Get Your International Mariners Basic Safety Training Certification

Participants in a maritime training course practice cold water survival skills
Participants in a maritime training course practice cold water survival skills.

NOAA Photo Library / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

If you are looking for a job in a maritime field, you may consider obtaining your Standards for Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) certification. This certification is a basic safety training but it can be an important stepping stone to landing your dream job.

Step 1: Determine How You Will Use Your Training

Your ultimate goal will determine the best path to your STCW certification. If you're not sure about the exact job you want that's okay because most of the following steps apply to everyone seeking this basic safety training.

The two main exceptions are employer specific courses like those designed for cruise ships and post-military personnel who want to transfer their skills to civilian certifications. Even if you fall into one of these categories there are advantages to following these steps.

Step 2: Determine the Job Requirements for Your Goal Position

If you have a target employer and job it should be very easy to get a job description plus minimal and preferred requirements. STCW certification is recognized internationally and varies little from the original IMO convention. Not every operation will have a written description of requirements and some may simply adopt a standardized description from a third party or government agency.

If you are on your own in this adventure then it will take a bit more work to find out what you need to do. We'll use a common example of crew on a private vessel.

Recreational Boating is a common entry point into the commercial side of the industry. Many positions for crew are offered each year and some in exotic destinations can be a satisfying way to travel and still generate income.

Almost all of these crew positions require STCW certification at a minimum. In order to reduce insurance costs and assure the safety of the vessel and passengers everyone working aboard must be STCW certified. The skills of STCW are the very basics but compromise some of the most important training a sailor will receive in their career.

If you cannot determine what the exact qualifications are needed for the job look for some equivalent vessels and compare minimum qualifications. Schools can offer some advice too.

Step 3: Identify a Training Location

This is easy since there is only one option these days. In the past, an STCW certification could be gained on experience alone. Today the opposite is true, all of the training takes place in the classroom and occasionally demonstrated in the field. If you are new to boats you may want to look for a course that is hands-on and offers some time on the water.

Hands-on courses are more expensive but worth it if you don't have significant practical experience. For some employers, a course with real-world conditions may take the place of some sea hours.

The cost of any of these courses is significant and in places like the United States, the cost to obtain some certifications is even higher due to extra security measures.

Look around, know what sort of product you are shopping for, read reviews, talk to potential employers; you may need to travel but that can be included in expenses if you are receiving financial aid. Financial aid can be used for maritime education and most schools make that process as easy as possible for potential students.

Step Four: Obtain Experience

This is the most important step of all. There are many graduates of STCW programs that have no job experience and wonder why they can't get that job in the Mediterranean. Simple, those jobs go to tested STCW graduates.

Get any job you can that gives you some time on the water that can be documented. Maybe your area only has a short tourist season and local jobs produce few hours every year. Take those few hours, have your employer document them, and include them on your resume or CV.