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June 2005

From the Special Assistant for Mariner Affairs . . .
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Renewing your Merchant Marine Documents and license

By Capt. Ed Nanartowich and Ron Hudson

Not all professions are as closely regulated as the maritime industry. International and domestic agencies regulate how ships are built, maintained, supported, inspected, crewed and operated. Holding a license or merchant marine document, or MMD, proves that you possess the skills and experience required to be part of a team that operates seagoing vessels.

Having a current license is probably one of the most important ways to further your seagoing career. For each mariner, keeping documents up-to-date is a condition of employment and your personal responsibility.

The process of renewing your documents is not complicated, but it does include several steps that must be meticulously completed. Whether you are obtaining your license or MMD for the first time or upgrading your current MMD, you must provide all of the items listed below.

Licenses and MMDs are only valid for five years. However, mariners have a grace period when applying for renewal - a MMD may be renewed for up to 12 months before and after the current document expires.

It is imperative that you provide evidence that all necessary qualifications have been met before a MMD can be renewed. The U.S. Coast Guard will not begin to process an application until the applicant has submitted a complete package. The following is a list of information you must provide:

Basic Form CG-719-B:

The form must include proof of qualifications, identity, citizenship or nationality, up-to-date service certifications and proof of physical qualifications.

You should use this form as a check-off list for your application.

Physical Examination:

This part of your application consists of two documents - Form CG 719-K and a copy of your physical examination. A licensed physician or physician's assistant must sign a copy of your physical examination. One of the two forms must include the following statement: "The applicant is in good health and has no physical impairment or condition that would render them incompetent to perform on a seagoing vessel." The certification must address visual acuity - both corrected and uncorrected vision - and hearing. The examination must have been administered within the past 12 months.

Drug Free Certification:

A Drug Free Certification attesting that you have passed a drug test within the past 185 days is required. The test must be conducted in a laboratory approved by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration for NIDA-5 (Department of Transportation) test procedures.

The second part of this certification should be a statement from your employer stating that you have been working under a random testing program for at least 60 of the past 185 days and did not fail or refuse to participate in a chemical test for dangerous drugs.

Sea Service:

Evidence of sea service must be provided if you are applying for a professional requirement such as able seaman. You must meet one of the following:


Provide a check or money order made out to the U.S. Coast Guard. The current fee for renewal is $45.

Character Reference:

Three character references are required for an original application only.

Social Security Card:

A copy of your social security card is required for an original application only.


Two proofs of identity, one of which must be a photo ID.

Original Document:

Provide a two-sided photocopy of the expiring document.


Provide a passport-size color photograph taken within the past year.

Radio Officer:

Radio officer applicants must provide a copy of their FCC 1st or 2nd Class radiotelegraph operator's license.

Radar Observer:

Radar observer applications must include a current certificate of completion from an approved radar observer course. This form is applicable to masters and deck officers.

Special Ratings:

In addition to radio officers and radar observers, there are several other special ratings that require evidence of course completion certificates. The general rule is that, if you needed a course completion certificate for your original document, the same certificate will suffice for renewal certification.

Once complete, your application can be mailed to any of the several Coast Guard Regional Examination Centers, or RECs. The addresses for the centers will be in the package you can request from the Coast Guard, or you can obtain the information from the MSC Civilian Mariners Support Center.

While all paperwork can be prepared by mail, you must make at least one physical visit to the REC processing your application before the final new document will be issued. When you appear in person, you must show the same proofs of identity as submitted by mail and provide a copy of the fingerprint form previously submitted. You must also return the expired or expiring document to the Coast Guard. After these actions have been completed, a new document will be mailed to you.

Renewing your license or MMD can be a lengthy process, and the procedures do change from time to time. Therefore, it is understandable that you may not be familiar with every step of the process. Do not hesitate to ask questions. Here are a few helpful hints:

Another useful resource is the Web site This site posts forms and application procedures needed to apply for or renew a MMD or license. It also contains the latest policy changes.

Once you have your renewed documents, send copies immediately to your detailer for inclusion in your records. If you are a civil service mariner, MSC will reimburse you for professional credential fees.