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How to Become a Skipper in New Zealand – The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Skipper’s Ticket and Launching Your Maritime Career

Skipper Conrad

Our graduate Conrad skippering his new commercial vessel

If you want to become a skipper in New Zealand, there are a few different maritime training options you can explore.

To decide which skippers’ ticket is right for you, one of the first decisions you need to make is what kind of job you want to get into.

There are many different options to make money on the water, but where do you see yourself working in future? Is it your goal to work on a small fishing boat or water taxi with the independence to run your own business? Or would you rather skipper a passenger ferry or tourist boat.

These are just two of many possible career options and, depending on what it is you want to do, you’ll need a different type of skipper’s ticket.

To make sure you’re working towards the right qualification, it is important to think about what you’d love to do the most.

The best way to discover your passion is by getting hands-on experience on the water. Most successful skippers started off at the bottom and worked their way up. They have taken on many different roles on many different ships and have gained practical skills and experience in the process. Skippers that try to take shortcuts, on the other hand, tend to be less respected by their crews and can lack invaluable skillsets.

Let’s take a quick look at the different kinds of skipper’s licence and how you can choose the option that’s right for you.

The Different Kinds of Skipper’s Licence in New Zealand

First off, you need to decide which type of skipper’s licence you need.

There are several different options, and you can choose from both New Zealand and Australian courses as the Certificates of Competence are recognised between both countries.

The main entry maritime courses in New Zealand prepare the student for:

  • General Purpose Hand (Aus) converts to Qualified Deck Crew (NZ)
  • Coxswain Grade 1 (Aus) converts to Skipper Restricted Limits <12m
  • Skipper Restricted Limits (SRL)
  • Master <24 Near Coastal (Aus) converts to Skipper Coastal Offshore
  • Marine Engine Driver Grade 2 or 3 (Aus) (converts to Marine Engineer Class 5 or 6

Comparison of different skipper's courses

See which course is right for you based on the qualification you receive, the job opportunities, and the course requirements

Course Outcome Job Opportunities Time & Cost (course fees excl GST)
General Purpose Hand Crew on a domestic commercial vessel up to 24 metres and get paid experience to become a skipper Crew on passenger ferries, fishing boats, whale watch vessels, work boats 1 week (5 days)
$1000 course fee + $490 assessment and lodgement + $155 AMSA application
Coxswain Grade 1 Skipper a commercial vessel up to 12m up to 12 nautical miles from shore Skipper a water taxi, dive boat, inshore fishing boat, tug, catamarans, tourism vessel, 3 weeks (14 days) $2990 + $490 for assessment and CoC lodgement + $155 AMSA application.
Skipper Restricted Limits Skipper a commercial vessel up to 12 meters (24 metres with endorsement) up to 12 nautical miles from shore Skipper a water taxi, dive boat, inshore fishing vessel, passenger ferry, tug, 5-week block course preceded by at 20 weeks home study.

$1295 + $368 MNZ application. Eligible for Fees Free

Master <24 Near Coastal


Skipper a commercial vessel up to 24m out to 200 nautical miles from shore Fishing vessels, work boats, tugs, city ferries, high speed catamarans, offshore sailing 4 weeks (21 days) $3750 $490 for assessment and CoC lodgement + $155 AMSA application.
Marine Engine Driver Grade 2 or 3 Work as a marine engineer or combine with a skippers’ ticket e Work as the engineer on passenger and non-passenger domestic vessels, second engineer on fishing vessel any size any area. 2 weeks $2990 + $490 for assessment and CoC lodgement + $155 AMSA application.

Depending on which certificate of competence you choose, you will be able to skipper different types of vessels. You can also combine certificates to help further your career giving you more options in the maritime industry

Let’s take a closer look at the different maritime and skipper’s courses and how to choose the one that’s right for you.

General Purpose Hand

Work on the deck or in the engine room of vessels up to 80m within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ)

As a general purpose hand, you can gain practical experience on the deck or in the engine room of vessels up to 80m. This is a great stepping stone towards becoming a skipper, as it gives you the opportunity to learn and practice new hands-on skills.

With this qualification, you can undertake a wide range of maritime work at sea and around the waterfront in communications, seamanship, logistics, tourism, and hospitality.

SRL Course or Coxswain Grade 1?

Skipper a commercial vessel up to 12m up to 12 nautical miles from shore

The Skipper Restricted Limits and Coxswain Grade 1 NC certificates both qualify you to operate a vessel less than 12m usually up to 12 nautical miles from shore and can be recognised in either country (New Zealand and Australia). So, these are both suitable options if you want to skipper tourist operator boats like water taxis, whale watching boats, or small inshore fishing vessels. You can complete either of the pre-requisite skipper courses right here in New Zealand.

