Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping
STCW Code History
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) held a convention to improve the worldwide standards for safety and training of professional mariners in 1978. The Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) Convention established a code adopted by many nations on July 7, 1978 and was named the Seafarers Training, Certification, & Watchkeeping (STCW) Code. Subsequent conventions were held in 1991, 1994, 1995 & 1997 to update & revise the code. The amended code (STCW 95) is named for the year that it was accepted by the IMO and it's signatory countries.
Purpose of the STCW Code
The Code was established to set certain minimum international training standards for professional mariners. The level of certification and training you are required to have is based on the capacity you serve in & the type of vessel you work on.
Who does the STCW Code affect?
There are 133 IMO signatory countries in the world. Every country will issue a document showing the level of mariner certification and the capacity and limitations of each.
All professional mariner certifications must be STCW 95 Compliant with the exception of U.S. mariners working exclusively on inland waters or domestic near coastal waters on vessels up to 200 gross tons waters, which are exempt from the STCW requirements.
What about unlicensed crewmembers?
All professional mariners that have designated safety or pollution prevention duties (even if they are unlicensed/ non certificated) must have Basic Safety Training. This would include everyone listed on the emergency bill, also called the muster list or station bill.
Which courses do I need to obtain STCW compliance?
Please refer to the Professional Certificates & Licenses section of this website for detailed information on the courses and sea service required to obtain STCW Compliant Licenses and Certificates of Competency. If you already hold a USCG license, but have not taken the training to obtain an STCW 95 Compliant Certificate, please contact the admissions office for a current required course list for your license level.
Why was the Code Revised?
Flick through the pages of any of the leading industry magazines today and you will discover a wealth of technical innovation designed to make ships more efficient and safer. Everything from the propulsion systems, through the hull design to the navigation suite is the result of intense research and development activity. The only exception to this rule is, ironically, the one key component on which everything else so often depends â€“ the officers and crew.
It is widely quoted that 80 per cent of transport accidents are due to human error. It is the human element on board ship that can either provide the skills that may prevent a disaster, or the frailty or plain lack of competence that can cause one. And, while the capability, complexity and sheer power of technology seems to be accelerating exponentially, the human element remains a basic component with all its strengths and all its weaknesses. That is why the international maritime community has now evolved from an approach, which traditionally seeks technical solutions to safety-related problems and is focusing instead on the role of human factors in maritime safety.
The 1995 STCW Convention is one of several key initiatives that underpin this new philosophy at IMO. It seeks to establish a baseline standard for the training and education of seafarers throughout the world and, by placing an emphasis on quality control and competence-based training, it establishes a structure that can ensure not only that the required standard is met, but that it is seen to be met. (Excerpted from the IMO website).
Why doesn't one size fit all with STCW?
When STCW was revised in 1995 we all expected that the new standard would harmonize the training requirements and therefore allow mariners to complete their training in various parts of the world based on where they desired to go to school or based on where the vessel is based. Unfortunately, things just haven't worked out that way with many countries. This is especially difficult for mariners with multiple licenses issued by various administrations and for those who are certificated by one country and work on a vessel flagged in another country. The reason for this problem is that in order to be considered a "white list" or fully compliant country, the IMO requires each administration to guarantee that proper oversight has been and is continuously performed on each school issuing training certificates. It is impossible for the USCG to oversee schools in foreign countries and vice versa. That is why MPT and some other schools in this country have applied to many different countries for recognition. This is a very costly process because it requires auditing by each country on a regular basis. In addition, some countries are not interested in approving schools outside their jurisdiction. This is why it is so important to ensure that the school a mariner attends for training is recognized by the country issuing the license and also that the Flag State of the vessel will accept a license/CoC issued by that country.
Why don't all STCW Certificates look the same, isn't this a standard?
Each country (administration) is tasked by the IMO to incorporate a statement of compliance with the STCW Code into their Certificate of Competency (license). Most countries do not have any CoCs that are exempt from STCW and therefore have incorporated their statement of compliance right on the face of the CoC. Because of the US Inland and Great Lakes mariners being exempt from STCW, the USCG has to issue a separate certificate of STCW compliance only to those mariners who qualify. Therefore, a USCG licensed, STCW compliant mariner will have either two or three documents: Their license, their STCW Certificate from the USCG, and often a separate Z-Card which is the Merchant Mariners Document and lists unlicensed capacities.
What is the Pay Like?
