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When and What is Happening with the NPRM and STCW2010

Q. I noticed that you are telling people about the “NPRM” and STCW 2010 regulatory changes.
I know you have been talking about this for a couple of years.

When & What are really going to happen?

How concerned should I be? I currently hold a 200 ton USCG license and I have heard a lot of things about the future of the 500 and 1600 ton licenses but really I need to know the big picture for my crew as well as myself.


A.  Brad, you ask a very good question. This will actually take two issues to answer completely so this month will be Part One and next month will be Part Two, so please read both issues.

Firstly, let me say that the NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) was published in Nov 2009 and the intent of this rule making was to finish bringing the United States implementation of STCW 1995 to fruition. This is where the idea of eliminating the Master and Mate 500 ton licenses was discussed. The thinking on the part of the Coast Guard was to have the 200 ton GRT/500 ITC take the place of the 500grt license (which is problematic on several levels in my humble opinion) and to have the next level be the 1600grt/3000 ITC. The good news was that they were planning a very easy transition from the current 500grt license holders to 1600 ton which is great, however for people like yourself who qualify for the 500grt license and just had not gotten it yet, this would possibly be catastrophic. I say possibly because no one can say for sure what is definitely going to become final.

Why would it be a problem? Well, for starters the new route for upgrade to either the Master 200/500 foreign going license or the Master 1600 ton foreign going license would require taking the OICNW program of training and assessment first and sailing on that for up to 720 days of sea time. Whether existing service as master or mate would be accepted towards that is impossible to predict.

Now, for new mariners this new pathway is not a big problem and it is very similar to the way other country’s including the UK (MCA) pathway works. However since our certificates are merchant oriented, the amount of sea service and time in training is much greater than most other yacht style certificates.

Basically, in the past most yacht captains started their career as either the captain of a smaller yacht or the mate/deckhand/watchstander of a smaller yacht and then they got their 100 ton license and then they moved up to bigger and bigger boats and larger captains licenses. Most never had an AB or a mate’s license before getting their captains licenses. But that is a thing of the past, now crewmembers are typically working as deckhand on a very big yacht and then eventually OOW and then many many years down the road, captain of a really big yacht. So the career pathway and licensing structure changes too.

New US mariners will get their Able Seaman and Rating Forming Part of a Navigation Watch early in their career (within a year of starting) and then work as a deckhand and help stand a watch with an officer then they start their training towards their Officer in Charge of a Navigation Watch and after a few years of sea time, they get their 1600 ton Mate or if they are on smaller boats, their 200/500 ton mate. Then they get a few years of sea time as mate (OOW) and then get a few more months of training and get their Master 1600/3000 ton License.

Makes sense right. I think so. But not so good for you guys that already have sea time and long standing career as captain with a license like Master 200 or even Master 100 ton and working on larger yachts as mates or masters.

So what else besides this is in the NPRM? Well, engineers in the US system have never had to do a great deal of classroom engineering training for the USCG. Most of the training has been safety and fire related and then they take a huge test. Well, the huge test isn’t going away but the training process is proposed to change completely and will be in line with what the deck officers have had to do for a long time. The engineers will be in school for months of technical training after these regs are passed. But bigger than that is the changes to their pathways. Many licenses people currently hold will be downgraded to domestic licenses due to the structural changes in the system. This includes licenses like DDE which is a common license amongst American engineers.

Anyone holding a DDE and having at least a year of sea service since obtaining it is absolutely crazy not to upgrade before these regs come into effect. Right now all they need is a test. In the future probably 4-6 months of training. I would say that is a big enough motivation to get their upgrade sooner rather than later.

There are many other “little” things that were proposed to change with the NPRM.

So what is happening now? Well, the USCG figured that the NPRM changes would go into effect in 2010 giving them plenty of time to plan for the next set of changes which were to be STCW 2010 which begins WORLDWIDE implementation in January 2012.

