The Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping (STCW) Code is set out to protect the safety of seafarers – both passengers and crew – through the global standardization of sailing training. However, navigating the necessary requirements can be complex. Outlined below are some of the relevant provisions of the STCW Convention for those seeking endorsement as a vessel crew member.
The STCW Convention applies to the crew of recreational and commercial vessels globally operating in or under STCW signatory nations. STCW regulations do differ per vessel type and purpose, particularly according to its engine power and length.
Whether or not it’s a charter, commercial, or recreational vessel contributes, as well. For example, stricter regulations apply for crew of commercial vessels over 24 meters than for those of small recreational boats.
However, at the minimum, you can expect to be required to attend a set of short basic STCW safety training courses. They must be taken at one of the many STCW-accredited institutions, which are, fortunately, located worldwide.
A Brief History of the STCW Code
Prior to the STCW Code’s inception, national governments set out crewing regulations, resulting in vastly differing expectations and oversight. This was an issue since the vast majority of ships regularly leave the waters of their flag state – be it for the purpose of trade, recreation, training, or otherwise.
The STCW Convention was adopted in 1978 by the International Conference on Training and Certification of Seafarers and implemented on 28 April 1984. Since then, it has been amended frequently – every 1-3 years, to be exact – to keep up with emerging risks and maritime developments.
The Essential STCW Convention Requirements
The STCW Code is quite comprehensive, setting out a number of requirements and provisions for both member Parties (the participating countries/authorities) and vessel crew.
The most notable STCW expectations applicable to vessel crew as of February 2024 are:
- STCW Code regulations apply to both the crew of recreational and commercial vessels.
- STCW Code requirements do differ per vessel type, size, and purpose.
- At a minimum, the crew of vessels (both recreational and commercial) will be required to attend and pass a set of STCW-accredited safety courses covering first aid, responsibility, survival techniques, and fire prevention & fighting. Many institutions offer a combination course of all modules, which you can sit for one week or so for a set price.
- The crew of 24-meter or longer vessels operating commercially will need to acquire additional advanced certification pre-employment, which will vary based on the position.
- STCW endorsement is required for all certification and documentation awarded by an institution to ensure it is in line with STCW guidelines.
- As part of the STCW endorsement process, the authenticity of certificates and documentation will be checked due to the large number of fraudulent ones circulating.
- Ensuring the institution you study with is STCW-accredited or compliant is important if you wish to crew a vessel, especially if on a commercial one exceeding 24 meters in length.
- The IMO has developed STCW-compliant model courses featuring suggested teaching syllabi and learning objectives for institutions seeking accreditation to utilize.
- The government of the STCW member Party – not the IMO – is responsible for oversight and accreditation of STCW-compliant institutions and courses.
- The crew will generally need to show proof of both accredited education and experience in a certain department/proficiency (deck, engine, etc.) in order to win STCW endorsement for it.
- In addition to certification, crew members may also be subject to assessment (both in-person and according to past performance) to ensure they are truly competent in the role.
- Time served in a role may count less (and not be sufficient enough alone) than education in it, according to the latest 2010 Manila STCW amendments.
- Vessel tonnage, engine power, and sailing area (near coastal, none, etc.) limitations apply per Certificate of Competence (CoC) held (Master, Chief Mate, OOW, radio operator, chief engineer, etc.).
- The STCW doesn’t apply to the crew of warships, naval auxiliaries, or any other non-commercial government-owned or -operated ship. However, expect to meet prescribed governmental regulations, which may be even stricter than that of the STCW.
- The crew of fishing vessels of 24-meters and longer exceeding 750kW engine power aren’t subject to the STCW, but that of The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel (STCW-F), 1995, instead.
The above are the most notable provisions but certainly don’t cover all the points.
A Cautionary Note
The above information was correct at the time of publishing. However, due to the frequent amendment of the STCW, some details may since have changed. It’s important to keep up with current developments regardless of your current training or career trajectory and qualifications. You can do so directly on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) website.
Furthermore, each country and vessel flag state may have additional government-prescribed crew regulations in place beyond that of the STCW. Note: these expectations may still apply to crew sailing boats under the state’s flag in international waters or foreign flag state vessels in the nation’s waters.
For example, Poland has stricter-than-usual policies in place for crew on commercial vessels sailing both locally and internationally under its flag. Crew requirements are a big consideration when searching for a seemingly more affordable and easier country in which to register a vessel.
Participating STCW Signatory Party Expectations
Participating STCW Parties are expected to communicate the measures they’ve taken to implement STCW regulations to the IMO. If done so satisfactorily, they are placed on the STCW White List, which affords additional freedoms and privileges.
STCW Parties are also required to provide the IMO with information to assist it in verifying certification and detecting fraudulent documentation. Falsified documentation is a major issue that the STCW is currently focused on resolving. So, do be aware of this when choosing an institution to study at or acquiring or sharing your documentation.
There are currently 164 signatory STCW parties – the vast majority of all nations, particularly major shipping and seafaring nations.
Non-participating STCW nations – such as North Korea, Angola, Libya, DRC, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Lesotho, Kazakhstan, Laos, Greenland, and Paraguay – are few and generally consist of land-locked or de facto territories. As such, expect STCW requirements to govern the large majority of jobs, industries, or waters in which you wish to crew and sail.
To Finish Off
According to the STCW, crew requirements vary per job application and vessel type, length, and purpose. Additionally, the flag state, local maritime laws, and more may apply. As such, it’s always best to enquire with the relevant authorities before applying for any specific course or training program.
Understandably, doing so can be confusing and complex, but it is a must if you wish to gain employment or captain your own boat. Lorrendraaier can assist clients in seeking endorsement and STCW compliance information from the relevant authorities and institutions as required by your unique situation.