Mariners' Standards for Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping

Two divers under the water.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection / Flickr / Public Domain

The Standards for Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping, or STCW, is a convention of the IMO. These regulations first came into existence in 1978. Major revisions to the conventions occurred in 1984, 1995, and 2010. The goal of the STCW training is to give seafarers from all nations a standard set of skills useful to crew members working aboard large vessels outside of the boundaries of their country.

Do All Merchant Mariners Need to Take an STCW Course?

In the United States mariners only need to take an approved STCW course if they intend to work aboard a vessel greater than 200 Gross Register Tons (Domestic Tonnage), or 500 Gross Tons, which will operate beyond the boundaries defined by the Federal Regulations which indicate international waters.

Although STCW training is not required for seafarers working in nearshore areas or domestic inland waterways it is recommended. STCW training offers exposure to valuable skills which make the mariner more flexible aboard ship and more valuable in the job market.

Not all nations require their licensed merchant mariners to take a separate STCW course. Many high-quality programs meet the training requirements for STCW during the regular licensing coursework.

Why is STCW a Separate Course?

STCW training guidelines are laid out in the IMO convention to standardize the basic skills needed to safely crew aboard a large vessel outside of areas where domestic rules apply. Some of the training does not apply to smaller craft or vessels operating in coastal or river areas.

To simplify testing requirements, not all countries include the STCW information for basic merchant mariner licensing. Each country may decide if their licensing requirements meet the terms of the IMO convention.

What is Taught in an STCW Course?

Every course goes about their training in different ways so no two courses are the same. Some courses have a greater emphasis on classroom learning but generally, some concepts are taught in a hands-on situation.

Classes will include some of the following disciplines:

  • Bridge and Deck Skills; Traffic Patterns, Lights and Day Shapes, Horn Signals for international waters
  • Engine Room; Operations, Signals, Emergency Procedures
  • Internationally Standardized Radio Operations and Terminology
  • Emergency, Occupational Safety, Medical Care and Survival Functions
  • Watchkeeping

Major components of the STCW conventions were modified during the last revision in June of 2010. These are called the Manila Amendments and they will go into effect January 1, 2012. These amendments will bring the training requirements up to date for modern operational situations and technologies.

Some of the changes from the Manila Amendments are:

  • “Revised requirements on hours of work and rest and new requirements for the prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as updated standards relating to medical fitness standards for seafarers”
  • “New requirements relating to training in modern technology such as electronic charts and information systems”
  • “New requirements for marine environment awareness training and training in leadership and teamwork”
  • “Updating of competence requirements for personnel serving on board all types of tankers, including new requirements for personnel serving on liquefied gas tankers”
  • “New requirements for security training, as well as provisions to ensure that seafarers are properly trained to cope if their ship comes under attack by pirates”
  • “New training guidance for personnel serving on board ships operating in polar waters”
  • “New training guidance for personnel operating Dynamic Positioning Systems”

These new training elements will give a merchant mariner many valuable and potentially life-saving skills. Anyone considering a new career in the maritime industry or an upgrade to their current credential should strongly consider taking part in an approved STCW course.

More information is available for U.S. licensees from the National Maritime Center website.