Do You Need a Captain’s License?

Chris Riley by Chris Riley Updated on July 26, 2019. In nauticalknowhow

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Do You Need a Captain’s License?

And what is a passenger for hire?

We have received several emails asking about the necessity of having a captain’s license. One such email described a situation that follows:

“A friend of mine was boarded by the Marine Police and the Coast Guard while fishing on the Chesapeake Bay. Since he had friends on board they separated the people and asked them if they were paying him to take them out. Of course they were not, they were just friends on a fishing trip. What troubled me, and of course him, was the fact that he was told by the Coast Guard that if you share the cost of the fuel that is considered a charter. Heck, most of us that fish all the time together share in the cost of the fishing with one another. Is this statement made by the Coast Guard true and could he have been fined for not having a captain’s license if his friends decided to help pay for some of his fuel costs? What regulations cover these sorts of rules, for if this is true a lot of us are in trouble.”

In years past there was some confusion as to what was specifically meant by ‘passenger for hire.’ However, that has now been clearly defined by the clarification of the rules below.


Section 2101 of title 46, United States Code, is amended by inserting between paragraphs (21) and (22) a new paragraph (21a) to read as follows:

“(21a) ‘passenger for hire’ means a passenger for whom consideration is contributed as a condition of carriage on the vessel, whether directly or indirectly flowing to the owner, charterer, operator, agent, or any other person having an interest in the vessel..”

DESCRIPTION – The determination of what constitutes the carriage of a “passenger for hire” must be made on a case by case basis. This determination is dependent upon the actual operation of a vessel and the flow of consideration as determined by the facts of each case. In general, there needs to be some form of tangible consideration or promise of performance being passed for a “passenger for hire” situation to exist.


Section 2101 of title 46, United States Code, is amended by inserting between paragraphs (5) and (6) a new paragraph (5a) to read as follows:

“(5a) ‘consideration’ means an economic benefit, inducement, right, or profit including pecuniary payment accruing to an individual, person, or entity, but not including a voluntary sharing of the actual expenses of the voyage, by monetary contribution or donation of fuel, food, beverage, or other supplies.” Additionally, employees or business clients that have not contributed for their carriage, and are carried for morale or entertainment purposes, are not considered as an exchange of consideration.

Bottom line: if you are a recreational boater, you are allowed to share expenses for a day on the water. Just don’t make payment mandatory if someone wants a boat ride.

About Chris

Outdoors, I’m in my element, especially in the water. I know the importance of being geared up for anything. I do the deep digital dive, researching gear, boats and knowhow and love keeping my readership at the helm of their passions.


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