STCW Training News
Update nr. 5
In this STCW Training News Update:
- How to make sure that you are correctly STCW trained?
Rules and regulations, trials and tribulations
People usually do not go to sea because they like paperwork so much. But even if they don’t want to, seafarers sometimes have to engage in bureaucracy in order to secure that one piece of paper that they do want.
Rood Boven Groen regularly picks up seafarers who are at the point of drowning in that sea of papers that is called STCW. This article aims to be a navigation aid.
In this article:
- Background of the STCW Convention
- Differences between countries – why is my STCW certificate not valid worldwide?
- How do I know which countries recognize my STCW training certificate?
- When do I have to refresh an STCW training?
- Finding the right training
- Final checklist to ensure that you are correctly trained
Background of the STCW Convention
In 1978, the first International Convention for Seafarers on Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) was held. Before that time, each country had its own training and certification standards, which is extremely inconvenient in an international industry such as maritime transport. The purpose of the convention was to harmonize these various national standards.
Convention and Code
Over the years, the regulations that were agreed upon during that first convention have been updated several times. In 1995 the convention was split into a convention and a code. The convention contains the regulations that have been agreed upon; the code specifies the requirements that must be met in order to comply with the regulations. For example: The convention states that seafarers must be trained in basic safety. The code defines the skills that must be taught in that training.
The latest major changes to the convention and the code were made in 2010, during a conference in Manila, capital of the Philippines. The most remarkable adjustment has been that, for a number of trainings, seafarers need to take refresher courses to keep their training certificates valid.
Differences between countries – why is my STCW certificate not valid worldwide?
The fact that the training and certification standards for seafarers have been laid down in an international code raises the expectation that a training that complies with STCW standards will be internationally valid, regardless of the where in the world you took it.
Yet this is not the case. In order to achieve a convention at an international level, the agreement of many countries is required. All of these countries have their own political and economic interests that they will want to, or need to, defend. If the regulations of a convention are too strict, some countries may find it difficult or disadvantageous to comply with them – and the convention will be in jeopardy. Regulations that come into force by means of an international convention are therefore typically formulated in highly diplomatic terms. The STCW Convention and Code are no exemption to this rule.
Next to that, once a convention has been diplomatically achieved, each country is responsible for the implementation of the new regulations in their national regulatory framework. Now even though the purpose of the convention was to set a common standard, the diplomatic terminology of the convention allows for different interpretations. And this means, for example, that country A may end up imposing different requirements on its training institutes than country B. Thus if you, as a seafarer, take an STCW training in, say, the Netherlands, the training may be executed in a different way than it is in Germany, Brazil, or Liberia.
Very often these differences are surmountable, and country B will judge the training that you took in country A to be equivalent. But sometimes the differences are too big and country B may judge that country A’s training is not acceptable. In other words: The flag state of the ship that you are sailing on may sometimes not recognize a training course that you have taken abroad.
Certificate of Competency
This may occur with training courses, but also with certificates of competency (CoCs), because the standards for these were also agreed upon in the STCW convention.
How do I know which countries recognize my STCW training certificate?
If a country recognizes another country’s implementation of the STCW standards for training and certification, they will draw up an undertaking stating that they accept certificates that were issued under the flag of that other country. An undertaking may be mutual, but sometimes it is one-sided. In that case, country A recognizes the training courses and certificates of competency of country B, but country B does not recognize those of country A.
A list of the undertakings that your country has signed can be found on the website of your flag state*, but often also on the websites of institutes that offer training courses or issue certificates of competence. An overview of the undertakings that The Netherlands have signed with other countries can be found here.
*A ship’s flag state is the country in which it is registered; the country whose flag the ship flies. As a flag state, each country has a set of laws and regulations that its ships and seafarers must adhere to and an executive body that monitors these. Many countries have a website where they present themselves as flag states and where you can find information about their maritime legislation. The executive body of the Dutch flag state is the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate (www.ilent.nl and www.nlflag.nl).
When do I have to refresh an STCW training?
In short: you always have to refresh a training to keep it valid if there is an expiration date on the certificate. Sometimes you also have to refresh a training because the shipowner asks you to.
The requirement to refresh an STCW training can have several grounds:
1.The requirement to refresh is stated explicitly in the STCW code
For some trainings, the requirement to take a refresher course every five years is explicitly stated in the STCW code. This is the case with the following four trainings:
- Basic Safety
- Proficiency in Survival Crafts and Other Rescue Boats
- Proficiency in Fast Rescue Boats
- Advanced Fire Fighting
It does not matter where in the world you take one of the above training courses. You will always have to repeat it after 5 years to remain certified.
2. The obligation to refresh is set by the flag state to comply with the STCW code
Other than for the trainings mentioned under 1, the STCW code does not for all trainings explicitly state how seafarers should maintain the skills that they were taught. Often, for example, nothing more is required by the Code than that the seafarer should be able to continue to ‘demonstrate the required standard of competence’ after having participated in an initial training. It is not stated how this should be done. In these cases, the flag states can decide for themselves.
