Yacht Crew Licenses & Certifications: Q & A


Captain Mark Fry, of International Yacht Training, answers your questions.

Q: How does one substantiate the requirement of actual cruising time as a qualification for the "6 Pak" license? I have been boating for at least the last 15 years and have substantial hours, however I never maintained a log. I am afraid that this requirement has and will keep guys like me from going for their licenses.
Thanks, Dick B.

A: To substantiate sea time for the US Coastguard "6 pack" license on your own vessel, you are required to complete the "small vessel service form" from the USCG. As the owner of the yacht you can sign off your own sea time and have it notorised from someone who can substantiate it such as a dock master, yacht club commodore or such like.
If you are not the owner of the boat(s) where you have done your sea time, you must, unfortunately, have each individual boat owner sign each form; then each form must be notarized. Needless to say, this can be a very difficult and tedious task.


Q: I am interested in starting a crewed charter business either based in BVI or AVI
1) Is their any captain licence that covers both or do I need two Licences? I am currently located in Newark, DE. USA.
2) Do you have any sugestions for me as far as schools or study guide courses?
3) I have plenty of sea time but mostly on smaller yachets. How can I gain my tonnage ratings for large sailing vessels 100 - 200 Ton Master?
David M.

A: It is very interesting that you have brought up this question at this time. The British Virgin Islands passed a law on Feb 1st 2005, that any vessel chartering in their waters must have a qualified Captain on board with a qualification recognised by the BVI. Here at IYT, we issue dual certification for American citizens. That is a 200 Ton Yachtmaster Offshore certificate and a USCG 200 Ton Masters license. This helps satisfy both administrations so you can work in both the BVI and the USVI.
IYT holds the dual Yachtmaster course once a month in our Ft Lauderdale facility. Details of entry level requirements, course schedule and pricing can be found on our website.


Q: Is it true that boat insurance goes up dramatically when one obtains a Captains License? We have heard this, but would think that the opposite should be true - that a licensed captain should be a lower risk.
Rebecca V.

A: You are absolutely correct, there are a number of companies that will give you a reduction in your boat insurance if you hold a Captain license or a recognized certificate of competency. But like car insurance, you should shop around for the best deal.


Q: How do I get an International Certificate of Competency (ICC) to charter in Spain?
William C.

Here at IYT in Ft Lauderdale, we are licensed to issue ICC's on behalf of both the U.K. and the Irish Governments. Generally speaking however, you must be a resident of one of these countries in order to obtain an ICC. We are trying to find out how we can issue ICC's on behalf of the US Coastguards but so far have been unable to get a satisfactory reply. We have also requested permission from the Irish Government to issue ICC's to non-Irish residents and are currently awaiting a reply.
If we get permission to issue ICC's in the US from the Irish Government, then as part of the EU this certificate will be good to charter anywhere in Europe. You will be able to obtain this certificate here is the USA. As soon as we get an answer we will update you.


Q: I'm a bit confused...."Yachtmaster" is a registered Trade Mark of the UK's Royal Yachting Association. Your website doesnt even mention the RYA and you seem to have no affiliation with it!! As a long term holder of RYA certification, I would not like to see my qualifications degraded or indeed the Yachtmaster Offshore or Ocean tickets confused with anything other than the "real thing"!
Tony N-W

A - Hi Tony,
International Yachtmaster Training ( IYT ) is a U.S. Corporation and has absolutely nothing to do with the British recreational yachting organisation called the Royal Yachting Association or RYA. This is why there is no mention of it on our website.
The term "Yachtmaster" actually belongs to the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) who were the first to coin the phrase and issue yachtmaster certificates as the Board of Trade as far back as 1932.
In 1973, RYA were given permission to issue "Yachtmaster " certificates by the MCA.
In 1999, International Yachtmaster Training was also given permission by the MCA to issue "MCA Recognised Yachtmaster certificates.
Yachtmaster certificates are also issued by the Australian Yachting Federation, the Irish Sailing Association, the Cruising Association of South Africa and the Canadian Yachting Association although their certificates are not recognised by the MCA.
All of these organisations are recreational yachting associations run by recreational yachtsmen and they issue recreational yachtmaster certificates. Some of these organisations issue yachtmaster certificates with a "commercial endorsement", and certain administrations question the authority of recreational yachting organisations to issue "commercial" certificates.

