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Tides and Currents

(See Glossary Below) 

 Listed below is a table of contents of the questions on this subject as they appear in the new online study.

From the pull down menu in the online study select from the following topics:

  • All New USCG Deck Question Databank 9_20_13
    • TIDES AND CURRENTS
      • DEFINITIONS
        • CURRENTS
        • OCEAN CURRENTS
        • TIDAL CURRENTS
        • TIDAL CURRENTS TABLES
        • TIDES
        • TIDE TABLES
      • WORKING PROBLEMS
        • CURRENT PROBLEMS
        • CURRENT PROBLEMS/2M-CM
        • TIDE PROBLEMS "SOLUTIONS INCLUDED"
        • TIDE PROBLEMS/2M-CM

  If you are studying for a United States Coast Guard Deck License exam which includes this module, you should  work through these questions until you are scoring 80% or better on them.

  The following publications contains reference material for use during an examination for a merchant marine deck license. They contains excerpts from the Tide Tables and the Tidal Current Tables. Some navigation problems require determining the tide or tidal current for a specific time of day. The data necessary for solving these problems is contained in these manuals.

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GLOSSARY OF TERMS

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ANNUAL INEQUALITY---Seasonal variation in the water level or current, more or less periodic, due chiefly to meteorological causes. .

APOGEAN TIDES OR TIDAL CURRENTS---Tides of decreased range or currents of decreased speed occurring monthly as the result of the Moon being in apogee (farthest from the Earth).

AUTOMATIC TIDE GAGE---An instrument that automatically registers the rise and fall of the tide. In some instruments, the registration is accomplished by recording the heights at regular intervals in digital format, in others by a continuous graph in which the height, versus corresponding time of the tide, is recorded.

BENCH MARK (BM)---A fixed physical object or marks used as reference for a vertical datum. A tidal bench mark is one near a tide station to which the tide staff and tidal datums are referred. A geodetic bench mark identifies a surveyed point in the National Geodetic Vertical Network.

CHART DATUM---The tidal datum to which soundings on a chart are referred. It is usually taken to correspond to a low water elevation of the tide, and its depression below mean sea level is represented by the symbol Zo.

CURRENT---Generally, a horizontal movement of water. Currents may be classified as tidal and nontidal. Tidal currents are caused by gravitational interactions between the Sun, Moon, and Earth and are a part of the same general movement of the sea that is manifested in the vertical rise and fall, called tide. Nontidal currents include the permanent currents in the general circulatory systems of the sea as well as temporary currents arising from more pronounced meteorological variability.

CURRENT DIFFERENCE---Difference between the time of slack water (or minimum current) or strength of current in any locality and the time of the corresponding phase of the tidal current at a reference station, for which predictions are given in the Tidal Current Tables.

CURRENT ELLIPSE---A graphic representation of a rotary current in which the velocity of the current at different hours of the tidal cycle is represented by radius vectors and vectorial angles. A line joining the extremities of the radius vectors will form a curve roughly approximating an ellipse. The cycle is completed in one-half tidal day or in a whole tidal day according to whether the tidal current is of the semidiurnal or the diurnal type. A current of the mixed type will give a curve of two unequal loops each tidal day.

CURRENT METER---An instrument for measuring the speed and direction or just the speed of a current. The measurements are usually Eulerian since the meter is most often fixed or moored at a specific location.

DATUM (vertical)---For marine applications, a base elevation used as a reference from which to reckon heights or depths. It is called a tidal datum when defined by a certain phase of the tide. Tidal datums are local datums and should not be extended into areas which have differing topographic features without substantiating measurements. In order that they may be recovered when needed, such datums are referenced to fixed points known as bench marks.

DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME---A time used during the summer in some localities in which clocks are advanced 1 hour from the usual standard time.

DIURNAL---Having a period or cycle of approximately 1 tidal day. Thus, the tide is said to be diurnal when only one high water and one low water occur during a tidal day, and the tidal current is said to be diurnal when there is a single flood and single ebb period in the tidal day. A rotary current is diurnal if it changes its direction through all points of the compass once each tidal day.

