Monday, January 8, 2018

My First Shot At The USCG OUPV 6 Pack Captain's License Exam

Ever since we started our on board life, I've wanted to get my U.S. Coast Guard approved, bonafide Captain's license. I've never had any professional vessel operating aspirations, but I saw it as me earning a diploma of sorts. It would be a validation of the effort and diligence I always put into being the traditional, not-quite-so-bonafide captain of Why Knot.

Let me explain that last part. It's all about tradition and, I guess, a little bit of legalese.

At this moment (1/7/2018, after I took the OUPV exam) I am not a licensed Captain. I have to still pass the test. But I am a skipper; I've been the operator of a boat. I've also been a traditional captain; in my case, I've been the operator of my own vessel, Why Knot. I'm not sure if I were the operator of some other vessel not for hire if I'd be a traditional captain or not, but I'd still be a skipper. Regardless, I've been working towards getting my U.S. Coast Guard issued OUPV Captains License for most of 2017.

To do this I've used the study program by an outfit called Mariners Learning System. I was introduced to them at the Annapolis Powerboat Show a couple of years ago. It was mostly online study which is something that I do well with. It seemed like a good way to go. Now, I didn't have to start the course immediately. However, when I activated the account, I had twelve months to complete the curriculum and take the tests in their system. I could take each of the four license test modules up to three times for the original price. After that first twelve months, extensions can be purchased for a modest sum. But one could only take the module exams up to three times without having to start the whole process over again. I activated the system on March, 8, 2017 which meant I had until March 8, 2018 to do the curriculum and PASS the exam modules.

[Note: One of MLS's selling points is that they are the only U.S.C.G authorized testing company. This enables them to compose the tests and sanction exam dates and locations. In other words, they can do testing on behalf of the Coast Guard. MLS says they are the only organization like this. I guess other license schools prep you and then send you to take the Coast Guard proctored exams in one of their regional exam centers. But this is an important distinction.]

Before I go on further, let me ask the question everyone has – how hard is the exam? It's hard. There's a lot of material, it's very technical, and you have to be able to parse very nuanced choices to select the correct multiple choice answer. You can't go in there thinking that the correct answer will somehow stand out. The Coast Guard wants the exam to weed out pretenders more than validating winners. In other words, the exam is designed to get people to fail.

Anyway, my first test day came on January 7, 2018, in Denver. More precise, in my home community, Lakewood, Colorado. How convenient. I showed up and was surprised to see that there was only one other candidate there to take the test. So be it. The proctor is a local captain himself.

The exam itself is in four modules. They are Plotting [ten questions, actually working with a chart they supply.], Navigation [20 questions], Rules of the Road [30 questions], and Deck General [60 questions]. To pass the exam one has to get at least at 70% grade on Plotting, Navigation, and Deck General, which I did with some margin to spare. But on Rules of the Road, you have to get a score of 90% or better. That one was a challenge.

Shipmates, if you're thinking that any test on the Rules of the Road couldn't be more difficult than who the stand-on and give-way vessels are in a crossing situation, you would be sadly mistaken. You have to know all about the ships' lights [Are they a NUC, Constrained by Draft, or Pilot? What lights would different tows have according to their length?], you powerboaters need to know the rules for sailing vessels, and much more. It was hard.


The bottom line was that I did not pass that module the first time. I got an 80%.

I had two options what to do next. The next testing opportunity in Colorado is in February and that would be all there would be here for several months. I had only two more times to take the test for that last module before the March 8th expiration date. I did something MLS says is not such a good idea; I decided to take the test for that module a second time then and there. I figured if I failed I still had the test opportunity available to me in February. If I passed, all the better.

The second test had different questions than the first, but they seemed more familiar to me. It flowed better. But I did do something I know for sure I shouldn't have done. I second guessed myself on the answer to one question and changed my answer.

And guess what my score was? 86.6% I got one question wrong. Damn it! And remember that question I changed my answer on? I had it right the first time. Damn it! Damn it! One stinking question!

So, It'll my last shot at getting at least a 90% on the Rules of the Road module test in February in Boulder, Colorado.

One stinking question.

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