February 17, 2022

Top Five Reasons for Delays in Receiving Mariner Credentials

About half of the roughly 50,000 annual requests from mariners for Captains credentials are delayed at the National Maritime Center due to incomplete applications. How can you avoid the five most common reasons for delays?

The National Maritime Center (NMC) receives more than 50,000 applications a year from mariners applying for Merchant Mariner Credentials (MMCs). On average, more than 50 percent of those applications are incomplete or missing information, which causes delays in processing these credentials. This can cause serious frustration and confusion for mariners who are expecting to receive their MMCs, and also disrupt their livelihoods if they need these credentials to work.  

In 2021, a total of 66,796 "Awaiting Information" (AI) reasons were issued for MMC applications. Many MMC applications have multiple AI reasons. To avoid delays in receiving your credentials, take a look at the five most common reasons a mariner received an AI letter in 2021, and be sure to double-check your applications before submitting them!

It is not always easy navigating the requirements of the different Merchant Marine Credentials. At the Professional Captains Association (PCA), we are here to help you through the process and with any questions that you might have regarding obtaining or updating the credentials that you want. 

The National Maritime Center's Commanding Officer, Capt. Bradley Clare recently hosted a Pro Seminar Series Seminar with the Professional Captains Association about mariner credentialing (see the link to the video here). Capt. Clare answered licensing questions from our members and shared with us the top five reasons for delays in Captains receiving their MMCs in 2021. 

1. Certificates and Documents are Missing or Incorrect

One of the most common reasons for receiving an AI letter was lack of proof of required training. The most common certificates missing were First Aid/CPR, Firefighting, and Radar Certificates.  Also, many certificates did not have the Coast Guard course approval number on them, which is required.  Other documentation often missing included a copy of the TWIC, Evidence of Suitability, Round Trip documentation, and Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Assessments.

Other common missing documentation included:

  • Missing proof of citizenship: Passport, Alien Registration Card, or Permanent Residence Card was not provided.
  • Unacceptable certificates or documents: Most commonly these certificates or documents were outdated, unreadable, or missing signatures.
  • Suspended or revoked driver’s licenses: If the applicant’s driver’s license is suspended or revoked, the NMC will look at all National Driver Registry records.

2. Incomplete/Incorrect Application

Always check to make sure that you have signed the application and put the date when the application was submitted, not your date of birth. Another common error is not completing all the checkboxes on the application, like the National Driver Registry consent box or not putting the best methods of contact or type of credential requested. Remember, boxes must be checked by the applicant.

Section 4 of the application contains the Oath and certifications requested by the mariner applicant. Be sure to go over this diligently and remember that if this is your first MMC, the Oath must be taken and certified by an individual authorized to administer the Oath.  Section 5 must contain the applicant’s signature and the date the application was signed. 

Remember to clarify which credential you are seeking, also make sure that the documentation provided matches what the application says. Another thing is to make sure that the description of endorsements desired is a listed endorsement in the 46 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  As an applicant, you must be specific about what endorsements you want to be evaluated for. 

3. Sea Service Documentation/Recency of Service

Another common error is that employers have not signed and dated the application, or identified the waters operated upon. Also, applicants commonly missed filling out their service time or did not meet the requirements for the credential requested.

For the Small Vessel Sea Service forms, they often had the incorrect addition of hours/days, or proof of vessel ownership was not provided. For the tankerman certification, there were often discrepancies in the proof of transfers/service/recency. Normally, the documentation submitted did not meet the requirements for the amount of time or/and didn’t have the correct position noted, or the dates performed.

Applicants for the Rating Forming Part of an Engineering Watch (RFPEW) and Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch (RFPNW) often missed correctly noting their seagoing service including training and experience associated with the engine room or navigational watchkeeping functions under the supervision of an engineer officer, or for Navigational, a master, mate, or qualified STCW deck rating.

Some applicants also did not provide evidence of meeting the tonnage and horsepower requirements in order to qualify for certain credentials.

4. Fees

Another common reason for mariners not receiving their credentials was that fees were not paid. Issuance fees must be paid in order for a credential to be issued and evaluation fees must be paid in order for an application to be reviewed.  Other common problems include the Military-to-Mariner fee waiver request not being completed properly, the amount paid tending to be less than the amount required in order to issue the credential(s), improperly written checks, and no tax ID number on business checks.

5. Drug Tests

Last but not least, there are issues with drug tests. 

A missing drug screen from the application package will cause delays and/or you not receiving your credential(s).  A drug test is required for all transactions except endorsements, documents of continuity, duplicates, and STCW certificates.

Not putting the collection date of the test, missing Medical Review Officer information, and an unsigned drug test result/random drug screen program letter are all common mistakes when it comes to submitting an application. 

Also, remember that the drug screen must be a Department of Transportation five-panel drug test from a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration-accredited lab. The drug screen must also be done within 6 months of the date of the application.

What can you do to prevent delays in issuance?

Remember to apply at least 90 days in advance. For renewals, you can apply up to 8 months early with no change between your expiration and renewal dates. Use the Regional Exam Centers and Monitoring Units to review your application before submission. They are available for appointments in person or over the phone. Use the tools and resources on the NMC website. The application acceptance checklist and evaluator checklists are valuable tools. For general questions, contact the NMC Customer Service Center by emailing [email protected] or calling 1-888-IASKNMC (427-5662).

If you have any questions regarding the requirements necessary for obtaining your credentials,  email us at [email protected] or give us a call at (401) 735-0100.

Also, PCA Plus and Premier Members are entitled to MMC Application Review or Assitance. Join Today!