DIURNAL INEQUALITY---The difference in height of the two high waters or of the two low waters of each day; also the difference in speed between the two flood tidal currents or the two ebb tidal currents of each day. The difference changes with the declination of the Moon and to a lesser extent with the declination of the Sun. In general, the inequality tends to increase with an increasing declination, either north or south, and to diminish as the Moon approaches the Equator. Mean diurnal high water inequality (DHQ) is one-half the average difference between the two high waters of each day observed over a specific 19-year Metonic cycle (the National Tidal Datum Epoch). It is obtained by subtracting the mean of all high waters from the mean of the higher high waters. Mean diurnal low water inequality (DLQ) is one-half the average difference between the two low waters of each day observed over a specific 19-year Metonic cycle (the National Tidal Datum Epoch). It is obtained by subtracting the mean of the lower low waters from the mean of all low waters. Tropic high water inequality (HWQ) is the average difference between the two high waters of the day at the times of the tropic tides. Tropic low water inequality (LWQ) is the average difference between the two low waters of the day at the times of the tropic tides. Mean and tropic inequalities as defined above are applicable only when the type of tide is either semidiurnal or mixed. Diurnal inequality is sometimes called declinational inequality.

DOUBLE EBB---An ebb tidal current where, after ebb begins, the speed increases to a maximum called first ebb; it then 'decreases, reaching a minimum ebb near the middle of the ebb period (and at some places it may actually run in a flood direction for a short period); it then again ebbs to a maximum speed called second ebb after which it decreases to slack water.

DOUBLE FLOOD---A flood tidal current where, after  flood begins, the speed increases to a maximum called first flood; it then decreases, reaching a minimum flood near the middle of the flood period (and at some places it may actually run in an ebb direction for a short period); it then again floods to a maximum speed called second flood after which it decreases to slack water.

DOUBLE TIDE---A double-headed tide, that is, a high water consisting of two maxima of nearly the same height separated by a relatively small depression, or a low water consisting of two minima separated by a relatively small elevation. Sometimes, it is called an agger.

DURATION OF FLOOD AND DURATION OF EBB---Duration of flood is the interval of time in which a tidal current is flooding, and the duration of ebb is the interval in which it is ebbing. Together they cover, on an average, a period of 12.42 hours for a semidiurnal tidal current or a period of 24.84 hours for a diurnal current. In a normal semidiurnal tidal current, the duration of flood and duration of ebb will each be approximately equal to 6.21 hours, but the times may be modified greatly by the presence of a nontidal flow. In a river the duration of ebb is usually longer than the duration of flood because of the freshwater discharge, especially during the spring when snow and ice melt are the predominant influences.

DURATION OF RISE AND DURATION OF FALL---Duration of rise is the interval from low water to high water, and duration of fall is the interval from high water to low water. Together they cover, on an average, a period of 12.42 hours for a semidiurnal tide or a period of 24.84 hours for a diurnal tide. In a normal semidiurnal tide, the duration of rise and duration of fall will each be approximately equal to 6.21 hours, but in shallow waters and in rivers there is a tendency for a decrease in the duration of rise and a corresponding increase in the duration of fall.

EBB CURRENT--- the movement of a tidal current away from shore or down a tidal river or estuary. In the mixed type of reversing tidal current, the terms greater ebb and lesser ebb are applied respectively to the ebb tidal currents of greater and lesser speed of each day. The terms maximum ebb and minimum ebb are applied to the maximum and minimum speeds of a current running continuously ebb, the speed alternately increasing and decreasing without coming to a slack or reversing. The expression maximum ebb is also applicable to any ebb current at the time of greatest speed.

EQUATORIAL TIDAL CURRENTS---Tidal currents occurring semimonthly as a result of the Moon being over the Equator. At these times the tendency of the Moon to produce a diurnal inequality in the tidal current is at a minimum. EQUATORIAL TIDES-Tides occurring semimonthly as the result of the Moon being over the Equator. At these times the tendency of the Moon to produce a diurnal inequality in the tide is at a minimum.

FLOOD CURRENT---The movement of a tidal current toward the shore or up a tidal river or estuary. In the mixed type of reversing current. the terms greater flood and lesser flood are applied respectively to the flood currents of greater and lesser speed of each day. The terms maximum flood and minimum flood are applied to the maximum and minimum speeds of a flood current, the speed of which alternately increases and decreases without coming to a slack or reversing. The expression maximum flood is also applicable to any flood current at the time of greatest speed.

GREAT DIURNAL RANGE (Gt)---The difference in height between mean higher high water and mean lower low water. The expression may also be used in its contracted form, diurnal range.

GULF COAST LOW WATER DATUM---A chart datum. Specifically, the tidal datum designated for the coastal waters of the Gulf Coast of the United States. It is defined as mean lower low water when the type of tide is mixed and mean low water when the type of tide is diurnal.

HALF-TIDE LEVEL---See mean tide level.

