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So you want to be a licensed boat captain?

BY BEN NORMAN

Captain Wes Davis holds his boat captain’s license.

Ever dream of cruising the mighty Mississippi like Mark Twain or guiding anglers to giant redfish along the Gulf Coast?  It may still be possible to make your dream come true.

Wes Davis of Luverne loves the water. Lakes, rivers, bays or ocean, it doesn’t matter to him, just as long as he can be outdoors and preferably on a boat. “I’ve just always loved boating but until recently it has been a recreational pursuit.  I kept day dreaming about how nice it must be to captain a boat, regardless of what type, and get paid,” says Davis.

Davis says he thinks his love for the outdoors led him to his present vocation, operating Wes’s Lawn Service in Luverne. “We run a complete lawn care service covering Crenshaw County offering lawn mowing, edging, leaf and limb removal, whatever the customer wants. Since my work is somewhat seasonal it allows me time for boating in the off season.”

Three years ago Davis was visiting his sister who owns a house on Lake Martin.  “My sister introduced me to a neighbor of hers who operates a marine towing business.  I expressed my interest in working on the water and he invited me to go on a few towing runs with him.  I just loved it.  My newfound friend told me he was going to be needing a few licensed boat captains and asked if I would be interested in going to school and taking the test to get my license.  It was time to shut up or put up, so after investigating some of the different schools I started to Sea School in Bayou La Batre in October 2015.”

Davis said he attended class for approximately ten hours a day and studied several more hours after class. “We took the United States Coast Guard approved test on the eighth day. I wanted a school that would give me my money’s worth and I can truly say Sea School did exactly that.  My primary instructor was a retired naval officer and he really knew his business.  We covered all the basics that an aspiring boat captain would need to know including rules of the road, radio use, survival techniques, life jackets seamanship, navigation and much more.  If you apply yourself in class and study at night, you should pass the test,” says Davis.

Students who pass the USCG-approved test have one year after passing the test to get the required information to the Coast Guard.  You have to confirm your experience or time on the water.  Time on the water can be on your boat, or someone else’s boat. Recreational boating time will also count. The basic requirement for the beginning license, Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel or OUPV and often referred to as simply the 6-pack license, is be 18 years old, have a Social Security Card, and document 360 days on a vessel with 90 of those days being within the last 3 years.  In addition to time on the water, new applicants must pass a drug test, a Coast Guard physical and obtain a TWIC card from Homeland Security clearing the applicant to enter ports.

Davis says that after passing the test and submitting the required documents he received his captain’s license. “With the license you have the option of getting several endorsements on your license. I have the Inland, Near Coastal and Towing Assistance endorsements on my license. This allows me to work on inland lakes and rivers, carry up to six people out in the Gulf on a vessel 100 tons or less and the Towing Assistance endorsement allows me to captain a towing vessel. Towing is probably the area I will pursue.”

Captain Wes Davis’ son, Will, gets a lesson in boat washing from his father.

Davis says that when his son, Will, graduates from school in a few years he is thinking about moving to the Gulf Coast and pursuing a maritime career. “As I said, operating a tow boat appeals to me, but there are many other maritime employment options available. The oil industry is always needing captains for the offshore supply boats. Other employment opportunities are piloting ferries, working for yacht delivery services, parasail operators, water taxies, gambling cruise operators, sightseeing boats, inshore and offshore fishing boats, scuba dive boats, and tug boats. Also, not everyone who gets their license plans to seek maritime employment. Many recreational boaters just want to learn more about boating and take the course and get their license.”

Once he receives his OUPV (6-Pack) license, he may continue taking courses, pass the Master’s test and upgrade his license to the Master’s license. A Master license entitles him to captain larger boats and carry more people. Tug boats, large supply boats, cruise boats, and others are usually captained by someone with a Master license, while smaller fishing boats, para sail boats, etc. are usually captained by OUPV license holders.

As they say, it’s never too late. Take the course, pass the test and you could be taking clients fishing in your own boat.  And if you see a tow boat operating on Lake Martin give it a wave. There is a good chance Captain Wes Davis, a man who made his dream come true, will be at the helm.
For more information on Sea School contact Nellie Fuller, (800) 247-3080.
Ben Norman is a writer from Highland Home, Al.