Certification through the International Maritime Organization will require similar security credentials from the candidate's intended country of occupation. While it is not a requirement for entry-level seamen, a person seeking higher priority positions on a ship must also receive a Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) to be qualified for the job.
Beyond the basic outlined educational experience and licensing, becoming the captain of a ship also requires work experience and certain other licenses. A potential captain must be licensed to operate the particular size and type of boat they intend to supervise, and must have completed licensing in basic first aid and CPR training. Depending on the employer, they must also have logged a certain number of hours on a ship, and pass vision, drug, and physical screenings.