HIGH WATER (HW)---The maximum height reached by a rising tide. The height may be due solely to the periodic tidal forces or it may have superimposed upon it the effects of prevailing meteorological conditions. Use of the synonymous term, high tide, is discouraged.

HIGHER HIGH WATER (HHW)---The higher of the two high waters of any tidal day.

HIGHER LOW WATER (HLW)---The higher of the two low waters of any tidal day.

HYDRAULIC CURRENT---A current in a channel caused by a difference in the surface level at the two ends. Such a current may be expected in a strait connecting two bodies of water in which the tides differ in time or range. The current in the East River, N.Y., connecting Long Island Sound and New York Harbor, is an example.

KNOT---A speed unit of I international nautical mile (1,852.0 meters or 6.076.11549 international feet) per hour.

LOW WATER (LW)---The minimum height reached by a falling tide. The height may be due solely to the periodic tidal forces it may have superimposed upon it the effects of meteorological conditions. Use of the synonymous term, low tide, is discouraged. LOWER HIGH WATER (LHW)-The lower of the two high waters of any tidal day.

LOWER LOW WATER (LLW)---The lower of the two low waters of any tidal day.

LUNAR DAY---The time of the rotation of the Earth with respect to the Moon, or the interval between two successive upper transits of the Moon over the meridian of a place. The mean lunar day is approximately 24.84 solar hours long, or 1.035 times as long as the mean solar day.

LUNAR INTERVAL---The difference in time between the transit of the Moon over the meridian of Greenwich and over a local meridian. The average value of this interval expressed in hours is 0.069 L, in which L is the local longitude in degrees, positive for west longitude and negative for east longitude. The lunar interval equals the difference between the local and Greenwich interval of a tide or current phase.

LUNICURRENT  INTERVAL---The interval between the Moon's transit (upper or lower) over the local or Greenwich meridian and a specified  phase of the tidal current following the transit. Examples: strength of flood interval and strength of ebb interval, which may be abbreviated to flood interval and ebb interval, respectively. The interval is described as local or Greenwich according to whether the reference is to the Moon's transit over the local or Greenwich meridian. When not otherwise specified, the reference is assumed to be local.

LUNITIDAL INTERVAL---The interval between the Moon's transit (upper or lower) over the local or Greenwich meridian and the following high or low water. The average of all high water intervals for all phases of the Moon is known as mean high water lunitidal interval and is abbreviated to high water interval (HWI). Similarly the mean low water lunitidal interval is abbreviated to low water interval (LWI). The interval is described as local or Greenwich according to whether the reference is to the transit over the local or Greenwich meridian. When not otherwise specified, the reference is assumed to be local.

MEAN HIGH WATER (MHW)---A tidal datum.The average of all the high water heights observed over the National Tidal Datum Epoch. (See High Water.) For stations with shorter series, simultaneous observational comparisons are made with a control tide station in order to derive the equivalent of a 19-year datum. MEAN HIGHER HIGH WATER (MHHW)- A tidal datum. The average of the highest high water height of each tidal day observed over the National Tidal Datum Epoch. For stations with shorter series, simultaneous observational comparisons are made with a control tide station in order to derive the equivalent of a 19-year datum.

MEAN HIGHER HIGH WATER LINE (MHHWL)---The intersection of the land with the water surface at the elevation of mean higher high water.

MEAN LOW WATER (MLW)---A tidal datum. The average of all the low water heights observed over the National Tidal Datum Epoch. (See Low Water.) For stations with shorter series, simultaneous observational comparisons are made with a control tide station in order to derive the equivalent of a 19-year datum.

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MEAN LOW WATER SPRINGS (MLWS) ---A tidal datum. Frequently abbreviated spring low water. The arithmetic mean of the low water heights occurring at the time of the spring tides observed over a specific 19-year Metronic cycle (the National Tidal Datum Epoch).

MEAN LOWER LOW WATER (MLLW)---A tidal datum. The average of the lowest low water height of each tidal day observed over the National Tidal Datum Epoch. For stations with shorter series, simultaneous observational comparisons are made with a control tide station in order to derive the equivalent of a 19 year datum.

MEAN RANGE OF TIDE (Mn)---The difference in height between mean high water and mean low water.

MEAN RIVER LEVEL---A tidal datum. The average height of the surface of a tidal river at any point for all stages of the tide observed over a 19-year Metonic cycle (the National Tidal Datum Epoch), usually determined from hourly height readings. In rivers subject to occasional freshets the river level may undergo wide variations, and for practical purposes certain months of the year may be excluded in the determination of tidal datums. For charting purposes, tidal datums for rivers are usually based on observations during selected periods when the river is at or near low water stage.

