Can A Felon Acquire Merchant Mariner Credentials?

Have you ever thought about a job on a ship? Getting the job is not as simple as putting in an application and doing an interview.

You must be able to obey Maritime laws, perform your job safely, and prove that you are a responsible person. To get the job you must qualify for the Merchant Mariner Credentials. To get these credentials, you must pass a review given by the United States Coast Guard.

First, you must apply. The success of an application will depend on several factors such as:

  • Your employment history
  • Education
  • Military Background
  • Criminal History

What if, you have a felony? Let’s say at the age of 18 you got into trouble but have now found the calling to be a Seamen? Will that felony mean that you can’t land your dream job?

The answer to this isn’t a “yes” or “no” but rather; “are you willing to do what it takes to get the job?”

The Review Process

A felony conviction can result in loss of opportunities, from voting to owning a gun. Luckily there is still a good chance you can get your credentials.

The courts reviewed your case before convicting you, and so will the Coast Guard. You will submit an application telling them about your past. You will list the bad things you’ve done with all the great things you’ve accomplished.

Getting the letter that you’ve “been approved” will be an exciting day for sure! There are certain steps you can take to make sure that this day comes.

Take the opportunity to show the Coast Guard you can handle your credentials. Prove yourself trustworthy, responsible, and reliable.

If your conviction was recent, get ready to buckle down and prove you are commendable.

Assessment Periods

It is also important to consider that time matters in the review process. If your drug conviction was over ten years ago, it doesn’t disqualify you. It is more difficult if you’ve had several convictions.

Convictions range from homicide to murder, and even some driving offenses. So how does the Coast Guard determine whether someone is eligible?

The decision to deny someone their credentials begins with an assessment period. This period depends on the type of crime and how many times the individual has been in trouble.

The time assessment takes depends on the crime. Drug-related offenses have special analysis due to ship and crew safety.

In some circumstances, time is a great benefit to the convicted person. Was your crime more than 10 years before your application? If so, you have an advantage.

Evidence of Suitability

As we’ve discussed, it is possible to become a sea captain or crew member with a felony conviction. Your past can reflect your moral capabilities as much as your ability to work on the ocean.

You can start by being trustworthy, reliable, and honest. If your conviction was recent get ready to buckle down and prove that you are commendable.

To get the credentials and move on with your career you will have to provide “Evidence of Suitability.” This means that you are not the type of person who commits crimes, nor are you untrustworthy.

The following list will guide you to succeed in your review:

  • Complete your sentence in its entirety (incarceration, probation, parole)
  • Collect character witnesses. Parole officers, Clergymen, anyone with influence will do.
  • Go to Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous and become a team player. This will show that you can overcome any negative actions.
  • Get and keep your job. The longer the history of employment, the more reliable you will look at review time.


It may be easier to deny any wrongdoing or past convictions. Before you check the box stating you do not have any convictions, there are a few things to consider.

What if your felony conviction is no longer on your record? Technically speaking, you’re not a felon anymore. You can vote, you can own a gun, but can you pass the review to get your credentials?

One of the first things you will have to do is submit your fingerprints for testing. Your fingerprints will show that you have been in trouble before due to a national database.

If you had to pay fines or serve time, the Coast Guard will say that it is a conviction. It is best to disclose this information upfront.

Telling the Coast Guard that you have a conviction may be scary at first. As you know, this does not disqualify you.

Lying about your previous troubles may get you a year assessment period all by itself. This adds another 12 months before you can work as a Seamen.

If your conviction was in error the Coast Guard will forego the assessment period.

Choosing to admit your past crimes will allow you the option to explain those crimes. If you got a DUI in college but have a steady job with no other problems, you’re still a great candidate!

Passing the Assessments

Getting the letter that you’ve “been approved” will be an exciting day for sure! There are certain steps you can take to make sure that this day comes.

Like people who haven’t been in legal trouble, you will have to take some tests and go through training. You will have to prove that you are healthy enough to work at sea.

The application process includes other requirements such as:

  • Proof of citizenship
  • Permanent residence or nationality
  • Payment of fees.

When you have met the requirements, you will receive your credentials.


Merchant Mariners Credentials are still in the grasp of those with felonies. It does take a little more time than people without convictions.

Applying for credentials will mean proving yourself an honorable candidate. Admitting your past crimes and taking steps to correct them will lead you to a job on a ship.

The Coast Guard will determine your eligibility based on several factors. These factors include your ability to work and pass drug tests.

A felon can acquire their Merchant Mariner Credential. The approval is a long process for anyone, but longer for someone with a felony conviction.

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