So you want a Coast Guard Captain’s license


I’ve been a recreational boater for most of my life, operating with small, single engine power boats.  My experience in and around the Charleston, South Carolina harbor, nearby rivers and offshore has been fairly extensive.  Last year I decided to purchase a larger vessel, a 42 ft. Sea Ray Sundancer express cruiser.  Her name is Kudzu, and her home port is Hilton Head Island, SC.  My first impression was oh-oh…this is going to be a steep learning curve.  She’s got twin 450 hp Cummins diesels, with dual gear and throttle controls; nothing fancy like pod control or bow thrusters. After a few training sessions with Captain Miles around Hilton Head, I finally got the hang of the twin engines, learning how to spin 360 degrees, and maneuver with the gears instead of throttles at low speeds.

Vessels equipped with generator, berth, head, galley and cable tv offer lots of possibilities, and I wanted to learn more about chart plotting and navigation.  So I purchased an online course named Coastal Navigation. Blogpic3The course prepares students for the navigation portion of the USCG captain’s license. I also ordered the optional tool set – parallel rulers and dividers.  At the end of each section in the notebook, there are quizzes with answers posted online. After finishing the course, which took 2 months, I decided to pursue a Coast Guard OUPV (Operator of Uninspected Passenger Vessels, or “6-pack”) captain’s license.  My plan was to cruise on Kudzu for extended trips along the ICW (my first trip was in August 2015 from Hilton Head to Charleston) and believed it was important to learn as much as possible.  After a quick search, I found an online course called Mariners Learning SystemBlogpic2The price was $595 and seemed to be comprehensive and a convenient home-based alternative to 8-day instructor-led licensing programs, such as the highly regarded Chapman school in Florida. Since I have a hectic schedule at work, attending a course for 8 days in Florida was out of the question – besides, I prefer to learn at my own pace. I stared at the box for several weeks, then finally logged in to my account.  My initial impression was that the course was going to take a while, because each of the four main categories contained multiple tests that each required a 90% score before moving to the next category. After the “sub-tests” are completed within each category, a “master” test for each of the 4 categories is required with a minimum score of 90% before qualifying to take the Coast Guard proctored tests. I decided to finish all the sub-tests first, then loop back and review each of the four major categories before taking the tests.  The final exam subject areas are:

  • Rules of the Road
  • Deck General
  • Navigation General
  • Plotting

The toughest subjects are Rules of the Road (requires 90% minimum score on final exam) and Plotting.  Since I had already finished the Coastal Navigation course mentioned above, I was well prepared for the Plotting section. If you want to really understand chart plotting, I suggest purchasing a similar course – the content provided is far more comprehensive than the Mariners Learning System.  I also highly recommend this site for generating practice tests from the Coast Guard database of 15,000 questions – especially important for learning the Rules of the Road.  I drilled with these tests repeatedly until consistently scoring at or above 90%.

From start to finish, the total time spent on the Mariner’s Learning System was around 100 hours. I scheduled the proctored test 3 months after starting the online course, and spent 4 days cramming before final date of the test on August 8th in Charleston, SC. Fortunately, I passed all 4 tests on the first attempt and received my diploma in the mail within a week.OUPVdiploma

The test is just one of many requirements to receive your final captain’s license, albeit the hardest.  Here are the other milestones that must be met:

  • Fill out application form CG-719B
  • Obtain a TWIC card – requires a TSA federal background check with fingerprinting (costs $95). They send you a picture ID in the mail – it has to be copied and submitted with your package
  • Complete certified CPR and First Aid training course (8 hours on a Saturday at the American Red Cross facility in my case)
  • Pass a physical and eye exam (I had to use 2 different doctors to complete the forms – family doctor and my eye doctor)
  • List 3 character references – easy 1 page form with signatures.
  • Pass a DOT Drug Test – this costs around $59 from a certified DOT testing center.
  • Complete requirements on Coast Guard Sea Service Form CG-719S – it requires 360 days of operation, 90 days within the past 3 years.  Check details on USCG website
  • Pay a $145 applicant evaluation/issuance fee ($100+$45) using website.

When all this information is compiled, you can mail it, email it, or set up an appointment to have it reviewed in person at a Coast Guard Regional Exam Center.

