How to Become a Boat Captain

A boat captain is a professionally qualified, experienced tradesperson, as well as a commander of a vessel. Boat captains work in industries ranging from tourism to fishing, salvage, haulers, and a range of maritime trades. The common denominator with boat captains is motivation. They're career people, who work their way up in their preferred line of business, doing the work they love.

Education and training

Technical requirements may include formal qualifications in a range of operations as well as compulsory qualifications in boat operations and management. There are two basic types of qualification required, marine and trades qualifications:

Marine qualifications require extensive practical training in boat operations: This involves training, usually from apprentice level, in all aspects of boat operations, including:

  • Engine maintenance
  • Handling sails
  • Navigation
  • Operation of boat systems
  • Occupational health and safety 
  • Lifeboat operations
  • Maritime law

Formal licensing for the class of vessel a boat captain can operate requires proven competency in all these fields. To qualify, a boat captain must pass a series of tests.

Trades qualifications, training and licenses in specific industries are a sample of formal requirements for training, qualifications and licenses for boat captains in various fields:

  • Operation of onboard machinery like cranes according to industry laws
  • Tourist operations
  • Fishing operations
  • Scuba diving tours
  • Business qualifications
  • Business licenses
  • Passenger carrying licenses
  • Salvage license
  • Haulier's license
  • Dangerous goods and chemicals license

A boat captain will have a combination of qualifications and licenses. For example, a tour boat captain will have:

  • Tour operations qualifications and license
  • Business qualifications and license
  • A license to operate a class of vessel for which he's qualified as a captain,
  • A license to carry a specified number of passengers
  • He'll also have qualified crew on board to operate medical and safety equipment.

The workplace environment

Boat captains must have a lot of experience. The working environment is one of the main reasons for the high levels of qualification required. This is a very challenging workplace, in which the boat captain is responsible for the safety of crew, passengers and other vessels.

That experience and very thorough training is a primary asset in managing their businesses. Most boat captains are independent operators, self employed people who operate as businesses. They usually own their vessels. Boat captains commonly have experience in their industry and a good understanding of their market. Many tourist operators, for example, have worked locally for many years and know the tourist industry and the demands of the market. Fishing boat captains are usually highly experienced family businesses which have been in the industry for generations.

The career environment

In successful businesses, the boat captain's hard work pays off in good quality of life and a good income. As contractors and independent businesses, many boat captains do very well. Business opportunities for boat operators can be excellent, particularly in the tourist industry and in specialized industries.

Boat operations, particularly in fishing and tourism, can often be seasonal work, but the economics of seasonal work can also work in their favor, with outlays on wages and overheads confined to the high revenue seasons. Boat captains often operate additional all-year businesses to cover the down times.