USCG Begins Phase-Out of Merchant Mariners’ “Red Book” for Modern Format

USCG Merchant Mariner Credential

Published Feb 26, 2024 7:28 PM by The Maritime Executive

A U.S. mariner’s most prized position, the “red book,” is going to be no more as the U.S. Coast Guard begins replacing it with a more modern and secure document. It is the first comprehensive revision of the mariner credential in nearly a decade and the end of one of the most familiar symbols of a mariner’s career.

The Merchant Mariner Credential, i.e. “the Red Book,” is a legacy passport-style for the credential which also has places for the associated endorsement labels. Professional U.S. mariners, working on all vessels from tugs, barges, coastal and inland crafts, to passenger boats, ferries, offshore supply vessels, and ocean going vessels are each required to carry one for employment.  

The Coast Guard will continue to be the only source to grant these credentials to mariners who meet the necessary qualifications enabling them to work on U.S. flagged vessels. However, the credentialing process is being updated, in part because the printers used for the books are badly outdated and due for replacement. The decision was made to replace the books with a new single double-sided sheet of waterproof synthetic paper. In a nod to tradition, however, it comes with folding instructions which according to the flyer, “Once folded, it has the look and feel of a passport and can be easily stored.”


The new format comes with folding instructions to make it into a style like the old book (USCG)


The transition also has critical security improvements. The updated credential incorporates improved security features such as anti-copy measures, micro-printing, foiling, and intricate patterns. Plus, it is on waterproof paper, but it can also be printed on readily available commercial desktop laser printers. Mariners also will no longer receive individual endorsement strikers, but instead, the endorsements will be incorporated into the backside of the new document.

Effective March 1, this Friday, the new format will be issued to all mariners receiving credentials. The existing passport-style credentials however will not be replaced immediately, instead, mariners will receive their new credential during the next application process with the USCG.

The Coast Guard reports it is planning a long-term credentialing solution in the form of an electronic credential. The e-credentials would contain all required information and security features to meet domestic and international requirements. In addition, the USCG plans to provide printing options for mariners to obtain paper or other non-electronic versions.