But this did not happen. Due to the structure of our legal system, we allow for industry to comment before laws are changed. This is a good thing, and it has delayed the changes from happening thus allowing many more people to get their licenses before the new stuff takes place.

So now here we are with the STCW 2010 right around the corner and we still have not finished STCW 95.

OK, so the USCG knows that they cannot by law add things into an existing NPRM so they cancelled the November 2009 NPRM with the plan to publish a new or supplemental version in the extreme near future that will encompass both the STCW 1995 lingering issues as well as the new manila amendments also known as STCW 2010.

When this is published we will all have a better idea of what has actually made it through from the original comments we all sent in and we will by law have another comment period before these are final.

End of Part One, stay tuned next month for the rest of my answer J

Ask Amy:

Brad’s Question: Part Two of the answer. To review, this is what Brad asked me last month.

Q. I noticed that you are telling people about the “NPRM” and STCW 2010 regulatory changes.
I know you have been talking about this for a couple of years.

When & What are really going to happen?

How concerned should I be? I currently hold a 200 ton USCG license and I have heard a lot of things about the future of the 500 and 1600 ton licenses but really I need to know the big picture for my crew as well as myself.


Last month I answered the first part of this question and this month the rest of the answer follows. If you did not read the first part last month, please go to for the previous issue or ask a friend for a copy.

Part Two: There are some things in the changing of the existing structure that will help some existing license holders; including the possible upgrade from Master 1600 ton to Chief Mate circumventing the current upgrade to only a third mate. Also, existing Chief Engineers (1600 ton aka limited oceans) Licenses will be able to go directly to Chief Engineer Unlimited circumventing the current pathway to second assistant engineer.

So we talked about the NRPM (STCW 1995 final revisions) let’s take a minute and quickly review what STCW 2010 will likely do. These amendments will add a great deal of ECDIS training into every level of deck officer certificate as well as requiring more refresher training in all of the various safety subjects at each renewal/revalidation.

There are a few other little things that really do not impact the yachting industry such as the consolidation of the passenger vessel regs and some changes to the tankerman structure.

So we talked about the “WHAT’s” now let’s talk about the likely “WHEN’s”. I expect the new or supplemental NPRM to be published any day now with a few months of comment period, then a couple of months for a final to be published. So that brings us to probably January 2012. I expect the regs to start actually impacting us all pretty quickly.

The new stuff will impact the people that want to upgrade more than the people who already have the license they want.

The amendments for STCW are always expected to take 5 years for full implementation and how this works is if you have a license that will expire after 2012 you will most likely not have to complete the new stuff until expiry sometime between 2012 and 2017.

If your license expires in 2012 or 2013 you will need to do the new stuff pretty early on.

If you need to upgrade your license after 2012 you will most likely be hit with everything.

We also have the possibility of the MLC (Maritime Labour Convention) hitting us in the future but this a long way off and will only affect Yachts over 500tons that are considered by their flag state to be commercial, so do not worry too much about it now and there are a few other good articles about this in the other issues of Dockwalk.

Let me know if I can help you or your crew determine what to do and when. If you have had a USCG license (100 or 200 tons) for a couple of years worth of sea time and you have served as mate or master, you probably qualify for the 500 or 1600 ton license right now. If you are an engineer and you have had a DDE for a couple of years of sea time you probably qualify for the Chief 1600 ton license.

My advice: Hire a relief captain or engineer (there are some out there that are not trying to take your job) and go to school and get your upgrade.

Long story short, if you qualify for it now, get it now. Many mariners believe that the schools are trying to sell classes; however reputable schools will have your long term career goals and best interest at heart and simply try to help you obtain the training required by maritime authorities with as much realism and training value as possible and in as time efficient and cost effective a way possible. Remember, you need a lot less classes now than you will need in the future, no one can dispute that, over the years the regulations have only gotten more complex. Getting the best license you can will surely save you time, money and regret and maybe lead to a great new job offer. 

If you do not qualify for an upgrade now but want to know how to plan for the future based on the proposed new structure, call me or email me and I will help you. Good luck.