MEAN SEA LEVEL (MSL)---A tidal datum. The arithmetic mean of hourly water elevations observed over a specific 19-year Metonic cycle (the National Tidal Datum Epoch). Shorter series are specified in the name; e.g., monthly mean sea level and yearly mean sea level.

MEAN TIDE LEVEL (MTL)---Also called half-tide level. A tidal datum midway between mean high water and mean low water.

MIXED TIDE---Type of tide with a large inequality in the high and/or low water heights, with two high waters and two low waters usually occurring each tidal day. In strictness, all tides are mixed but the name is usually applied to the tides intermediate to those predominantly semidiurnal and those predominantly diurnal.

NEAP TIDES OR TIDAL CURRENTS---Tides of decreased range or tidal currents of decreased speed occurring semimonthly as the result of the Moon being in quadrature. The neap range (Np) of the tide is the average semidiurnal range occurring at the time of neap tides and is most conveniently computed from the harmonic constants. It is smaller than the mean range where the type of tide is either semidiurnal or mixed and is of no practical significance where the type of tide is diurnal. The average height of the high waters of the neap tides is called neap high water or high water neaps (MHWN) and the average height of the corresponding low waters is called neap low water or low water neaps (MLWN) .

PERIGEAN TIDES OR TIDAL CURRENTS---Tides of increased range or tidal currents of increased speed occurring monthly as the result of the Moon being in perigee or nearest the Earth. The perigean range (Pn) of tide is the average semidiurnal range occurring at the time of perigean tides and is most conveniently computed from the harmonic constants. It is larger than the mean range where the type of tide is either semidiurnal or mixed, and is of no practical significance where the type of tide is diurnal.

RANGE OF TIDE---The difference in height between consecutive high and low waters. The mean range is the difference in height between mean high water and mean low water. Where the type of tide is diurnal the mean range is the same as the diurnal range. For other ranges, see great diurnal, spring, neap, perigean, apogean, and tropic tides.

REFERENCE STATION---A tide or current station for which independent daily predictions are given in the Tide Tables and Tidal Current Tables, and from which corresponding predictions are obtained for subordinate stations by means of differences and ratios.

REVERSING CURRENT---A tidal current which flows alternately in approximately opposite directions with a slack water at each reversal of direction. Currents of this type usually occur in rivers and straits where the direction of flow is more or less restricted to certain channels. When the movement is towards the shore or up a stream, the current is said to be flooding, and when in the opposite direction it is said to be ebbing. The combined flood and ebb movement including the slack water covers, on an average, 12.42 hours for the semidiurnal current. If unaffected by a nontidal flow, the flood and ebb movements will each last about 6 hours, but when combined with such a flow, the durations of flood and ebb may be quite unequal. During the flow in each direction the speed of the current will vary from zero at the time of slack water to a maximum about midway between the slacks.

ROTARY CURRENT---A tidal current that flows continually with the direction of flow changing through all points of the compass during the tidal period. Rotary currents are usually found &shore where the direction of flow is not restricted by any barriers. The tendency for the rotation in direction has its origin in the Coriolis force and, unless modified by local conditions, the change is clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern. The speed of the current usually varies throughout the tidal cycle, passing through the two maxima in approximately opposite directions and the two minima with the direction of the current at approximately 90° from the direction at time of maximum speed.

SEMIDIURNAL---Having a period or cycle of approximately one-half of a tidal day. The predominating type of tide throughout the world is semidiurnal, with two high waters and two low waters each tidal day. The tidal current is said to be semidiurnal when there are two flood and two ebb periods each day.

SET (OF CURRENT)---The direction towards which the current flows.

SLACK WATER---The state of a tidal current when its speed is near zero, especially the moment when a reversing current changes direction and its speed is zero. The term is also applied to the entire period of low speed near the time of turning of the current when it is too weak to be of any practical importance in navigation. The relation of the time of slack water to the tidal phases varies in different localities. For standing tidal waves, slack water occurs near the times of high and low water, while for progressive tidal waves, slack water occurs midway between high and low water.

SPRING TIDES OR TIDAL CURRENTS ---Tides of increased range or tidal currents of increased speed occurring semimonthly as the result of the Moon being new or full. The spring range (Sg) of tide is the average semidiurnal range occurring at the time of spring tides and is most conveniently computed from the harmonic constants. It is larger than the mean range where the type of tide is either semidiurnal or mixed, and is of no practical significance where the type of tide is diurnal. The mean of the high waters of the spring tide is called spring high water or mean high water springs (MHWS), and the average height of the corresponding low waters is called spring low water or mean low water springs (MLWS).

