ANSWER: anything you want them to be, it is considered by some to be the second oldest profession after all.
Consider the spectrum Captain Ron vs. Captain Stuben, Popeye vs. Captain Bligh, Captain Jack Sparrow vs. Captain Hook or the story of Captain Philips vs. Somali pirate. Now the USCG and developed countries around the world have their own definitions so let’s work within the current professional boundaries, but keep in mind that every captain has at least a story or two about both debauchery and heroism on the high seas. The better question may be how do I find the right captain for me. That is much easier and Crew On Call is built to make that happen in the most efficient way possible. If you are reading this you may be looking for captains or crew to help make your boating outing the best it can be, so let’s first look at the various boating education governing bodies and what they mean.
USCG (United States Coast Guard) defines the requirements for captains and controls the testing and licensing of mariners in the US. USCG licensing is required by anyone taking people out on Federal Waters for hire. Licensing for these captains starts as O.U.P.V. for less than 6 passengers and increases in multiple increments based on size of vessel and number of people onboard. A USCG licensed captain may also be required by the insurance company covering the boat. Most USCG licensed captains have been educated by a registered captain school, passed the USCG exam and completed numerous other requirements inculding background checks, illegal drug testing and medical physicals
USCG Auxilary also offers numerous courses to make better boaters. They operate some great programs all over the US and provide classroom courses in most areas. However they may not qualify you for a state requirement so check with the local district when inquiring about courses.
State Boater Education certificates like those offered online thru BoatUS and Boat-Ed.com may be required to operate a boat on state waters. Take a look at the links to see what your state requires if anything. Either way it may be a good idea to go thru the course.
Do I need to hire a USCG licensed captain?
That depends, technically the answer is no if you are hiring someone to help you on a recreational boat less than 199 Tons. However we would highly recommend it. USCG licensed captains have proven to the satisfaction of the USCG that they have the required knowledge and experience to safely operate a vessel up to the limits of their license. They have been fingerprinted, passed a federal background check and passed a medical evaluation. HOWEVER a piece of paper issued by anyone does not make the captain. It is always a good idea to verify that the person you are hiring is truly licensed and current. All you need is the person's last name and USCG reference number. Go to the USCG verification site and enter the info to confirm. It is also good to speak to the crew you are considering hiring to make sure they are a good fit and have experience with your type of vessel and the types of activities you would like to take part in.
How Do I Pick the Right Captain?
That depends on what you are looking for. There are any number of reasons that a boater may benefit from the services captain and crew can offer that we will explore in another article but mostly it comes down to communication when choosing the right crew for your adventure. Select a few captains or crew that fit your requirements in terms of availability and skills listed in their profiles. Once you have found a few that match, reach out to them with what you are looking for. The more up front you are the better result you are going to get even if a few reply not interested in the job. If you want someone to work with you on boat handling and rules of the road in an effort to improve upon your own skills, make sure you look for a captain with teaching experience. You may want a captain that blends into the helm and is as invisible to you and your guests as possible. Some captains are happy to chat with you and guests about local points of interest or the best places to spend an afternoon on the boat. The key thing is to communicate directly with the captain as best as possible and choose who is right for you.
What Should a Captain Do?
The primary responsibility of a captain is to ensure the safety of the passengers and vessel. Whenever the boat is underway a captain should be at the helm or acting in the best interest of the passengers. It is not appropriate to expect the captain serve drinks and food while operating the boat. Larger vessels may require more than one person to safely operate the vessel especially in close quarters and docking situations. The captain may require the assistance of someone else onboard to pass a line when coming into a dock or slip. They should communicate this long before the approach and be able to clearly relay any instructions about what needs to be done. Most captains will do engine and system checks prior to ever leaving the dock to ensure that the boat is seaworthy for the intended voyage. At the end of the trip most captains will ensure the boat is secure, and tidy up. If you are expecting a full washdown and detailing of the boat at the end of the trip make sure that is communicated ahead of time. Captains and crew strive to do a good job while onboard and given the opportunity they will exceed most expectations.
What Should I Pay?
Crew pay varies signifigantly based on geography and skill. A seasoned captain with a well known reputation in a popular area will cost more and likely be schedued out for months in advance. Seasoned captains will have better local knowledge and will be more likely to get you the most out of your day, wether that is fishing, crusing or any other activity they may speciailize in. That is not to say slightly less experienced crew won’t do a great job. Frequently the guys working their way up the ladder, work harder and for less. If you take a sample from the thousands of captains available thru CrewOnCall.com across geography and skill costs are pretty stable. Captains $200 - $400 per day, Mate/Crew $100 - $300 per day. If you come across pricing signifigantly out of line, it is a good idea to find out why.
Is it Worth It?
If you are considering crew to help out then YES! Before the 60 - 80 work weeks, mobile phones, endless demands on our time professionaly, socially and personally; we had the time to really get our feet wet and learn (albeit the hard way frequently) how to boat, where to go and when was the best time. That investment in time came at a minimal cost and was part of the experience. Professional crew have already accumulated this experience and are offering it at a prorated cost to you the boater. Good crew have invested coutless hours to be able to provide a service that is worth your hard earned $$. Regardless of how much you have invested in your own boat, taking a charter or renting a boat for the day the people you have onboard will make all the diference. The benefit of having experienced boaters on board cannot be measured. If you want to make the most of the time you have onboard make sure you have good crew and everyone will benefit.
Soooo, What is a Captain?
Experienced captain and crew are a portal to the type of boating outing you have pictured in your mind without having to spend years gaining the knowledge required to do it yourself. They bring to life the images you see in the commercials and sales brochures. They are the guys / gals behind the helm when you get hooked up to that trophy fish. They are another layer of safety when venturing out onto the high seas. They can remove the stress of boat operation, navigation, docking / anchoring and clean up. They will bring a level of experience in any number of areas including instruction, systems knowledge and hazerdous areas to avoid. They can be trusted to take complete control of the vessel leaving you to enjoy your boating to the fullest or they can be there to pick up the pieces that you would rather not. No matter what level of boater you consider yourself, the right captain or crew can make your boating better.