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Getting Your Canadian Maritime License

Understanding Transport Canada’s Route to Professional Licenses for Mariners


Many years ago, before the internet, obtaining a professional maritime license was a much longer process than it is today. There were many paper forms that needed multiple copies sent to the right agencies. It was a slow process.

Today the Canadian system is much more efficient because of improved practices and international standards for training and licensing of maritime professionals.

Transport Canada is the administering agency for all types of licenses for professional work on the water. Transport Canada is a very large agency that oversees all types of transportation in Canada. For that reason it is important to pay very close attention to detail so the process goes as smoothly as possible.

What License Do I Need?

This is always an important question and one that is sometimes difficult to answer. There are three categories that potential applicants usually fit into when they are seeking their first license.

The best situation is when a potential mariner has an employer in mind and knows what specific job is desired. A quick look at the human resources website for the company will lead you to job descriptions that can give you a direct answer about license requirements. If specific job descriptions are available use those to determine what sort of qualifications you need to get the job. Duties on ships are well defined out of tradition and chain of command so it is much more likely that an accurate job description will be listed.

Another situation is when a potential mariner knows their general field of interest but does not have a specific employer where job descriptions can be located. Let’s say you are interested in work on private yachts and charter boats. The first place to check on requirements is with a staffing service that hires mariners for that type of work. Most of these services charge a fee to the employer so advice is usually helpful and free if you are looking for a job.

You may also investigate individual companies’ websites for job descriptions. If it is a small organization you might send an email expressing your interest and inquiring about preferred licensing and credentials for specific jobs.

The other type of scenario is when someone knows they want to work in the maritime sector but has only a vague idea about what kind of job they want. This is a very common situation and it almost always means that more research needs to be done. There are many educational programs available in Canada so that is the best place to start. Professional licensing is the goal of students in these institutions so there are plenty of resources for career planning available.

You may also take a look at our series of articles about entry level opportunities in the maritime sector. The “Ports of Entry” series explores a new topic each month so you can investigate all of your opportunities for employment.

The Basic Requirements

These are the basic requirements to get started on your journey to being a licensed professional mariner. Please do check out the details personally since everything cannot be included in this discussion because of space limitations, if you have special circumstances this is doubly important.

Medical Exam

The purpose of an initial medical exam is to determine if an applicant is in good enough health to begin the pursuing a maritime career. In Canada approved marine medical examiners assess new applicants and renewal applicants.

Applicants are tested for vision, hearing, physical ability, and general health according to the international convention on Standards for Training, Certification, and Watch keeping (STCW). This set of international laws standardizes many aspects of medical exams to assure safe operation of vessels around the world.

Testing for illegal and dangerous drugs is also part of the medical exam. Substance abuse is a serious issue in the industry and an employee will be randomly tested by their employer and is also subject to testing if there is an incident involving their vessel.

Seafarer Identity Document (SID)

This document is a secure form of identification imprinted with biometric data like fingerprint templates. It is used as an international form of identification for access to port facilities in the home country and while on shore leave abroad.

The SID program is being updated at this time and it is not necessary to hold a valid SID as you begin your training. It is recommended that you obtain your SID as soon as possible since it can be used as identification throughout your training but you will need to provide proof of enrollment in a certification program.

You can apply for a SID at any Transport Canada office with any of the following forms of photo identification.

  • Canadian maritime document
  • Canadian passport
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • Certificate of Indian Status
  • Firearms License
  • Old Age Security card
  • Federal, provincial or municipal employee identification card
  • Driver's license
  • Provincial Health Care Card

Proof of citizenship must also be provided in one of the following forms.

  • Canadian birth certificate
  • Canadian Baptismal Certificate
  • Certificate of citizenship
  • Canadian passport
  • Permanent Resident Card
  • Certificate of Indian Status

The applicant must also provide two passport sized photos and pay a fee of $20 CDN.

Maritime Training

Of course the training process cannot begin until you have a basic idea of your goals. Once this is established consult the Transport Canada list of approved schools.

Speaking with an adviser at one of these schools will give you an idea of what program might suit you best. Courses are divided roughly into two categories of general and specialized education. Most first time applicants will take a general course but in some cases a specialized course might be appropriate if you have specific goals or previous non-merchant experience like military seafaring.

There are some great opportunities in Canadian maritime education like the Canadian Coast Guard College. If accepted to their program there is no tuition or fees and cadets are able to return home for visits at the expense of the college. That’s just one more reason to love Canada.

Certification Exam

Each exam covers the appropriate materials for the license coursework so each one is different. What is common to every exam is that it has a written and oral portion. If you are not someone who takes tests well don’t be too concerned since you are able to retake these exams after a short waiting period.

That’s it for the basic process of starting down the path to a great career in domestic or international seafaring. The Canadian government wisely makes the process fairly easy and inexpensive. If you are interested, take a look at the requirements and costs of a U.S merchant mariner license.

As always, let us know about your experiences or questions you have by posting in our maritime forum or just drop us an email. Good luck.

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