STAND OF TIDE---Sometimes called a platform tide. An interval at high or low water when there is no sensible change in the height of the tide. The water level is stationary at high and low water for only an instant, but the change in level near these times is so slow that it is not usually perceptible. In general, the duration of the apparent stand will depend upon the range of tide, being longer for a small range than for a large range, but where there is a tendency for a double tide the stand may last for several hours even with a large range of tide.

STANDARD TIME---A kind of time based upon the transit of the Sun over a certain specified meridian, called the time meridian, and adopted for use over a considerable area. With a few exceptions, standard time is based upon some meridian which differs by a multiple of 15°  from the meridian of Greenwich.

STRENGTH OF CURRENT---Phase of tidal current in which the speed is a maximum; also the speed at this time. Beginning with slack before flood in the period of a reversing tidal current (or minimum before flood in a rotary Current) , the speed gradually increases to flood strength and then diminishes to slack before ebb (or minimum before ebb in a rotary current), after which the current turns in direction, the speed increases to ebb strength and then diminishes to slack before flood completing the cycle. If it is assumed that the speed throughout the cycle varies as the ordinates of a cosine curve, it can be shown that the average speed for an entire flood or ebb period is equal to 2/π or 0.6366 of the speed of the corresponding strength of current.

SUBORDINATE CURRENT STATION---(1) A current station from which a relatively short series of observations is reduced by comparison with simultaneous observations from a control current station. (2) A station listed in the Tidal Current Tables for which predictions are to be obtained by means of differences and ratios applied to the full predictions at a reference station.

SUBORDINATE TIDE STATION---(1) A tide station from which a relatively short series of observations is reduced by comparison with simultaneous observations from a tide station with a relatively long series of observations. (2) A station listed in the Tide Tables for which predictions are to be obtained by means of differences and ratios applied to the full predictions at a reference station.

TIDAL CURRENT TABLES---Tables which give daily predictions of the times and speeds of the tidal currents. These predictions are usually supplemented by current differences and constants through which additional predictions can be obtained for numerous other places.

TIDAL DIFFERENCE---Difference in time or height of a high or low water at a subordinate station and at a reference station for which predictions are given in the Tide Tables. The difference, when applied according to sign to the prediction at the reference station, gives the corresponding time or height for the subordinate station.

TIDE---The periodic rise and fall of the water resulting from gravitational interactions between the Sun. Moon, and Earth. The vertical component of the particulate motion of a tidal wave. Although the accompanying horizontal movement of the water is part of the same phenomenon, it is preferable to designate the motion as tidal current.

TIDE TABLES---Tables which give daily predictions of the times and heights of high and low waters. These predictions are usually supplemented by tidal differences and constants through which additional predictions can be obtained for numerous other places.

TIME MERIDIAN---A meridian used as a reference for time.

TROPIC CURRENTS---Tidal currents occurring semimonthly when the effect of the Moon's maximum declination is greatest. At these times the tendency of the Moon to produce a diurnal inequality in the current is at a maximum.

TROPIC RANGES---The great tropic range (Gc) , or tropic range, is the difference in height between tropic higher high water and tropic lower low water. The small tropic range (Sc) is the difference in height between tropic lower high water and tropic higher low water. The mean tropic range (Mc) is the mean between the great tropic range and the small tropic range. The small tropic range and the mean tropic range are applicable only when the type of tide is semidiurnal or mixed. Tropic ranges are most conveniently computed from the harmonic constants.

TROPIC TIDES---Tides occurring semimonthly when the effect of the Moon's maximum declination is greatest. At these times there is a tendency for an increase in the diurnal range. The tidal datums pertaining to the tropic tides are designated as tropic higher high water (TcHHW), tropic lower high water (TcLHW), tropic higher low water (TcHLW), and tropic lower low water (TcLLW).

TYPE OF TIDE---A classification based on characteristic forms of a tide curve. Qualitatively, when the two high waters and two low waters of each tidal day are approximately equal in height, the tide is said to be semidiurnal; when there is a relatively large diurnal inequality in the high or low waters or both, it is said to be mixed; and when there is only one high water and one low water in each tidal day, it is said to be diurnal.

VANISHING TIDE---In a mixed tide with very large diurnal inequality, the lower high water (or higher low water) frequently becomes indistinct (or vanishes) at time of extreme declinations. During these periods the diurnal tide has such overriding dominance that the sernidiurnal tide, although still present, cannot be readily seen on the tide curve.

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