After the last 10 months living here in Belize we realized how much we miss boating. Sure, we have lots of friends with boats…but there’s nothing like having your very own boat. Since we’ve owned boats for so long, it’s hard to live on such beautiful water and not have one.
But – we live in Belize – can we just buy a boat and drive it around?
The answer – “Absolutely not”. We need to get a captain’s license to drive a boat.
How do we get a captain’s license you ask?
Well you drive down to the very southern part of the island and find the Port Authority building….this is where you pay for and take your written test….yup, a written test.
We spoke to several people and asked about what we needed to take the test and get our license and we were told that we needed a utility bill and the title to our condo…..sounds easy enough.
So we made copies of the documents that we were told we needed, took the 40 minute drive down to the Port Authority and walked in ready to get our licenses.
We gave the men our paperwork and they said it all looks good….they just needed to see our passports before they’d let us take the test……ummmmm…..crap. We didn’t know we needed those…..
Note: anytime you do any official business in Belize always bring your passport
The guys at Port Authority just told us to come back with our passports and then take the written test. They said if we wanted to study for the test to get a copy of the book: Mariners Handbook (of course we are going to study now that we know there is a study guide!)
Great – we asked them if we could have a copy of the Mariners Handbook and they said they didn’t have any. Remember people – we need to take a written test and the book is NOT available……
How are we supposed to pass a test if there is no book to read?
People tell us to just give the guys “a tip” and that may get you what you want (we’ve tried tipping in Mexico and it never worked out) – So we are dead set against this “tipping” in Belize and want to do everything by the book. (Even if we cannot find the book)
The guys at Port Authority told us that Captain Sharks should have the book…..so we left the south end of the island and drove back to town stopping in at Captain Sharks to pick up our study guide.
When we asked for the book at Captain Sharks they responded, “We don’t have any of those, go down to the Port Authority – they will have them”.
Step one of getting your captain’s license: Find the book
Then we turned to all of our friends….we have tons of friends down here that have their captain’s licenses and took the test…I’m sure somebody will have a copy lying around……as we called our friends their answers varied from: “I’m sure I used to have it, but have no idea what happened to it” – to “I didn’t take the test, I just had Benjamin Franklin take it for me”….to “I just knew somebody”……etc, etc,etc.
Basically none of our friends had the book either.
We took our search to the internet…..maybe this phantom “Mariner’s Handbook” is online? (did you just laugh out loud? We think we heard you)…….but no, no online version of this book.
But we did find several blogs about it and that we might be able to find it in a used book store or a souvenir shop in town…..why not try? So we hunted and hunted around town in every used book store (all 2 of them) and gift shop in town…..we even went to the Hol Chan Marine Preserve office and asked them…..they knew they used to have some copies lying around but had no idea where they went.
Hmmmmmmm…..the ending result of all of our searching was zero book…..zero options where to find the book – until – we spoke to the Dock Master here at Grand Caribe and he knew somebody in Belize City at the Port Authority there…..he called the “big city” office and they said YES – they have the book!
Ok – so how do we get the book over to us on Ambergris Caye? You put it on an airplane and fly it over. That sounds “simple enough”.
A couple of days passed and the book still never made it on the plane – but thankfully our Dock Master was persistent with his friends and he found an actual copy of the book, on the island. Strangely enough, the exact same hour we had the book in our hands, one of the bloggers that had written about the book sent us pictures of the book he had. Miraculous – we got 2 copies of the phantom handbook in the same hour!
Step one complete…we had the book in our hands….now to study and take the written test.
Step 2 – The Written Test
Even though it’s a long drive down to the Port Authority, it’s a really fun tour of the island….lots of bright houses…
The area around the Port Authority…
The guys at the Port Authority were great…..they sat each of us at our own desk and gave us each a test. 25 questions….some true/false, some multiple choice and one where we had to come up with the answer. We were given 50 minutes to answer the 25 questions…..after about 20 minutes we were both done with our tests…..we handed them to the examiner and waited and watched while he graded the tests and marked the answers…..
Ronnie taking his test….
He used a red pen with lots of pride as he marked each answer with a check or an X…..we waited and watched in anticipation…..the suspense was killing us as he wasn’t telling us how we were doing.
After the tortuous minutes passed he finally handed us our graded tests….we both passed! Yeah! (and if you can believe it we both got the exact same score too!)
Step 3 – The Practical
After passing the written test there is also the “driving test”…..where you need to bring your boat (or a friends boat) down to the Port Authority and pass a driving test….
Lisa asked, “Ok – so let me clarify this….once we pass the written test, we need to drive our boat down here and pass a driving test?” And they immediately said,” NO – YOU cannot drive your boat until you have your Captain’s License…you need to find a FRIEND or hire a CAPTAIN to drive you over here so you can take the test”.
We don’t have a boat yet so we needed a captain and a boat to take the test. Since it’s a very small island, word spread quickly that we needed to take the driving test and we got a lot of offers and suggestions – like Kendall from Ecologic who offered up one of his captains and a small boat, our friend Jose had a friend with a boat that he said we could use, and even Scott and Jodie from the Palapa Bar offered up their boat and time too to take us down to the “big event”.
In the end it was our great friend Scott who pulled through with the boat – and it worked out almost perfectly – since we don’t have phones we communicate through Facebook. The last thing we agreed on was, “We will meet you at the dock at 10:00 on Friday”.
So at 10:00 on Friday, we showed up at the dock at Scott and Jodie’s condo – but Scott showed up at the dock at the Palapa Bar – oops. Thankfully we saw Jodie right when we walked up to their condo dock and she was able to call Scott and have him come pick us up.
See – we don’t need a cell phone….things just have a way of working out.
Nothing like driving the Palapa Bar and Grill Boat “Fins Up” to take a driving test!
Approaching the Port Authority dock anxious to take our tests…
We even saw the Belikin Beer barge docking on our way to the dock! That had to be a great sign, right?
We tied up to the “dock”, hopped out ready to take our test….while walking to the building we walked past 2 barges that were unloading…..the ground was covered with (and the air was filled with) this fine dirt and sand combo…..and by the time we walked into the Port Authority building our sweaty bodies were completely covered in the powder……we left our house freshly showered looking fine and ended up at the Port Authority looking like a couple of breaded fish sticks ready for the fryer. Ronnie’s hair was white!
We met with the examiner and walked out into the dust storm – and like a puff puff of smoke into a clear blue sky our concerns about failing the test disappeared. Like Bob Marley sung, “Don’t worry – bout a ting – cause every little ting’s – gonna be alright”.
We both passed and then it was time to head to the Palapa Bar for celebratory drinks!
All in all getting a captain’s license was a fun experience…..the tests were not terribly difficult and it doesn’t take a lot of effort. The guys at Port Authority were great….and in the end we not only have our captain’s licenses we also know a lot more about boating in Belize – plus, next time we see the Port Authority guys around town we may take a few beers together.
In case anyone wants a copy of the mariner’s handbook and you can’t find it… Click here for a copy of the Belize Mariner’s Handbook