International Yachtmaster Training on the other hand, is a professional yachting organisation, fully approved by Det Norske Veritas as a Maritime Training Center of Excellence. It is run by professional yachtsmen and we issue professional, commercial Yachtmaster certificates. Our standards are higher than the other organisations including the RYA, as they are fully compliant with the International Maritime Organisation rules for the Standards of Training and Certification of Watchkeepers, or STCW as it is commonly known. IYT does not allow "direct entry" into its examination system as the RYA do, one has to actually sit our courses to obtain our certification. All of our examiners worldwide are professional mariners, not so with the RYA.

The IYT Yachtmaster program is so successful, it is now recognized by 24 Governments worldwide including not only the MCA but also the U.S. Coastguard among others. The demand for our certification as a standard of excellence is such that we now have 33 licensed schools in 20 different countries and this is growing every week.
With regard to the RYA registered trademark in the U.K., it is interesting to note that the MCA, who coined the phrase, refuse to recognise the RYA registration. The "International Yachtmaster Training" name and logo, is however a federally registered trademark in the United States.

In conclusion, the IYT Yachtmaster Certificates have become the certificates of choice throughout both the professional international yachting community and recreational yachtsmen. Their compliance with the STCW convention for Basic Safety Training and insistence on completion of all aspects of the training courses ensures a well qualified individual trained to professional international standards.
So Tony, when you are ready for the "real thing", contact us, you will be pleasantly surprised.


Q - I keep my boat in Belize. We plan to cruise the Caribbean in a few years (live aboard). Is there any good reason to get my 6-pack license in this case?
Mark P.

A - The U.S. is the only country in the world that issues a "license" to drive a boat. All other countries issue a "certificate of competency" which includes a practical examination to prove that you are competent to command a boat.
There is no reason to get your six-pack license unless you intend to operate your boat as a commercial charter boat in the US Virgin Islands. The Coast Guard License is only a requirement is you wish to carry passengers for hire or reward in the U.S. or U.S. territories. It consists of a series of multiple choice questions. It is also largely unaccepted overseas as there is no practical component to the training and no "on the water" examination. The most internationally recognised qualification for yachting is the IYT Yachtmaster certificate which also carries a reduction in your insurance if you hold such a certificate.


Q - I intend to operate a charter boat on the USVI. I heard that the USVI have special regulations, different from the USA. What kind of license is needed in those islands? Does the boat have to be US flagged? Knowing that I will be based from the USVI, am I allowed to do charterers pick ups in the BVI?
Thank you very much.
Joe S.

A - If you are going to be chartering in the USVI, you need to be qualified to US Coastguard standards. This would mean a "Six-Pack" license or similar to take paying passengers aboard your vessel. It is always in the best interests of your qualifications to complete the 5 day Basic STCW training courses (not the 3-day version), which will be acceptable to the BVI.
With regard to where you flag the vessel, the best people to talk to are the US Virgin Islands Charter League. You can contact Pamela Wilson at 1.800.524.2061.
With regards to being able to pick up charterers in the British Virgin Islands, there have been some changes recently so I would suggest you contact the British Virgin Islands Maritime Authorities for their most recent update.


Q - As a professional skipper, I have been asked several times if I could perform a wedding on my boat, which is based in US waters. If I do, can I deliver a valid wedding license? What is the real validity of this whole thing and how does it REALLY work? Or is it just a gimmick? Please elaborate since it could be an interesting marketing tool for my business.
Capt. Gene

A - It was once possible for a ship Captain to marry people at sea. However, this is no longer the case. There are extreme cases where a couple could be married in dire circumstances such as a sinking vessel or someone about to die. But this could only be done in International waters.
It is however possible to marry someone on your boat inside territorial waters (3 miles ) provided the person giving the ceremony is duly qualified to do so by the State, such as a public notary. I was married aboard a yacht 7 years ago here in Ft Lauderdale. I would suggest contacting the State authorities to find out how this could be done, it is rather good fun to do so.


