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Captains are facing license changes

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 5, 2002

It doesn't take much in this country to be called "Captain." Just go out with a buddy or two on daddy's boat for a year or so, turn 18, take a few tests and get a "6-pac" license.

In other countries, there is a rigorous regimen and apprenticeship as a mate before trying for the rank of captain. Many countries signed treaties in 1978 and 1995 to try to get some standardization.

Interestingly, the USA lags far behind in the standards for licensing captains.

The upshot is that the U.S. Coast Guard license for up to six passengers on uninspected vessels, the six-pac, is good only in American water. If one has a higher license, such as a 50- or 100-ton Master of Near Coastal and plans to go to the Bahamas, Caribbean or Canada other than the Great Lakes, more is needed.

Seafarers Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) experience is required.

This is a 3-5-day course of lectures, intense first aid/CPR work, life raft drills on the water and fire rescue drills at an actual training facility. There are tests to take, too.

Few people are aware that the deadline for attaining STCW standards was February. Recent events have made such things a lower priority.

So for the time being, the USCG is allowing captains to upgrade without starting from scratch, accumulating new sea days and going through the Mate's level first.

If you drive a pleasure boat, don't worry about all this. Just be safe out there.

But if you take folks on charters or teach sailing on a boat with an engine or get paid to drive so others can fish and you think you might want to go to Bimini or Tortola in the business, this is a heads-up.

Sea School in St. Petersburg does not teach the course due to the fire-training requirement. Sea School in Fort Lauderdale teaches the class and offers tests, sending to the Coast Guard the paperwork for certification. The charge is $395.

Another requirement for anyone captaining a boat for hire that is documented for more than six passengers or to any foreign port is a Marine Radio Operator's Permit. This is an FCC license for the operator and an addition to the vessel's radio license.

ON THE MOVE: Mitch Hall, 14, of Clearwater and Timothy Murphy, 14, of St. Petersburg qualified for the Optimist Dinghy World Championship.

While the eight-foot snub-nosed craft was modified from the pram designed by the late Clark Mills of Clearwater, the world championship has not been in the U.S. since 1966.

Only five youth sailors qualify from each country, so it is a coup to have two from the Tampa Bay area traveling to windy Corpus Christi, Texas, for this huge event.

Chris Vetter, 14, of St. Petersburg has qualified for the North Americans.

The Opti class has gotten so popular that the entrants for these major events have to be limited.

Tampa skipper Evan Brown, 16, is moving up in the ranks of women match racers. She is 48th out of 173 world wide.

Brown attributes the St. Petersburg Sailing Center junior team's success to her crew -- Kristin Britt, 15, Alyson Dagly, 15, and Rachel Silverstein, 13 -- as well as coach Morton Christoffersen.

Among the big boys, Tampa's Jeff Linton has been invited to compete in the prestigious Coppa dei Compioni match race at the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda in Sardinia, Italy, in July.

Linton, along with crew Mike Gable and Mark Taylor and alternate Amy Smith Linton, qualified by winning the Lightning Worlds in Italy.

Linton is a co-owner of Masthead Enterprises in St. Petersburg.

Ethan Bixby of St. Petersburg's North Sails loft has been spending considerable time in Italy this summer as a mainsail trimmer, tactician and navigator on ATALANTI XI, a championship winning Farr 40.

IMS rating rule racing, however, is not kind to an out-and-out racer like the Farr 40.

COMING UP: The PHRF TransBay Charity Regatta is scheduled for Saturday. It is open to all sailors.

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