A flag state may then choose fulfill this requirement by obliging its seafarers to refresh these trainings also. However, not every flag state opts for this possibility. There are also flag states that reason that if a seafarer collects enough days at sea to renew their certificate of competency every five years, in doing so they will also maintain the ‘proficiency standard’ of the training that they took. The Dutch flag state also takes this view. For that reason, a Dutch certificate for trainings for crew on passenger ships, like crowd management or crisis management training, does not have an expiry date, while these certificates will expire after 5 years when issued by other flag states.
3. The requirement to refresh stems from a source other than the STCW code
Sometimes the obligation to refresh a training does not result from (the flag state’s implementation of) the STCW code, but instead is set by another directive. A well-known example of this is the obligation for captains and seafarers who are designated (by their captain) to take care of the medical supplies on board to refresh their medical training every 5 years. This obligation arises from EU Directive 92/29. Thus, even though it is an STCW requirement that all officers take initial medical training as a part of their education, only captains and designated seafarers – on European flag states’ vessels – are required to refresh their training.
So in the cases described under 2 and 3, whether you should refresh your training depends on your vessel’s flag state. However, in all cases you can recognize the need to refresh a training by the fact that there is an expiration date on the certificate.
Dutch refreshment requirements
When it is not explicitly stated by the STCW code or by other directives, the Dutch flag state does not require trainings to be refreshed. Therefore there is no expiry date on the certificate of such a Dutch training. It is the view of the Dutch flag state that you keep your skills up to date simply by working – and taking part in drills – on board.
It is also good to know that the Dutch flag state has laid down in its legislation that – if applicable – its seafarers must comply with the European requirement to refresh medical training by taking the initial training every five years. This concerns the courses Medical First Aid and Medical Care. Other European countries do offer medical refresher courses, which are accepted by the Dutch flag state under certain conditions.
Finally, Dutch shipowners sometimes choose to offer their personnel refresher training every five years, even when this is not required by law. This, of course, is only to be welcomed.
As a seafarer you may at some point sail on a ship of a foreign flag state. In that case it is advisable to communicate to the shipowner the flag under which you obtained your training certificates. They can then check whether those certificates are recognized by the flag state of the vessel, and whether or not you have to refresh your training to ensure that your certification is in line with the requirements of the flag state of the vessel and with the wishes of the shipowner.
Finding the right training
Identify exactly which training you need
There are a lot of trainings on offer (on the internet) and it can be difficult to determine which training you are required to take. A certain training may be offered under various titles. For example, the training that meets the requirements of what in the STCW code is called ‘Safety familiarization, basic training and instruction for all seafarers’, is also offered by training institutes as ‘Basic Training’ or as ‘Basic Safety Training’.
The way in which a training is titled does not ensure that the training complies with the correct requirements. There are rogue training providers who make good use of this confusion and offer you a training whose title suggests that it is a training according to certain STCW standards, while in fact it is not.
Using the sections of the STCW code to identify the correct training
A fool-proof way to check whether a training is the correct one is to check the reference to the section in the STCW code that sets the standards for the training. For every STCW training, a regulation has been written in the STCW Convention that states which seafarers the training is meant for; and there is a corresponding section in the STCW code that specifies the requirements that the training must meet.
Sometimes only the section from the code is mentioned to show which training it concerns, but often the regulation is also mentioned. For example, on a Basic Safety certificate you may find the following text:
‘in accordance with the provisions of Regulation VI/1 of the STCW Convention of 1978 as amended in 2010, and Chapter VI, sections A-VI/1-1 to A-VI/1-4 of the STCW-code’
Thus, it is indicated here that the training meets the requirements of regulation VI/1 of the convention and sections A-VI/1-1 through A-VI/1-4 of the code.
A provider must be able to indicate to you according to which sections of the code the training is set up. Before you book a training, it is advisable to inform yourself of the sections of the code that the training must comply with. If you have access to it, you may look this up yourself in the latest version of the STCW code, but often your shipowner will be able to supply you with this information. A provider who cannot specify which section of the STCW Code his training complies with is not to be trusted.
Check the training provider
When you have established that a training is organized according to the correct section(s) of the STCW code, it is still important to make sure that the provider is authorized to offer this training. Training institutes must be approved by their flag state; the flag state issues a list containing all institutes that have been approved to provide STCW training.
What should at least be on the training certificate?
The certificate of an approved STCW training should at least state:
- Your name, your date of birth and your place of birth
- The name of the training
- The reference to the section in the STCW code and/or the corresponding regulation
- The number under which the training institute is registered with the flag state
- A unique certificate number
- The certificate must be drawn up in at least the English language (English language and another language is also allowed).
Final checklist to ensure that you are correctly trained
1. Have you chosen the correct training?
Verify that the training complies with the correct sections of the STCW Code (or ask your employer)
2. Is the training institute approved by its own flag state?
Check whether the training institute is approved by its flag state. An overview of approved training institutes usually is available on the website of the flag state.
3. Does my vessel’s flag state accept this training?
Check if your vessel’s flag state has signed an undertaking with the flag state of the training institute
4. Do I have to refresh the training?
Is there an expiry date on your certificate? If so: YES.
Is there no expiry date on your certificate? If so, in principle you don’t have to refresh. However, inquire after the wishes of your ship’s owner to be sure that you comply with those.