U.S. Coast Guard Begins to Reopen RECs for In-Person License Exams

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Published Aug 28, 2020 8:26 PM by The Maritime Executive

This week, the head of the U.S. Coast Guard's National Maritime Center announced that the agency is resuming in-person license testing after a long hiatus due to COVID-19. License renewal applicants have been permitted to test at home, but all of the Coast Guard's Regional Exam Centers have been closed since March, shutting down the normal process for all other license exams.

"The Coast Guard is aware of the need to restart the examination process to allow mariners to obtain or upgrade credentials. We know the closure of our Regional Exam Centers (REC) and Monitoring Units (MU) due to COVID-19 has negatively affected mariners, maritime employers, and the industry as a whole," said Capt. Kirsten R. Martin, the commanding officer of the National Maritime Center. "The National Maritime Center (NMC) is working to safely reopen all examination rooms."

So far, the USCG has reopened its RECs in Honolulu, Houston, Juneau, Ketchikan and San Juan, but it has not yet resumed service in many of the busiest port cities, like New York, New Orleans, Seattle or Long Beach.

As the process moves forward, each reopening will be announced with guidance on how to schedule an examination. The Coast Guard will prioritize certain exam requests as it works to clear the backlog, including:

- Exams that were previously scheduled but cancelled due to COVID-19 REC closures.
- Mariners who previously sat for examination and require retest of one or two modules.
- Pilotage examinations.

All other testing requests will be handled on a first-in, first-out basis, the Coast Guard said. 

There is an additional limitation on the volume that newly-reopened RECs will be able to handle. Due to social distancing requirements, exam room capacity is reduced by about 50 percent, Capt. Martin said. In order to boost throughput in regions where RECs have not yet reopened, the USCG is looking at ways to proctor tests off-site for maritime stakeholders who have groups of applicants - particularly pilots' associations and shipping companies with at least five mariners who all need to test. Maritime employers and pilots' associations can contact NMC at [email protected] for information about off-site group testing.