Become a Launch Driver or Water Taxi Captain

Blue skies, beautiful days, and rolling waves are not often associated with a day on the job. Does the idea of getting paid to go boating appeal to you? Many summer communities and coastal regions are home to recreational boat yards and yacht clubs. Oftentimes, these maritime businesses employ launch drivers (a.k.a. water taxi captains) to shuttle boaters back and forth between their vessels and shore. This article details the usual duties of a launch driver, the necessary qualifications for employment, and ideas about where to get hired.


Understanding the Position

  1. Know the duties of the job. A launch driver is responsible for the operation of a launch boat, usually a {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} open-top, diesel-powered vessel. The launch driver handles the operation and maintenance of the vessel, in addition to providing passengers with friendly service and useful information. Duties include:
    • Starting up the boat at the beginning of the day, making sure to check routine fluids including:
      • The level and condition of the engine oil (should be at the proper level as indicated on the dipstick and not too dirty).
      • The level of the coolant (should be visible when the cap is removed) (warning: never check coolant after running the engine, because hot coolant could spray out under pressure, causing injury).
      • The condition of the transmission fluid (should be dark red and translucent – if it is white and milky, salt has penetrated the transmission housing and must be flushed out before the transmission is engaged).
      • The amount of fuel in the tank – you don't want to run out while untied in open water!
    • Tying the launch boat off while picking passengers up at the dock/pier.
    • Greeting the passengers warmly as they enter the boat and providing up-to-date weather information and harbor information.
    • Assisting passengers with stowing additional gear aboard the boat if they require help.
    • Navigating the waterways safely and in accordance with local navigational rules.
    • Planning and executing an efficient drop-off and pickup route around the harbor.
    • Approaching and landing safely on customers' boats.
    • Helping boaters who need battery jump starts, boat tows, and mooring assistance.
  2. Understand the pros. In many ways, working as launch driver is a great occupation. Passing workdays under the sun and on the open water is relaxing and fun. Often, launch drivers receive benefits such as free boat services at the boat yard or yacht club they work for, discounts on marine products, and flexible schedules. Some launch drivers are fortunate enough to work where tipping is the norm and may make a handsome amount of money in cash.
  3. Understand the cons. On the other hand, the job can include long hours, physically demanding days, and periods of high stress. Working outdoors may sound nice at first, but after twelve hours it can be quite taxing. Additionally, it is often the sole responsibility of the driver(s) on duty to remember on the go which customers have radioed requesting pickups, while simultaneously completing pickups already on their route. This can lead to stress, as sometimes a pickup can slip your mind and anger a waiting customer.
  4. Make sure that you have the personality that suits the job. Being a launch driver requires one to have organizational, logistical, and interpersonal skills.
    • You must be independent. Being a launch driver requires the confidence to take responsibility for the safety of passengers and respond to variable situations at a moment's notice.
    • You must be friendly. Although your main duty is to pilot the boat, it is important to remember to interact with the passengers and make them feel at ease.
    • You must be responsible. Navigating varying weather, changing tides, and moving boats requires a risk-averse and conservative attitude.

Necessary Qualifications and Application Procedures

  1. Meet the demographic requirements. Be at least seventeen years of age (eighteen to carry more than seven passengers), an English speaker, and a US citizen. It also helps to be familiar with the basics of boat operation.
  2. Gather and print the required forms from the USCG website. These include CG-719B (Application), CG-719K (Physical), CG-719KE (Entry Level), CG-719P (Drug Testing), and CG-719S (Sea Service).
  3. Log the required amount of sea service hours. Sea service hours prove to the Coast Guard that the applicant is familiar with local waters, weather conditions, and traffic patterns. Log these hours on form CG-719S (Sea Service).
    • For a USCG Limited Masters license (allows seven or more passengers aboard), 120 days (4+ hours per day) of self-documented sea time with 90 days in the last year are required.
    • For a USCG Limited OUPV license (no more than six passengers aboard), 90 days (4+ hours per day) of self-documented sea time with 90 days in the last year are required.
  4. Complete the physical exam. The physical makes sure that you are able to perform the duties related to maritime work. It is very similar to a regular doctor's office physical, but focuses more heavily on vision. Colorblindness, for example, is a disqualifying factor because most maritime markers and buoys are red or green. Have the physician fill out form CG-719K (Physical).
    • Occupational centers such as Concentra are often fast and easy places to have a pre-employment physical done.
  5. Complete a pre-employment drug test. You must be able to pass a DOT-5 drug panel that tests for marijuana, cocaine, and opiates, among others. The results should be logged on form CG-719P (Drug Testing).
  6. Become CPR/First Aid certified for adults, children, and infants. As the captain of the boat, you must be able to address basic medical situations if a passenger is injured.
  7. Complete a safe boating class. You must complete this class ensuring that you are knowledgeable regarding basic navigation, operation, and boat safety.
  8. Complete a USCG-approved exam. You must take and pass a multiple-choice exam that ensures your knowledge of applicable maritime information. After you pass the exam, you will be given certificate which you will include in your application packet.
  9. Obtain a TWIC (Transportation Worker Identification Credential). A TWIC is a TSA license. To obtain one, you must visit an enrollment center, be photographed, provide biometric information, get a background check, and pay a fee.
  10. Once all the aforementioned steps are complete, send in your application. The completed application should consist of forms CG-719B (Application), CG-719K (Physical), CG-719KE (Entry Level), CG-719P (Drug Testing), and CG-719S (Sea Service). Send them all to your local USCG office.
    • If your application is approved, you will receive a Merchant Mariner Credential that will allow you to start work as launch driver! Links for some of the aforementioned steps can be found at the bottom of the article.

Finding a Job

  1. Utilize personal connections. Launch driving, and maritime work in general, consists of a very close-knit community. Chances are, if you live in a coastal community, you may know someone who was or is a launch driver. Ask them to recommend you to their employer. This personal introduction can work wonders for quick employment.
  2. Make contacts in your local maritime community. Look for opportunities to meet and interact with maritime professionals, recreational boaters, and dock-hands. These folks are always around the waterfront and will often be aware of job opportunities for the aspiring launch driver.
  3. Inquire at yacht clubs, boatyards, and boat repair shops. Since most launch driving positions are provided by private companies, ask businesses that have established launch services if they have openings.
    • It is often best to ask about available positions during the off-season, because that is when many of the previous season's drivers leave to work elsewhere.
  4. Contact dock managers and business owners directly. Launch driving is a very niche profession. Since there are not many people qualified to drive launch boats, managers and business owners are often hard-pressed to find suitable employees. Approaching a business owner directly can seem daunting, but is often the quickest way to be hired as a launch driver.
  5. Once hired, pay close attention during training. Master the basics of boat operation, maintenance, and customer service during the training period. You will often work without direct supervision as a launch driver. This means that you will need to prove to your employer that you can handle the demands of the job without constant guidance.


  • Wear polarized sunglasses, glare from the water can be harsh.
  • If you have trouble remembering boats on your pickup list, write them down in your phone or on a paper pad.
  • Make sure to drink enough water on hot, sunny days.
  • The more friendly you are with customers, the more you will receive in tips.
  • Remember to coordinate with other drivers and provide assistance when they need it.


  • Do not consume illegal drugs whilst employed as a launch driver. Random drug tests are administered and you can lose your job if you test positive for illegal substances.
  • Never operate in unsafe conditions; know when to suspend service for inclement weather.
  • Do not operate in unknown waters or at low tide.
  • Do not allow passengers to bring gasoline or other hazardous materials onto the boat.
  • Ensure that young children are wearing life preservers while aboard.