One of the really good things about WordPress is the comprehensive statistics they provide about site traffic. We’re able to see exactly what visitors like the most based on what parts of the site they visit the most. We’re also able to find out how you found us, including the specific search words used in any web searches. This is helpful to us because it shows what kinds of questions people have about the industry in general and the regulations and requirements in particular.
One such search, from yesterday, inquired about the minimum age to “captain” a tug. I’ll take that term literally by assuming they meant to serve as master, and that would be a minimum of 21 years of age. , as per the regulations at 46 CFR § 10.201(f). The minimum for holding a license as mate / pilot of towing vessels is 19 years of age as 46 CFR § 10.201(f)(1), and for apprentice mate / steersman it’s 18 as per 46 CFR § 10.201(f)(2). There is a handy quick reference table that includes the other general requirements as well.
Keep in mind that, despite the regulatory minimum of 19 for a mate / pilot, from a practical standpoint you wouldn’t normally ever expect to see anyone younger than 21 in that position anyway. And not just because it’s highly unlikely that you could gain enough experience and good judgment by that age to be entrusted with the responsibility of the position, either. So what’s the reason? The regulations also stipulate that you must be at least 21 to hold a license as first class pilot or to “serve as pilot.” Unless a company was willing to pay for a pilot every time a boat moved, with or without a barge, a mate / pilot under 21 (who can’t “serve as pilot” or “act as pilot”) is largely useless in a 2-watch system.
If you’re getting confused about the use of the term pilot, please refer to our very first post, Pilot: what does it mean? for an in-depth explanation. In short, on the Western Rivers and along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway the term “pilot” is normally used to indicate the junior of the two deck officers, the same as “mate” everywhere else. Don’t confuse a Western Rivers pilot (on the towboats) with the pilotage regulations or the need for towing vessel deck officers to “serve” or “act as pilot” at nearly all times.
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