The main differences are time, cost, and endorsements. The Skipper Restricted Limits (SRL) can have endorsements. These endorsements are up to 24 metres, 500GT or up to 3000GT. The Coxswain Grade 1 and the Skipper Restricted Limits certificates are mutually recognised between Australia and New Zealand under the Trans-Tasman Mutual Recognition Act.

With an SRL, you can get a 24m or larger endorsement without doing another course. The Coxswain Grade 1 course is designed for vessels up to 12m.

If you want to skipper a vessel between 12m and 24m, then you can opt for either the SRL with the 24m endorsement or the Australian Master <24 Near Coastal course.

At the end of the day, you can get the same outcome with the SRL or the Australian Coxswain Grade 1 skipper courses, but the paths to getting there are slightly different.

While the SRL course is a 5-week block course with around 4 months of prior learning, the Coxswain course can be completed in a 14-day sitting. If time is an important factor for you, then the Coxswain course may be the better option. On the flipside, if course costs are a major consideration, then the SRL course may be the better option for you as it is a funded course, and you may be eligible for fees free study. Here is a full comparison table outlining both courses in more detail.

Master <24 Near Coastal Course

Skipper a commercial vessel up to 24m up to 200 nautical miles from shore

If you want to work further offshore, for example skippering a commercial fishing boat, yacht deliveries, or towing, then the Master <24 Near Coastal could be a great option for you.

This Australian Master <24 certificate is equivalent to the New Zealand Skipper Coastal Offshore (SCO) qualification, but you can complete it in 21 days (as opposed to 6 months for the Skipper Coastal Offshore, which is really 15 weeks in the classroom preceded by 10 weeks online).

You can then easily convert your Australian certificate to the New Zealand (SCO) certificate. which will allow you to skipper a commercial vessel up to 24m out to 200 nautical miles.

Apart from being a lot faster to complete, another benefit of the Australian maritime courses is that they are the same price for domestic and international students. So you won’t get stung with extremely high course fees if you’re a work or resident visa holder.

Marine Engine Driver Grade 2 or 3 Courses

Work as a marine engineer or combine with a skipper’s ticket

If you enjoy the mechanical side of boats, then this could be the right path for you. To be even more employable, combine this with your skipper’s ticket.

The Marine Engine Driver Grade 2 or 3 certificate will allow you to work in the engine room of a vessel and oversee the operation and maintenance of motorised equipment.

You can be a chief engineer on non-passenger vessels out to 200 miles or passenger vessels out to 100 miles You can also work as a second engineer on a fishing ship of any propulsion power in any operating area.

Although it’s an Australian certificate, this course is recognised by Maritime New Zealand as equivalent to the Marine Engineer Class 5 or 6 certificate of competence, and you can easily convert your ticket to be valid in New Zealand.

That way, you can get the same qualification in just two weeks that would otherwise take you 6 months (which really means 15 weeks online followed by 10 full weeks in the classroom).

How Long Does It Take to get my Skipper’s Ticket?

How long it takes to get your skipper’s ticket depends on which course you do. While the New Zealand courses all grew to 6 months a few years ago, the Australian maritime courses remained at the original length.

Therefore, the NZ courses are now substantially longer than their Australian counterparts.  One theory for the extension of NZ courses is that New Zealand schools are able to attract more government funding by making courses longer. Much of this is accomplished with months of fulltime “online learning” prior to students attending the block courses.

For example, the NZ Marine Engineer Class 5 (MEC5) used to be a two to three-week course, just like the equivalent AUS MED2 course is. Now, the NZ MEC5 course is 6 months of full-time study including 10 weeks in the classroom. The AUS engineering course remains two to three weeks in duration.

If you are from overseas, there are no additional international fees for the AUS courses. This means the MED2 course costs you less than $4000, while the international fees for NZ courses is around $16000.

The Australian entry level ticket is the Coxswain certificate. The course is only 15 days and allows the skipper to operate a vessel up to 12m. The NZ course for SRL is a five-week block course plus four months self-directed / guided study. These certificates are mutually recognised as equivalent by both countries. The main difference is you can get a 24m endorsement on an SRL ticket, whereas to operate a vessel between 12 and 24m in Australia, you need to step up to the Master 24 NC, which is equivalent to the NZ Skipper Coastal Offshore.

How Do I Convert my Australian Skipper’s Ticket?

Converting your Australian skipper’s certificate of competency to work in New Zealand is a very straightforward process. All you need to do is pay a fee and apply to have your certificate recognised by Maritime New Zealand.

