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I came across a YouTube channel of a pilot who calls himself 'Captain [name]'... this guy is a Microlight pilot. It made me cringe. Anyway, it also got me wondering, what type of license, if any, allows someone to use the title 'Captain' legally?

Clarification: I mean on official documentation, such as your name and title on a 'details' form, such as at a Doctor's office.*

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    $\begingroup$ It's not a legal question. $\endgroup$
    – GdD
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 11:18
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    $\begingroup$ It may depends on the country you are looking for, and if you are speaking as a "role" or as a "rank". And do not forget that "Captain" is not exclusive to aviation. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 11:19
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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate, although it answers a slightly different question: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/58812/… $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 11:31
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    $\begingroup$ Questions about using unearned titles, (that have broad meaning outside aviation) on doctor office forms are definitely more legal than aviation. I’m not saying we should close or move because it also fits here, just offering a counterpoint to @GdD’s unconditional proclamation. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ @757toga, those guys must have been full of hot air! Have you see the "Maestro" episode of Seinfeld? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 17:42

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"Captain" (or its German equivalent "Kapitän") is not a protected title. Everybody and anybody can call themselves "Captain" for any reason or no reason under any circumstance without any type of license required.

It is, of course, possible to sign a contract that regulates how you are allowed to use that title within the context laid out in said contract. For example, many airlines uses the title "Kapitän" to refer a pilot who has achieved a certain rank within said airline. So, if an airline pilot who has not attained the rank of Kapitän calls themselves a "Kapitän" within the context of their employment as a pilot of said airline, then this might be a violation of their employment contract and thus they might face disciplinary action. But this is a private contractual matter between said pilot and said airline, not a law. [Note: I don't know what an actual airline employment contract looks like and whether airlines actually enforce this.]

If, OTOH, that same pilot rents a sailboat and takes the rudder, or plays football and is elected as the Kapitän of his team, or rides a tandem with a friend, they can refer to themselves as a "Kapitän", and any articles of their employment contract that would prohibit this would be void.

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    $\begingroup$ It might be worth adding that misusing certain protected titles (e.g. Dr.) is a criminal offence in Germany (§ 132a StGB). "Captain" or "Kapitän" just isn't listed as protected (neither is "pilot" under protected job designations). $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 13:15
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The general form "Captain" is defined as

Captain is a title, an appellative for the commanding officer of a military unit; the supreme leader of a navy ship, merchant ship, aeroplane, spacecraft, or other vessel.

"Captain" is also a rank bestowed by one's employer when working on the flight deck of a commercial operation.

More generally, a "pilot in command" is the person who is ultimately responsible for the safe operation of an aircraft and in that respect when flying as a private pilot as PIC, you are the "pilot in command". More colloquially, this is informally referred to as the "Captain" and hence us PPL-types love to call ourselves "Captain [Surname]" as it makes us feel important!


With regard to your edit; no, it is not a title that you should put on an official or unofficial form of any sort. Where it is an option for "title", that would presumably be reserved by a military rank of the same name

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  • $\begingroup$ Cheers Jamie! So is it a 'Courtesy title' as described here? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Courtesy_titles_in_the_United_Kingdom $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ @Cloud It's not much different than "driver" for a car, "rider" for a bike, or, well, also "captain" for a boat. With the exception that cars don't have a "second driver". $\endgroup$
    – Therac
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Cloud I wouldn't call it a courtesy title, no. That seems to be specifically to do with nobility. $\endgroup$
    – Jamiec
    Commented Dec 19, 2022 at 13:16
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The title of Captain can officially be used by someone whom flys a multi-pilot aircraft (aeroplane or helicopter) that is the holder of an ATPL(A/H) (Airline Transportation Pilots License), and is the Pilot In Command (PIC) of the flight and qualified to the rank of Captain in a multi-pilot certified aircraft type and operation. The second pilot is First Officer (second in command) or Senior First Officer. It absolutely is an official title, recognised by Europe (EASA) the UK (UK CAA) and the US (FAA) as well as many other ICAO state members. In the case of a single pilot aircraft, many confuse this classification of Captain when in fact it is legally only ‘Pilot In Command’ but not strictly Captain as there is no other flight crew to define rank against. A Captain, in the correct term is the PIC but the PIC is not necessarily a Captain.

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    $\begingroup$ How about some citations to the relevant regulations? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 22, 2023 at 18:42

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