Q - I am starting a Skippered Yacht Charter business in St. Vincent & the Grenadines later this year and I see a lot of comments about the "6-pak" license requirements. I am qualified to RYA Yachtmaster Offshore. Do I need any further qualifications (over the YM) to operate the business in SVG ?

A - The "six-pack" license that you refer to is a U.S. Coastguard license which is required for operating vessels that carry up to six people in U.S Territorial waters. This includes the United States mainland and the U.S. Virgin Islands. It can only be taken by U.S Citizens and will be of little or no value to you in St Vincent and Grenadines.


Q - What are the qualifications needed by the different Caribbean countries to run a crewed charter yacht?

A - This is a matter for the Flag State Authority or Maritime Authority on each Island. The problem is there are many different countries involved. There are U.S. British, Dutch, French, Bahamas and all the independent islands who make their own decisions on what qualifications are acceptable for which yachts.

The qualifications will depend on the status of the yacht, whether it is private or commercial (this means engaged in trade or accepting money for a charter), the Flag State or where the yacht is registered, the tonnage of the yacht, whether it complies with a classification society for safety and construction, the number of guests it will carry, whether it is power or sail, its compliance with the code of safe working practices and sometimes the nationality of the crew and / or the number of crew it will carry.

There is also the issue of work permits from the various islands. For instance, one might be suitably qualified to run a charter yacht out of the British Virgin Islands but without a Work Permit from the V.I. Government to do so, it could mean big trouble. The same applies from the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A lot of people think that they can buy a yacht and suddenly start a charter business in the Caribbean. Having spent 6 years running commercial yachts throughout all the islands, I would strongly recommend conducting some research before embarking on such a venture.

Lastly, with regard to RYA Yachtmaster certificates, I would caution that a number of Flag States (including the French Islands) will not accept the RYA Yachtmaster certificates even with a commercial endorsement as they do not believe that a recreational sailing organisation with no quality management system and no auditing requirements in place should have the authority to issue commercial certificates. They also do not comply with the STCW convention as laid down by the International Maritime Organisation.

Before deciding to run a commercial yacht in the Caribbean, I would strongly suggest contacting the Government of the Island to find out as many rules and regulations as possible. The number of yachts doing so is strictly governed, otherwise there would be a "free for all" with no controls in place.


Q - I have limited (almost none) sailing experience. I would love to bareboat charter. How much experience is needed before a bareboat charter company will turn the boat over to you. Were do you get experience? I know a course would be in order but if I go to the expense of a course that leads to a bareboat certification is that enough?

Depending on where you live, approach a reputable sailing school (there is no other way to do this). I recommend Offshore Sailing School ( http://www.offshore-sailing.com ). They have many outlets all around the country. Or any Certified ASA school.


Q - A quetion about lowering flag from a yacht club yard arm has arisen here in Marblehead, MA. Specifically, the Canadian flag was flown from the yardarm before and during the Marblehead-to-Halifax ocean race recently. Clearly, the U.S. ensign is the last to be lowered ceremoniously, as you say. But which of the other two that flew should be lowered first, the Canadian flag or the yacht club's burgee?
Bud P.

A - The flags should be lowered as follows
1) Club burgee first
2) Canadian flag second
3) US Flag last


Q - I understand that with a US flagged vessel I could operate a charter vessel
outside US territorial waters without the need of the "six-pack" license, am
I correct?

And in the event the charter is based in one of the "non US" Caribbean
Islands, is it the authority of the starting island of the charter that gives
permission to Charter or do I need a permit from every other "island
country" on the way, if it is different than the one at the start of the

A -To run a charter yacht, you are required to comply with Flag State regulations irrespective of where in the world you operate. To operate a US flagged yacht, you would need to be US Coastguard qualified such as a 50 ton or "6 pack". Other islands have the authority to confine a charter boat to harbor if the Captain is not properly licensed.
I would also doubt very much if an insurance company would insure you to operate a charter yacht without the proper license as the insurance would probably be void if there was an accident.