A couple other pointers – for study and reference purpose, get a copy of the latest Coast Guard Navigation Rules Handbook.  It’s now a requirement to have this book onboard if your powered vessel is 12 meters or longer.  The Coast Guard website is impressive. All of the Coast Guard approved training centers throughout the country rely directly on the COLREGS (Collision Regulations), publications, policies, updated procedures, NAVAIDS, weather, and practice questions found on the USCG site, among other things.  Within approximately 1 month of completing and submitting all the requirements listed, which I forwarded to my nearest USCG office using a UPS overnight delivery envelope, I finally received the much anticipated mariner’s license.  It was quite a thrill.


There’s a band called FUN. (yes, with a period after their name).  Saw them perform at a concert recently at Daniel Island, a tract of land across the Cooper River from lovely Charleston, South Carolina.  Think of Daniel Island as the “new Charleston”.  It’s located northeast of Charleston, but similar in structure.  Much of the island is now occupied; a typical planned community with a town-like atmosphere,with accelerating property values.  A quarter-acre lot within sight of a golf course will set you back several hundred thousand dollars on the north side of the island.  I bought one myself way back then, but sold it to a Jersey couple before the boom –always the impatient investor.  It’s a gorgeous, natural setting with magnificent moss-covered oak trees and quiet streets.

On Christmas Day, we sometimes take stock in the year that has almost passed.  Businessmen and women work at a torrid pace to close out the year (if you’re on a calendar fiscal year), understanding that there’s little excitement following Christmas day regarding new sales.  But most importantly, if you’re blessed and fortunate, it’s time to slow down and enjoy family, church, presents and good food.  And to give thanks.

2013 was a spectacular year for the business.  It’s hard to believe that only 3 years ago we were faced with adversity that seemed insurmountable, and that’s no exaggeration. But nothing is more satisfying than a come from behind victory.  This story is especially gratifying because we were written off by outsiders, as well as some insiders, who underestimated the resolve and tenacity that certain individuals possess within the organization.  It took 80+ hour work weeks and a few tears, but it’s incredible what can be accomplished when your back is against the wall and failure is not an option.  In 2013, we hired 22 new employees and grew sales by 100%! The hallmark of 2013 is my gratitude for all the believers.

Back to the subject!  It seems to be more challenging than ever to sift through BS and find Truth.  This year in particular, it feels as if Truth, especially in social media and politics, is lost.  Our youth are exposed to outright lies and wild exaggeration online for which they are poorly equipped to reconcile.  It’s sad, and even more discouraging to witness the dumbing down of popular websites such as Yahoo – with millions of viewers daily.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve encountered high doses of BS – hot as Chernobyl.  It was so convincing that it became indiscernible.  There’s BS everywhere we turn – in the form of simple lies, distortion of scientific data, half-truths, embellishment, or self-serving manipulation.

However, holidays seem to bring out the best in people.  Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, a friend knocked on my door and he brought a Fitbit Flex, something I’ve been talking about for weeks!  That is true friendship! Last night, I received a big hug from a very happy 8-year old, after picking her up from her grandparent’s location for a return trip back home to mommy, just in time for Santa’s arrival.  (She made sure I packed Santa’s cookies).  Now, that was a moment of sincere joy and TRUTH!  So, while we’re exposed to BS through online media, television and even your buddies, just dial up the sensitivity on your BS meter, but remember to embrace the unmistakable moments of friendship and truth.

Cisco awards certification to A3

Press Release

A3 Achieves Advanced Cisco Certification

Effective 30 September 2013

Congratulations to A3 COMMUNICATIONS INC for meeting all criteria to achieve Advanced Collaboration Architecture Specialization.

Your company has fulfilled the role-based training requirements and program prerequisites to sell, design, and deploy Cisco Collaboration Architecture solutions in USA.


Cisco Channel Specialization Team

Getting bonked

Yesterday morning Duke (my lab) jumped in the bed of the Tundra at 7 am, and we drove to Starbucks.  Weather was dubious for the planned 9 am bike ride, consistent with an incredibly wet summer in SC. We left after Duke made a few friends. Preparation for the ride was the normal ritual – pump the tires, gather up spare tubes, CO2, Zone bar, and water.  I had eaten oatmeal at Sbux to hopefully prepare for what was a very muggy (humidity equals lots of sweat) day. As the group started out, we hit several climbs at a pretty strong pace.  Everything seems normal, with exception of a consistent thumping sound from my bike, which had been in the shop all week. After pulling over and consulting with Paul, a mechanical engineer, he decided it looked good and we moved ahead.