From the moment you apply, you are legally allowed to work in New Zealand, as long as you meet NZ requirements. (I.e. the type of vessel and conditions are equivalent to the corresponding NZ qualification).

It is equally straightforward to convert your NZ certificate to work in Australia under the Trans-Tasman mutual recognition act. If you already hold the SRL – or any other NZ certificate – and want to have it recognised in Australia, you can simply submit an application to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

This easy transferability between NZ and our neighbours across the Tasman means that you will have even more career options available.

Career Options

There is a lot happening in the world right now with Covid 19, and many industries have been left reeling. But the maritime industry has proven resilient and is continuing to go strong. Because most jobs you can do as a skipper are considered essential, it is a safe and future-proof career path. Even in today’s uncertain times, where nobody quite knows what curveballs may lie ahead.

Let’s take a look at some popular career options for skippers in New Zealand…

Seafood industry

The seafood industry is no-doubt the biggest maritime job provider, and it has proven very resilient to the impacts of the current Covid outbreak. In fact, many companies working in this sector are actively seeking more competent, dedicated, and qualified skippers to captain their working boats.

Although offshore fishing is probably the first sector that comes to mind, the seafood industry also includes inshore mussel, crayfish, and fish farms. So, regardless if you’re looking to work offshore or inshore, there are plenty of career opportunities available.

The seafood industry also provides plenty of opportunities to work your way up in your career. you may start out working as a deckhand, then skippering smaller boats closer to shore, where you can always progress to overseeing larger, offshore vessels.

Work boats

Another robust industry you can work in is skippering work boats. This includes everything from large passenger ferries, to harbour tugs and coastguard vessels.

All of these options make for a fun and interesting work life, and your days will be filled with lots of variety. Plus, you’ll usually earn a higher salary than working in the tourism industry.

A further bonus of skippering work boats is that you may be able to work shift rotations, which gives you more blocked time off to enjoy. And there are always plenty of opportunities to upskill with more experience and training.

Tourist industry

Although the tourist industry has been less resilient to the current Covid outbreak, it still provides plenty of career opportunities for skippers to work in a fun and exciting sector.

Skipper career options in tourism include work on commercial fishing charters, whale watching boats, water taxis, private charters and many more. Here, you get to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery New Zealand has to offer and interact with fun-loving adventure seekers all day long.

If you opt for a skipper career in the tourist industry, no two days will be the same. Your schedule will be diverse, and trips are usually customised to the group, conditions, or occasion. You’ll get to meet people from different cultures, countries, and walks of life, and get paid to go on trips many people consider “once in a lifetime” opportunities.

You can also get involved in eco-friendly activities like skippering for the Department of Conservation.

How Much can I Make as a Skipper?

How much you earn as a skipper depends on which industry you work in and which type of boat you skipper.

While inshore fishing skippers start on a salary of approximately $40 – $80k a year, deep sea fishing skippers can make anywhere between $130 – $280k.

Salaries on tourist and work boats vary but are more in line with those of inshore skippers than offshore skippers.

That said, all skipper career paths offer plenty of opportunities to work your way up, and it’s not uncommon for experienced inshore skippers to earn up to $100k a year.

How do I Prepare for my Skipper Course?

Before you decide on a skipper’s course, there are a few things you can do to prepare. Most importantly, you’ll want to gain some practical experience on the water and find yourself the right maritime training school.

If you’re looking for a pathway towards becoming a skipper, then  starting off as a general purpose hand may be a great option. This allows you to gain practical seatime experience and explore a range of industries.

Get Some Experience on the Water

The best thing you can do to prepare for your skipper course is to get experience on the water. Most skipper courses have certain sea time requirements, which means that you must have spent several hours on the water before you can complete your qualification.

But aside from the course-related sea time requirements, it is always a good idea to get out on boats and start getting practical, hands-on experience even if it means volunteering. That way, you can try your hand in different areas or industries and get a feel for which types of boats you enjoy working on the most.

You will also be able to learn from more experienced skippers and experience different sea conditions. Not to mention start making contacts in the industry and gaining practical insights into nature of the job that awaits you.

Find Yourself the Right Maritime Training School

To gain your skipper’s ticket, you’ll need to complete the appropriate course at an approved maritime training school. There are several schools in New Zealand that offer skipper training courses, but not all courses run the same.

Some courses rely heavily on self-directed online learning, while others have a more practical focus. The outcome is the same, so which type of course you choose will depend on your preferred learning style.

At Skippertraining, we have a strong practical, hands-on focus. Our teachers value personal interaction with our students, and we offer many options to cater to students’ different learning needs.

We offer all our students the highest level of support, both inside and outside of the classroom.

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