Boat captains are responsible for checking the vessel before it leaves port to ensure it is seaworthy and meets all safety regulations. They also ensure that lifeboats are in working order and that all life preservers are in place and accounted for. In some instances, they may be responsible for training passengers on proper safety procedures.
Boat captains oversee the navigation of the vessel. In some instances the captain may perform the actual navigation himself, while in larger vessels the role is assumed by a dedicated navigator or computer network. Regardless, the captain must be familiar with the operation of electronic navigation systems such as GPS units and have the ability to use tools such as navigational charts, compasses, sonar and radar to assume navigation in emergency situations.
Boat captains are responsible for overseeing the duties of the vessel's crew members. In some cases, captains conduct the hiring and firing of the crew. Captains enforce disciplinary policies and may be responsible for conducting crew performance evaluations. The captain may also be required to reassign crew members to other duties during a voyage to handle situations such as emergencies.
Boat captains often have a bachelor's degree in marine science or engineering from a merchant academy. Some notable merchant academies are the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Merchant Marine Academies, according to the BLS. States like Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Maine and California also have merchant academies. Simulation devices are used in academies to acclimate trainees to panel instruments and operational procedures. Training is mostly on the job. Boat captains usually have to work their way up through the ranks of third, second and first mate before attaining captain status. This can take anywhere from three to four years or more. All boat captains must be licensed and certified through the U.S. Coast Guard.