In a group ride, you take the lead position and drop off to the left after completing your “pull”.  Mine was longer than usual, as I have a tendency to go too fast and too aggressive at the beginning of rides.  I begin to notice my heart rate isn’t settling down but confident I’ll find the rhythm. Sweat is dropping from helmet and splashing on my legs and bike, even before we hit mile 10. It’s common to perspire like this, and since the temperature is mild, there’s no reason to be concerned.  Still, I’m waiting for my rhythm to kick in. At a crossroad, one of the riders drops off, and waves us on.  The ride continues.

The turnoff to the hilly road is up ahead – we slow down, anticipating incoming traffic. Everyone seems to get removed from the paceline when facing the first steep hill climb. You can see the dread in some of the riders eyes, but I’ve done this hill hundreds of times. After looking down and back, wondering if the rear tire is flat, or if the brake pads are rubbing … something feels funny.

Several riders passed me. What is wrong? I ate breakfast, had enough sleep last night, I’m not dehydrated…don’t think.  How can this be happening – I’m normally the first rider to the top of this hill!

It finally starts to make sense. This week I had been on a mission – to lose weight.  You see, I don’t have a bathroom scale and rarely use the scale at Gold’s gym.  So at an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try a scale and it surprised me! My normal weight, especially during the summer, was at least 8 pounds lighter! Pathetic.

The group passes around a bend, and are out of sight; I’m trying to stand and rush up to them, but the legs feel like ramen noodles. Pain starts down the back of my neck, I’m sweating profusely, my abdomen feels cramped, I’m weak and basically spent!  At our normal spot to “re-group”, I’m asked about continuing on and reluctantly agree to keep riding. But, I recognize the symptoms…it’s happened before. What I’m experiencing isn’t listed in any medical book; this is just a case of bonking. And no amount of sustenance can fix it. 

We have all had a case similar to this, where nothing goes right; black is white, white is black, and hot is cold. It’s as if everyone else found some kind of magical adrenaline, and stormed off without you. It’s maddening. Cycling is competitive, even at the most amateur level, and its humiliating being the last one up the hill.

Don’t worry, yesterday’s deficiency has a reason, and will have you looking that much better when a few pounds are dropped and nutrition is restored once again. Let them laugh now, because they also know it will be their fate one day…possibly sooner than later.

Hockey or Baseball?

Last night I watched the Boston Bruins take game 1 of the Eastern Quarterfinals against Toronto.  As the word “FINAL” flashed on screen, one player was still hammering on an opposing player’s head with his fist, while trying to remove his opponent’s helmet with his left hand to inflict more damage.  The referees let the fight continue while they subdued 2 more players engaged in a similar battle.  After a few seconds, things returned to normal, with the home crowd celebrating the lopsided victory.  Pro hockey players are hard core, tenacious competitors.

A few minutes later, I flipped to SportsCenter and baseball highlights.  Here’s the announcer’s transcript:

“A note here about the Blue Jays though.  Knuckle baller RA Dickey has been diagnosed with mild inflammation in his neck and back following an MRI and will get an extra day of rest before his next start Saturday against Seattle.

At the top of the 6th, Harper at the plate on a 0-1 pitch, checks his swing, bends over, appears to grab his side there, in obvious pain. Harper would leave this game, with a bruised left rib.  He’s day to day.

Harper in the post-game interview:  “I don’t know if I tweeked anything just more of a – you know – something that happened, you know, maybe that swing got it or what.  Maybe that played a factor in that but maybe I’ll see how I feel tomorrow and see if I can get in there.  In that moment it got me pretty good.”

What a contrast between hockey and baseball!

Are you kidding me?  Bruised rib my ass. Man, I think MLB players are the best example of spoiled athletes that ever managed to pretend to earn millions a year and retain their mommy’s boy status in public view….that includes Jeter and A-Rod…they’re just simply wimps!

What’s your viewpoint?