U.S. Coast Guard Extends Merchant Mariner Credential Renewal Period

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) has announced an extension of the renewal grace period for expired merchant mariner credentials (MMC) in response to the recent challenges faced by the domestic maritime industry and mariner labor pool.

A recent Coast Guard policy letter temporarily extends the grace period for the renewal of MMC, also known as a “Coast Guard license” or “credential”, from one year to six years.

The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act required a Maritime Workforce Working Group to assess the size of the mariner pool needed for national emergencies. The group estimated that 11,768 qualified mariners were available, falling short of the 13,607 who would be needed for sustained sealift and commercial fleet operations.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit the maritime industry hard, particularly in terms of mariner retention. To mitigate this, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2024 temporarily reduced sea service requirements for certain deck rating endorsements, aiming to encourage new entrants into the maritime industry and to motivate those with expired credentials to return.

Aaron Smith, President of the Offshore Marine Service Association (OMSA), who has advocated for the extension of the grace period, said that temporary extension was designed to remove barriers for experienced mariners to return to the industry and will address natural fluctuations in the industry. He added that removing the burden of short MMC renewal limits will effectively maintain an experienced workforce and enhance national security by providing a larger pool of fully qualified American mariners.

“OMSA has long advocated for ending restrictive policies that needlessly prohibit American mariners from returning to the workforce,” said Smith. “We applaud the USCG for extending the grace period for renewing a Coast Guard license renewal period and for providing American mariners with more flexibility to contribute their expertise.”

Previously, mariners on leave who did not renew their MMC within one year had to start over as a new mariner, accumulating all new sea-time and required tests and training. With the extension, it is estimated that mariners seeking to renew their Captain’s license will save between $12,100 and $43,710 in class fees and between 39 and 124 days of classroom instruction.

Smith believes the change will be significant. “It is a huge win for American mariners,” he said. “Doing away with needlessly restrictive policies that negate the needs of industry professionals will create a better environment for mariners to contribute to the needs of the nation.”

Smith also commended the working relationship between OMSA and the Coast Guard, and stressed that this move underscores their commitment to ensuring a sufficient pool of experienced mariners for the U.S.

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