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OUPV Course

by. Capt. Eric

February, 2009

Have you considered getting your OUPV (Six-Pack) or Masters License? I decided that the '08/'09 winter was the time to take on the project. I could write a 20-page story on the subject, but will highlight some areas that may help somebody else who is considering the endeavor.

Firstly, why get the captain's license? In my case, I already have a full-time job, and am not planning on using the license to put food on the table. It does, however, lead to possibilities down the road, such as doing yacht deliveries and dinner cruises. After boating for over 25 years, I was interested in learning more about boating and becoming a safer and more responsible operator. As a Certified Flight Instructor, I compare this to a private pilot who seeks to operate to a higher standard and get a break on his insurance by going for the Commercial pilot's license. Both require experience as well as education, but are very worthy and rewarding goals.

Above, a few of the OUPV students from the February course.

The basic requirements for the Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels (OUPV) is 360 days of sea service. Rather than restate the requirements for the license, I will address some of my pre-conceived notions and what I learned about the process. (See below for a link to a school for more specific information on the courses.)

After doing several hours worth of online research, I contacted Capt. Ron Getter of TrueCourses.com. I figured that I could attend a nine day OUPV course in Cincinnati by using some vacation time and without too much disruption to my schedule. What I found was that they had attempted in the past to visit Louisville, but were unable to reach out to enough people. I volunteered to host the class and provide the necessary advertising, in hopes that we would find enough people to run the course. We needed eight to make it a "go," and had some fifteen commitments a week prior to the course. Eleven actually showed for the class.

Well before the class, I contemplated the Sea Service requirements, and wondered if I finally had enough time. (360 days since 15th birthday). Going back, I was wondering how I could count all my time on my parents boats when in reality I was a teenager and was largely supervised for the first few years on the larger vessels. As it turns out, time served as crew counted the same, and before I knew it, I had counted up more than enough time when I looked at all the boating I had done over the years. My wife and I boated with friends until we were done having babies, finally getting our own runabouts and cruisers.

Another misconception I had concerned the licensing process. I don't know where I got the idea, but I assumed that I would attend the school, take the tests, get poked and prodded, and be handed a temporary license on the way out the door. There are several USCG hoops to jump through, and passing the tests are just a part of the process. In fact, while it pays to be organized and make sure you will meet all the phyical, service and legal requirements, you would be better served spending your time before the class reading Chapman's and waiting for the school to help you with the paperwork.


OUPV Class (Louisville): Above, Capt. Devoe exlains the Coastal Charts in the area of Long Island Sound. "This is easy now...Locate the Sandy Point Light, plot a course to Block Island Inlet, compute your set and drift, give me your course to steer per ship's compass, ETA in nanoseconds, and who was the captain on the Titanic? Anybody have the answer yet?" My brain hurts!

If you have any physical issues, you may need a letter from your doctor to go with your paperwork--Otherwise, you run the risk of things getting returned or delaying the process. As of now, you will need a Transportation Worker Identification Card from the TSA to become a licensed mariner. I thought that I'd be set since I went through the TSA vetting process at work, but I needed to pay the $132 to do it again to get the actual TWIC card for USCG purposes. You will also have to join a random drug testing program. Fortunately, there is a nationwide program set up for captains, and our inital testing occured during the course. The extra costs seemed to catch a few people off guard, just like an ala-carte dinner at some nice steak houses. The fees for the physcial, drug test, test fees, TWIC Card, Masters upgrade, etc. were add-ons. If you plan ahead, there will be no surprises.

Another misconception of mine concerned the level of study required. I figured that with years of experience and a familiarity with the Colregs and Chapman's, I could pay attention in class, study a little, and pass the tests. The OUPV portion consisted of two full weekends with 4-hour nights for the whole week in-between. There were then two days off, a test, then another few evenings and a full weekend for the Towing Endorsement and Master's upgrade. The course was constructed to fit around a banker's schedule, but I was glad to have some vacation time so that I could do other things during the week. I figured that the course was geared toward test prep, so how much would I really have to study?

Boy, was I mistaken. We started with navigation and plotting, which was pretty familiar to a guy who's worked with maps his whole life. Some of the others were new to the concepts, but everybody got it figured out just fine in the end. Next came Rules of the Road, which didn't seem too bad at first. The intensity picked up there really quickly, and next thing we knew we were up to our necks learning about fishing boats, shrimping vs. trolling, and lights on the back for deploying vs. retrieving nets. The sidelights projected to "two points abaft the beam," and I never knew that a flashing yellow light was different from a special flashing light, and that navaids could be flashing, occulting, or flux-capaciting.

There were the "NUCs", "RAMs" and "CBDs", and we learned the differences in sounds and lights for a hovercraft, hydrofoil, submarine, and boat with oars. Then there was making way, underway but not making way, anchoring, aground, anchored but underway, whistles, bells, gongs, day shapes and required deck illumination. The possibilities were infinite, and the test was set up in such a way that you had to intimately understand the rules to pass. Capt. Devoe, in our case, kept us straight and helped us get through the material in a way that made sense.

