How Much Does It Cost To Get a Captain's License?

So you've decided to make your sailing official! This article will tell you all about how much getting a captain's license will cost you.

How much does it cost to get a captain's license? Expect to pay around 700 - 800 USD for your captain's license. This amount can vary according to the country you do this in as well potential extras you might need to purchase, but this is the ballpark figure.

So let's look at this number more closely, see what's included in it and how to possibly lower the amount. Yes, there are ways to knock this down all the way to some 130 USD.

In this article:

  1. Do You Even Need a License?
  2. So What's Included in the 700 USD Price?
  3. When's the Price Too High?
  4. When's the Price Too Low?
  5. So Is That All?
  6. Will You Get Your Money's Worth?
  7. I've got the money ready, now where do I get started?
  8. Related Questions

Do You Even Need a License?

First of all, just so you know, getting a captain's license is not strictly speaking necessary. Which makes the lowest price a friendly zero.

In fact, when I did mine, one of my “classmates” was a seventy-year-old sailor who circumnavigated the world in the past, had his own sailboat and a skill level that was way higher than that of the instructors'. During all the years of this guy's travels, he never needed a license.

You see, it's not like a car driver's license, where you can be stopped by the police and asked for “license and registration, please”. Nobody stops you on the sea, nobody cares if you have or don't have a license. You don't need it to be “allowed” to drive a boat. This kind of freedom is, at least for me, one of the nicest things about sailing.

So why did my classmate decide to get a license at seventy years of age? Well, during a storm, he sunk his boat and couldn't afford a new one. He knew that from now on he will be renting. And charter companies are among the places where you need to present your license.

The same goes for many insurance companies, controlled waterways, such as canals and even some marinas. Once things get official and a system is in place, you are required to have a license. It makes sense, after all, even if there was no law requiring you to have a license to drive a car, you would want to lend yours only to those who have at least some kind of a proof that they can drive. With insurance companies, the need is also self-explanatory.

So though many of the above can be avoided, unless you have a boat or access to one, you will need to have a captain's license.

So What's Included in the 700 USD Price?

First of all there are theory classes and a subsequent exam, costing around 200 USD.

Then there is the practical part, where you often go on a boat for around a week with a captain and get the hands on experience, which can cost about 400 USD, since a boat rental is needed for this. Unless you want a private lesson, you will do this in a group of other participants. This is great, since because most will be novices, a lot of questions will be asked, which makes this a good learning environment.

And then you've got various additional handling and application fees and so on, usually amounting to around 100 USD.

Please note that these prices vary depending on where you are in the world or what company manages the classes and exams. But surprisingly, regardless of if you are in the U.S., U.K. or Central European landlocked countries, the prices are usually somewhat similar.

When's the Price Too High?

Which means that if the company you are using for this is asking a significantly higher price than the 7-800 USD, check if there are more cost effective alternatives in your area. I have seen many 'de luxe' schemes that offered plenty of unnecessary extras, driving the price into equally unnecessary amounts.

When's the Price Too Low?

It also means that if the company in question is asking a significantly lower price, it is potentially fishy. For instance in Croatia, a European country, you can get a captain's license for around 130 USD. The whole process takes just a couple of hours and one can do it with their eyes closed. Anybody can get it with zero experience, it is a business rather than a school. True, with such license you technically can only sail in territorial waters and the validity is limited to Croatia, but practically speaking, I have seen people rent a sailboat in Florida or Norway with it.

This is probably because Croatia is the ultimate sailing empire, as forty percent of all charter boats in the whole wide world are in this relatively small country. Yes, forty, that is four, zero. No kidding. Thus Croats need people to be able to rent with as much ease as possible, so they are masters when it comes to quickly and cheaply hooking you up with a license. Is the sketchiness worth the discount? Look, theory is easily found online and if you know you will be able to get the experience elsewhere, go for it. But don't expect to leave the 'school' fully equipped with the knowledge necessary to sail, even though the instructors might make you feel like that.

So Is That All?

Yes and no. While the aforementioned money is all you need to get a captain's license, it is important to mention that you might need a VHF radio license as well. This will cost you around 80 USD.

Again, this is not something that you will necessarily be asked for if you own a boat and travel around as you please. But some charters require it as well as other entities. So although it is a standalone, separate document, that has nothing to do with the captain's license, I feel it necessary to be mentioned here since you will likely need it.

As suggested in the name, the classes for this license teach you the nuts and bolts of operating the onboard radio, proper broadcasting etiquette, various signals, etc. This means that you will have to learn the cool alphabet secret agents in movies use.

Will You Get Your Money's Worth?

This depends on how you sail. If you are like my seventy-year-old classmate, this will be just a technicality for you. For novices, of course you won't learn to sail within a week, but it is great to have somebody sit you down and tell you, in theory, all that can be said in theory.

As for the use, well, the requirements vary. Some charters will ask you for both your captain's and VHF licenses, some will want to see the captain's license only and some just won't care at all.

The same goes for marinas - you might encounter such that will not let you dock without a valid captain's license. I have even experienced buoys where I was asked to show a license and wouldn't be allowed to spend the night if I didn't have it.

Similarly, though I have personally never been asked by anybody on the open sea for a license, in some parts of the world the coast guard might have the authority to require these documents.

I've got the money ready, now where do I get started?

This very much depends on where you are. Just as there are a plethora of car driving schools, there is quite a lot of places to choose from when you are looking to get a captain's license. Simply google “where to get captain's license” and your area and look through the offers.

Note that if you are in the U.S., the license you will probably want to get is called a six pack license. It allows you to carry up to six passengers (hence the name) on a boat up to 100 gross tonnes.

By the way, don't worry if you are located far away from the sea. I have done my license in a landlocked country and I still had plenty of competing offers to choose from. The theoretical part can happen anywhere and these companies often offer the whole package, including arranging a boat for you, sometimes even a transport to the sea.

You don't need any previous experience, just an undying love for the sea.

So what are you waiting for? Google “where to get captain's license” in your area and make it official.

How long is the captain's license good for? Usually 5 years since the issue date. Then you need to renew it, which usually comes with a small fee.
Can you get your captain's license online? Usually yes, oftentimes this will mean a discount for you. The practical part of course has to be done on a boat. Hours in sailing simulators don't count.
What boats do I need a captain's license for? This depends on the particular legislature of the place you are at. But you might be surprised, even boats with relatively small outboard engines often require this, as far as the law goes.

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