Delivering a 51-foot sailboat from wintry Edgartown Harbor to a sunny Caribbean island. Standing at the helm of a ferry, bringing summer visitors to Oak Bluffs. Chartering guests to choice fishing spots in Vineyard waters.
For some Islanders, these are dream jobs, a ticket to a life working on the water, earning good pay, and being part of the long and colorful maritime history of Martha's Vineyard.
But the ticket to that dream job requires a "ticket" from the Coast Guard. "Ticket" is the informal term many people who earn their living in boats call the US Coast Guard Master 100 Gross Tons license, the US Coast Guard Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels license, or the many different licenses and endorsements needed to legally work or operate a business involving boats.
Somewhere between the slang "ticket" and the cumbersome Coast Guard titles, are the commonly known tags "100 ton license" and "six-pack," the latter named because it qualifies a captain to legally carry up to six paying passengers.
This winter, Sail Martha's Vineyard (Sail MV) will offer educational courses that will lead to various levels of coast guard licenses. The courses are part of the non-profit sailing organization's mission.
"Sail Martha's Vineyard has a long history of providing educational opportunities, to preserve and protect the maritime heritage of this Island," said Brock Callen program director. "Education was foremost in the minds of our founders. There is a long standing commitment to provide quality maritime training."
An organizational meeting for this year's course is scheduled for December 17 at the Sail Martha's Vineyard office, 110 Main Street in Vineyard Haven. The time is 1800 hours, or 6pm for landlubbers. Information about the course, the instructors, and the schedule will be discussed.
"The idea is to work with those interested in taking this course, to develop a schedule so they can work a little bit at their own speed," said Mr. Callen.
Also covered will be the cost of the course, which is yet to be determined. It will depend on several factors, including the number of people who sign up. Scholarships that cover part of the course cost are available for people who want to use the license to get a job.
The course is not for the faint-hearted. It will involve about 90 hours of class time, most of it in the Sail Martha's Vineyard office. There is also a practical element taught on the water.
Edgartown resident Andy Hammond will teach, using course materials provided by Confident Captain, a Newport, Rhode Island company.
"One of the great advantages of this course is Andy Hammond," said Mr. Callen. "He knows what is required, he knows what the priorities are. He's a man who has the credentials of a lifetime on the sea. He's got more experience than anybody I know."
Mr. Hammond retired last year from a civilian position with the United States Coast Guard. He ran the office responsible for licensing and testing. Before that he was a Coast Guard inspector, and merchant seaman.
While it is geared toward commercial licensing, many who have taken the course in the past are recreational boaters, who want to improve their knowledge of safety and seamanship. "I think it's good for general knowledge and working on the water," said Mr. Hammond. "Anybody who spends time on the water will gain a lot."
While captain's courses are offered at several locations on Cape Cod, the amount of course work and the hours of the classes often make it impractical for Island residents to travel to the mainland. For several years, following the departure of a company offering captain's courses in Vineyard Haven, the only option was self-study or traveling off-Island. This is the third year Sail Martha's Vineyard has offered the instruction. "It's important that people on the Island have access to this course," said Mr. Hammond.
The course is divided into four sections. The rules of the road section covers the regulations that allow vessels to navigate safely, including rights of way, traffic separation, and signals.
The deck section includes practical elements of basic seamanship, including knots, safety, firefighting and medical training.
The navigation segment covers tides and currents, bearings, and electronic aids such as Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) systems.
In the fourth section, learning centers on chart plotting, piloting, and positioning.
Once the course work is satisfactorily completed, no further exams are needed. The Coast Guard accepts accredited courses in lieu of exams. Several other factors determine the level of license issued. The largest factor is experience on the water.
Mr. Callen says Sail Martha's Vineyard is committed to help people complete the licensing process after the course is finished. That sometimes means unraveling a maze of complicated federal regulations. "We're interested in seeing people get properly licensed, such that they can pursue whatever it is they do on the sea, whether they're working for a tug company, whether they're working on a yacht, whether they're working on a ferry."