Can a Criminal Record Keep Me From Getting a Captain’s License?

I have worked on the water in various jobs for almost 40 years, and I have finally decided to pursue my Coast Guard captain’s license. Unfortunately, I had a felony conviction in the late 1970s, for which I served four years in prison. I understand that the Coast Guard conducts a criminal background check as a part of the license application process, but I don’t know how my criminal record would affect my chances of getting a license. My record has been spotless since by release from prison 25 years ago.  Can you shed some light on this?
The Coast Guard does indeed conduct a criminal background check for all license applicants, and the license application materials require the disclosure of an applicant’s various offenses.

These disclosures must be entirely truthful since a false statement made on an application is itself a crime. A criminal record does not, however, automatically bar an applicant from obtaining a Coast Guard license or Merchant Mariner’s Docu­ment.

Coast Guard regulations establish eligibility guidelines for licensing in Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations, section 10.201.  Among other provisions in that section, “an applicant’s criminal record report may be used to determine that an applicant’s character and habits of life are such that the applicant cannot be entrusted with the duties and responsibilities of the license.”

Section 10.201 includes a table titled “Guidelines for Evaluating Applicants for Licenses and Certificates of Registry Who Have Criminal Convictions.” This table sets forth an evaluation period for a list of crimes ranging from reckless driving to homicide, during which the Coast Guard will subject the applicant to increased scrutiny before allowing him or her to sit for their license examinations. The evaluation periods range from one year to 20 years, depending on the particular crime.

This increased scrutiny will generally require applicants to prove that they have led a productive life with a clean record since their release from incarceration. The guidelines in the table are not conclusive one way or the other.  Instead, the guidelines allow the Coast Guard’s OCMI (Officer in Charge – Marine Inspection) to use his or her own judgment to evaluate an applicant based on personality, character references, and other subjective criteria. Applicants should also be aware that the Coast Guard considers drug offenses to be particularly onerous, and they will evaluate an applicant with a drug conviction accordingly.

A license applicant with a criminal conviction may want to consult an attorney before submitting the application materials to the Coast Guard. However, a simpler and cheaper approach may be for the applicant to discuss the matter with a license preparation school. Most of the license prep schools are very good at assisting their students with the license application process, and they are experienced in a wide range of application issues. If the license prep school is unable to help, an attorney with experience in Coast Guard licensing should be consulted.

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