The Triton


On Course: USCG licensing process adapts to modern maritime industry


On Course: by Lisa Hoogerwerf Overing

Opening the mysterious tube, postmarked “1943” and mailed from U.S. Coast Guard headquarters, was like opening a time capsule of my family’s mariner roots. Addressed to my grandfather, Lt. Cmdr. John W. Hoogerwerf, the tube’s steel end caps were immovable 75 years later.

My friend cut the old steel tube using his pocketknife with laparoscopic precision, protecting the documents inside. I held my breath and removed the contents: my grandfather’s highest mariner credentials.

Mariner credentials of the author’s grandfather, Lt. Cmdr. John W. Hoogerwerf, from 1943.

We marveled at Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s certificate appointing my grandfather as lieutenant commander in the USCG Reserve. A second certificate recorded his 1939 appointment as lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve.

While climbing the hawsepipe, my grandfather witnessed the conversion from clipper sail to steam to diesel. He sailed in two world wars and commanded the USS Millicoma. She received eight battle stars for World War II service, refueling scores of destroyers, aircraft carriers and minesweepers in the Pacific before he died in 1949 following an onboard accident near Singapore.

As the daughter of a sailor who is the son of a sailor, I appreciate the value of a seaman’s credentials. Licenses certify expert nautical competency on board ship, in a corporate culture of structure and pecking order.
James Cavo, who administers the USCG’s mariner credentialing program, said credentialing was easier in my grandfather’s time.

“There was no required training, no drug testing, no TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential), and most applications could be handled in person in a single day,” he said.

Back in the day, a shipping examiner – some old-salt, retired captain – quizzed the mariner for several hours. After the USCG implemented standard multiple-choice tests in 1975, the number of licenses issued by the Coast Guard increased “exponentially,” Cavo said.

“There are more exams, more dates and more testing locations than ever before,” he said. “We can test for any endorsement on demand. This was not possible in the past, when exams were given only once a month for certain licenses.”

The test is no cakewalk, one engineer said on his fourth USCG license renewal in 35 years.

“It’s a big test,” he said. “It’s no small matter. Every raise in grade, every test is really difficult. USCG tests are changing all the time to fit a more modern maritime industry. We don’t have a split license; USCG covers everything.”

Capt. Paul Gillingham said his USCG master license enables him to work commercially when not in yachting.

“You cannot run the water taxi with an MCA certificate,” he noted.

Years ago, Capt. Scott Schwaner’s first license required 365 days at sea. “Now, it’s 720 days for 100-ton or more. You can’t just sit down and read a book and become a sailor,” he said. Extensive sea time is required. “It’s what we call experience.”

Capt. Schwaner said the importance of certification has increased with maritime growth. “There is more shipping today than 100 years ago. Everything is bigger and we need regulation, it’s where your license comes in.”

What’s next in the evolving process of U.S. mariner certification? According to the USCG’s National Maritime Center, one day mariners should be able to upgrade or renew their credentials on demand from any cyber location in the world – something sailors in my grandfather’s day almost certainly would never have seen coming.

Lisa Hoogerwerf Overing is a freelance writer based in Aventura, Florida. ( Comments are welcome below.

Related Articles

Bahamas’ Valentines marina upgrades complete, ready for season

Bahamas’ Valentines marina upgrades complete, ready for season

Valentines Residences Resort and Marina, the largest marina complex on Harbour Island in The Bahamas, has completed several updates to its state-of-the-art facility including a newly installed marina …

Innovative yacht completes sea trials

Innovative yacht completes sea trials

S/Y A, a 469-foot (142m) sailing yacht built at the Nobiskrug Shipyard in Germany, completed her sea trials in Gibraltar recently, alongside Blohm Voss’ M/Y A. Both megayachts were designed by …

Las Olas to feature megayachts

Las Olas to feature megayachts

Yachts up to 300 feet in length will be able to dock at the city of Ft. Lauderdale's Las Olas Marina, according to the redevelopment plan chosen by the city. The chosen plan includes dockage …

Final USCG report on Bounty offers changes for uninspected vessels

The Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard has responded to the Marine Casualty Report on the sinking of the HMS Bounty, concurring with seven of eight recommendations that might impact the status of …

Alkaline diet is simply a healthful diet

Bone health, heart health, memory, muscle mass and even helping chemotherapeutic agents do their cancer-fighting job more effectively have been ascribed to the benefits of an alkaline diet. Is it …

Refit18: Yacht owners, representatives balance refit relationship

Refit18: Yacht owners, representatives balance refit relationship

By Dorie Cox A yacht refit often begins as the owner’s dream and then grows to a plan that is defined by many factors, including what the yacht needs, what the shipyard can accomplish and the …


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please answer the question below to leave a comment. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.