I was relieved when we got to weather. After all, we deal with weather all the time. That's when I learned about veering winds, backing winds, spring tides, neap tides and how to compute the moon's quadrature in dog years. While the firefighting was new, it was nice to see some stuff that really made sense in a practical, hands-on kind of way. Other material included first aid, man overboard procedures and general deck safety.

Our class of eleven had an age range of 40's to 60's, which was reportedly typical for an inland class. Boat sizes ranged from a 17' skiff to one guy with his own navy. Experience ranged from our local river area to the Great Lakes and 100 miles off the Alabama shores in Gulf of Mexico. Surprisingly, we didn't have anybody pursuing the mariners license to earn a living.

The 2009 Louisville Master's Upgrade Class

If I had to do it again, would I do it differently? For starters, I would have taken two weeks vacation. It was great having the class locally, as it saved in meal and lodging costs. It is for that reason that I would strongly encourage anybody thinking about the course to catch them next time they come to Louisville. The time of year (February) was perfect, as there were only a few nice days I found myself looking out the windows and daydreaming about working on the boat.


Did the class meet my expectations? The OUPV was intense, but I learned a ton. The information was presented in such a way that we really learned the material, versus learning how to pass the test. There were areas that I wish we could have learned more about, but there was a time constraint and a test on the horizon. The Tow class and Masters Upgrade were more regulatory and involved more rote memorization, but that was a function of the material. As for taking three weeks and doing nothing but boats, there was no disappointment there.

I have talked with several people who said they did not want to get their OUPV for reasons of increased liability. The attorney in our class cautioned: "Be careful, because a lack of understanding does not excuse you from having to participate with the Rules of the Road, and you will find yourself equally liable in the event something happens out there."

I find myself with a new (pending) license to learn. Sure, I've met the requirements and can go by "Captain," but I have also learned that I have just scratched the surface of what there is to know out there. I would encourage everybody who wants to learn more and become safer on the water to consider such a course. You will be challenged, but the experience will be very rewarding. As a side benefit, you will meet some really good people and learn more than you ever imagined about the waters.

Above, your Webmaster, Captain Eric

August, 2009 Update:

With the class completed and the graduation certificates in the mailbox, the only hurdle was processing the application. With some recent rule changes, this turned out to be a little tricky, but the USCG Regional Exam Center in Memphis was helpful about requesting any additional information that they required. Next, the application gets forwared to Martinsburg. In my case, I had a two-week delay for a request for addional information from the Martinsburg office.

As for the timing of the process, plan 12 weeks from the time you first make application with the USCG until the time you receive your license. Of the 11 graduates of the course, three have received their licenses and several others have sent in their applications.

There have been several recent changes to the process since April. For one, you no longer need to do your fingerprints at the Louisville office. This has been replaced by the TSA's digital process through the TWIC credential. The oath, therefore, was moved to a form that can be performed by a public notary. We are fortunate that we can get the TWIC locally through a government contractor. You schedule the appointment there through the TSA website.

The last surprise for some came in the mail. Rather than issue a license to carry and a document that most recreational captains frame, there is now a single credential. It is red and looks like a passport. The mugshot is taken from the TWIC process. The advantage for working captains is that they only have to carry one document (wait, the TWIC makes two again). The challenge if you're not a working captain will be figuring out how to frame your new passport-style license.


Above, Rick Schal, USCG Aux, completes the fingerprinting process for Mark Travis at the Louisville Office.


Rick Schal, USCG Aux, explains the process to Tom Christensen, also from the February OUPV class.


Commander Beatty administers the oath to Allen Gailor, who has over 50 years on the water.


Commander Beatty congratulates Mark Travis on his accomplishment. Mark won the award for "Best Dressed," and was also the first to get his "You'll get your license in 30-days" letter from the REC.


Eric Grubb
Founder, Port KY
Licensed Master

Eric grew up around boats, trading summers on board his parents' Sea Rays for many man-hours of swabbing the decks. He grew up by the little town of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, overlooking the the Dashields Locks and Dam. He has traveled the Great Lakes, Lake Huron's North Channel, Gulf of Mexico and several rivers to include the Ohio, Allegheny, Monongahela, Kanawha, Mohawk (Erie Canal), Tennessee, Tombigbee, Black Warrior and Mobile Rivers.

As a commercial pilot, Eric flies jets and is a flight instructor. He has owned recreational boats ranging from PWCs to most recently, a flybridge convertible that he keeps in a Louisville marina (MM 590). You can also find him with his family on the "Escape Pod," an 18' fishing boat. His most memorable journey was aboard the J. S. Lewis, a 155' towboat in service since 1931.

Eric is a USCG Licensed Master with a Commerical Tow Assistance rating, and is a member of the Sons and Daughters of Pioneer Riverman and the Louisville Sail and Power Squadron. After moving to Louisville, he conceived the idea for Louisville's Port KY website while searching for information to help him become a safer and more knowledgable local boater. He has worked hard over the years to educate other boaters by promoting safety classes through Port KY and by hosting captain's classes and related events.











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