The pay is good, but perhaps more important is the opportunity to enjoy it. Many employers offer about three weeks paid vacation for every month on board. Some companies offer day for day paid vacation for their officers, meaning they get one month paid vacation for every month they work. Of course wage scales vary but the average pay for an able seaman rating is about 40K - 45K per year, while a junior officer may receive between 60K - 75K. Senior officers like a chief mate or first assistant engineer can expect a yearly pay of about 80K - 125K and a Captain or Chief Engineer from 100K to 180K.
What is the IMO?
The IMO (International Maritime Organization) located in London, is a part of the United Nations and has 133 signatory countries. The IMO is not a British Agency, just as the main United Nations building being located in New York does not make the UN an American Agency.
What are Port and Flag State Control?
Port and Flag State Control are key elements in fulfilling the revisions of the STCW Code. Port State Control is the authority an administration has over vessels operating within their waters (jurisdiction) regardless of Flag. In a nutshell, Port State Control is the oversight and inspections conducted by the administration of the port on a vessel entering their port. Simply stated, in the United States, when the USCG boards a vessel and "checks it out", they are fulfilling part of their port state control authority.
The revised Chapter I of STCW includes enhanced procedures concerning the exercise of port State to allow intervention in the case of deficiencies deemed to pose a danger to persons, property or the environment (regulation I/4). This can take place if certificates are not in order or if the ship is involved in a collision or grounding, if there is an illegal discharge of substances (causing pollution) or if the ship is maneuvered in an erratic or unsafe manner, etc.
Flag State Control is the authority an administration has over vessels with their own registration (flag) regardless of where they are operating. Therefore, when the USCG conducts an inspection on a US flagged vessel, they are acting as Flag State Control.
What is the "White List"?
The White List identifies the countries that have demonstrated a plan of full compliance with the STCW Convention and Code as revised in 1995. The White List was developed by an unbiased panel of "competent persons" at the IMO. The criteria used to develop the list included what system of certification (licensing) each administration would have, the process of revalidation for certificates, training center oversight, port state control, and flag state control.
What happens if a country is not on the "White List"?
Since there is a white list, it would stand to reason that any country not on the white list could be considered "black listed". This is not the case. There is no actual black list although very often that is how non-compliant countries are described.
Port State Control and Flag State Control both play a role in handling a non-white listed country. For instance, if a vessel is flagged by a non-white list country, when it desires to enter a white list port, it can be denied entry, detained or inspected vigorously.
On the other hand, if a mariner has a Certificate of Competency (license) from a non-white list country, they will most likely be denied a Certificate of Equivalency, they will be rejected as a viable manning solution for white list flagged vessels, and their sea time and training may either be highly scrutinized or not accepted at all towards a CoC from a white list country.
What was revised/amended in 1995 & how does it differ from the 1978 convention?
The 1995 amendments represented a major revision of the Convention, in response to a recognized need to bring the Convention up to date and to respond to critics who pointed out the many vague phrases, such as "to the satisfaction of the Administration", which resulted in different interpretations being made.>
Others complained that the Convention was never uniformly applied and did not impose any strict obligations on Parties regarding implementation. The 1995 amendments entered into force on 1 February 1997. However, until 1 February 2002, parties were allowed to continue to issue, recognize and endorse certificates, which applied before that date in respect of seafarers who began training or seagoing service before 1 August 1998.
One of the major features of the revision was the division of the technical annex into regulations, divided into Chapters as before, and a new STCW Code, to which many technical regulations have been transferred. Part A of the Code is mandatory while Part B is recommended.
Dividing the regulations up in this way makes administration easier and it also makes the task of revising and updating them more simple: for procedural and legal reasons there is no need to call a full conference to make changes to Codes.
Some of the most important amendments adopted by the Conference concern Chapter I - General Provisions.
They include the following:
Ensuring compliance with the Convention
Parties to the Convention are required to provide detailed information to IMO concerning administrative measures taken to ensure compliance with the Convention. This represented the first time that IMO had been called upon to act in relation to compliance and implementation - generally, implementation is down to the flag States, while port State control also acts to ensure compliance. Under Chapter I, regulation I/7 of the revised Convention, Parties are required to provide detailed information to IMO concerning administrative measures taken to ensure compliance with the Convention, education and training courses, certification procedures and other factors relevant to implementation.
By the 1 August 1998 deadline for submission of information (established in section A-I/7 of the STCW Code) 82 out of the 133 STCW Parties had communicated information on compliance with the requirements of the revised Convention. The 82 Parties which met the deadline represent well over 90% of the world's ships and seafarers.
The information is reviewed by panels of competent persons, nominated by Parties to the STCW Convention, who report on their findings to the IMO Secretary- General, who, in turn, reports to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) on the Parties which fully comply. The MSC then produces a list of Parties in compliance with the 1995 amendments.