It's kind of intimidating walking into the Federal Building in Oakland, going through the security screen, and presenting oneself to the Chief Warrant Officer in charge of the examination center to request a U.S. Merchant Marine Officer license.
The first thing they do is examine your paperwork to see if it's generally in order. This can take about an hour, while you sit and answer questions. They diligently go over the 1/2" or thicker folder of information you've likely gathered.
Then, assuming there are no obvious omissions, like missing information on the application, they send you away with the fond hope that they will issue a positive "finding" and the license will be issued in the coming weeks. If they find omissions upon closer examination, they.re happy to call you and/or send a letter explaining the problem.
If you want things to go smoothly, treat them with the respect they deserve. While you don't have to dress up, it's probably not a good idea to show up in dirty or torn clothes. Also, if you're requesting an Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessel license, call it an OUPV, not a 6-Pack. If they use the latter term, that's fine, but don't initiate it. Some in the Coast Guard find it offensive.
They will probably fingerprint you on the spot, besides asking for identification, such as a US passport.
Expect the visit to the office to last one to two hours, depending on how busy they are, how together your paperwork is, and how many questions you or they ask. They love being asked questions, so don't hesitate if you're unsure about something. If you're taking the exams in the office, expect to be there for at least one day, possibly two.
The primary requirements for the OUPV (6-Pack) USCG license are:
- Age 18 or over
- 360 days underway experience
- 90 of those days in the last 3 years
- Physical, drug test and eye exam
- Valid CPR/First Aid card
- Completion of the USCG on-site exam or completion of an approved course
Naturally, it's a bit more complicated than those simple-sounding requirements. And, if you want a higher-level license, the requirements are more demanding.
The first few requirements are straightforward. However, the exam for the regular OUPV license consists of several parts and typically takes one or two days to complete.
Although there's a sea time requirement, there is no on-the-water test required by the Coast Guard.