Licensing & Credentials

The U.S. Coast Guard regulates and licenses merchant mariners and there are a number of requirements to get started, whether on a small vessel or large ship.

In all cases, a certain amount of “at-sea” time, record-keeping, testing and fees are required. For some mariners, the first step is to get a Transportation Worker Identification Card (TWIC®).  Transitioning military personnel may be able to be reimbursed for a TWIC® card by their service organization. Please contact the service for more information.

Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC®)

The Transportation Worker Identification Credential, also known as TWIC®, is required by the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. Jointly administered by the U.S. Coast Guard and TSA, the TWIC® program requires transportation workers who need access to secure areas of the nation’s maritime facilities and vessels to complete a TSA Security Threat Assessment. Upon successful adjudication of the assessment, TSA issues a biometric credential to the worker.

To obtain a TWIC®, authorized applicants must:

  • Enroll at a TWIC application center (services provided Universal Enrollment Services).
    • Appointments are encouraged and can be completed online or by calling (855) DHS-UESI (855-347-8371),  8am to 10pm Eastern, Monday – Friday.
  • During enrollment, the applicant must present the required documentation, be fingerprinted and have their facial photo taken. A valid U.S. passport or a driver’s license and birth certificate are required. See other acceptable documents.
  • Payment of the applicant fee is required during enrollment
    • New applicant: $125.25
    • New applicant reduced rate: $105.25*
    • Replacement card: $60

The following individuals are ineligible for a TWIC®

  • were convicted of certain crimes,
  • lack lawful presence and certain immigration status in the United States
  • are connected to terrorist activity, or
  • have been determined to lack mental capacity.

View the full list of disqualifying criminal offenses and factors on the TWIC® website.

For more information on the TWIC® program, please visit www.tsa.gov/twic or contact the Universal Enrollment call center at 855-DHS-UESI (1-855-347-8371), 8am – 10pm Eastern, Monday – Friday.

Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC)

All mariners employed aboard United States merchant vessels that are greater than 100 Gross Register Tons (domestic tonnage), except operators of uninspected passenger vessels, are required to have a valid U.S. Merchant Marine Credential (MMC). An MMC is not a guarantee of finding work, but rather a certification allowing the individual to work in the shipboard merchant marine industry.

The MMC is an “All-in-One’ Credential that combines the merchant mariner’s document, qualifications and endorsements, including all STCW Endorsement into a single credential that serves as the mariner’s qualification document, certificate of identification and certificate of service.

With an MMC, the employee may work in the deck, engineering, or steward’s departments of a ship. Placement is determined by the qualifications and endorsements the individual has achieved.

  • The deck department is concerned mainly with the navigation and operation of a ship.
  • The engineering department is focused on propulsion and maintenance of the machinery on a ship.
  • The steward’s department manages supplies and food services on a ship.

An entry-level Merchant Mariner’s Credential (MMC), previously called a Z-Card, allows a mariner to work on the deck as an Ordinary Seamen (OS), in the engine department as a Wiper, or in the steward’s department as a Food Handler (FH). With experience and testing, qualified ratings such as Able Seaman (AB) or Qualified Member of the Engine Department (QMED) can be obtained.

An MMC is valid for a term of 5 years and must be renewed before the documented expiration date to continue working in a position that requires holding an MMC. Application and renewal for an MMC can be completed at any of the 17 Coast Guard Regional Examination Centers (RECs) or on-line.  The process to apply and requirements are listed on the U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center credentialing process page.

The first step in the MMC application is to show proof of a valid TWIC or that an application for a TWIC has been completed. For a list of items to submit with your MMC application package, please download a copy of the MMC Application Acceptance Checklist here.

Merchant Mariner Credentials and Endorsements

In addition to the general requirements for applying for a merchant mariner credential, there are additional sea service and educational requirements that are typically required for each credential and endorsement.

Able Seaman(AB):
The AB supports the cargo operations and maintenance of Deck Department equipment and spaces. Similar to the Boatswain Mate on a military vessel.

Uninspected Passenger Vessel:
Commonly referred to as a “six pack,” this credential allows a mariner to charge a fee to carry up to 6 passengers on their uninspected boat.  Commonly used for charter fishing boats and water taxis.

Master 100 Ton:
This credential is for operating inspected vessels up to 100 gross tons and built for commercial use.  Examples include ferryboats, sightseeing vessels, water taxis and dining event cruise vessel. The U.S. Coast Guard oversees all design, construction and stability testing of these vessels.

Master of Towing Vessels:
A Master of Towing Vessels is in charge of a tugboat or Towing Vessel. A specific endorsement is required to serve on a towing vessel and requires service as Apprentice Mate/Pilot of Towing Vessels and Mate of Towing Vessels to earn the Master of Towing Vessel.  A towing vessel endorsement route does not include the Western Rivers (Mississippi River and tributaries in general) unless the Western Rivers route is specifically listed either alone or along with other routes such as Inland waters or Near Coastal waters.

Mate Unlimited Tonnage (or Third Mate):
The Third Mate is the entry position. It is followed by the Second Mate, Chief Mate, then Master Unlimited.

Master Unlimited Tonnage:
Master Unlimited Tonnage is a credentialed mariner in ultimate command of a vessel of any gross tons. The Master/Captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo. 

First Class Pilots:
First Class Pilots are required on foreign vessels to advise the Master of  larger vessels while in U.S. harbors or internal waters because of their particular expertise with local waters.  Pilots are either state-licensed pilots or, in the case of the Great Lakes, US Coast Guard credentialed and regulated.  For more information about becoming a pilot, click here.

Chief Engineer:
A Chief Engineer is in charge of all engine department personnel and responsible for operating and maintaining all engine room equipment. A Chief Engineer with an Unlimited Horsepower endorsement can operate a vessel of any horsepower.

Assistant Engineer:
An Assistant Engineer stands engine room watches and supervises the engineer ratings doing work on engineering machinery. A Third Assistant Engineer is the entry position, followed by Second Assistant, First Assistant, then Chief Engineer.

Qualified Member of the Engine Department QMED:
The QMED is the engineering rating support staff position and performs hands-on repairs and maintenance of the engineering equipment on a vessel. Similar to an Engineering Petty Officer of a government vessel.

Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW)

The United States is a party to the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), which sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel aboard seagoing merchant ships on international voyages. Most mariners aboard U.S.-flag vessels will require some level of STCW training. For more information, click here.

Subscribe Now to Get News + Insights Directly to Your Inbox SUBSCRIBE