STCW final rule restructures training, approved courses, medical

Three-plus years after the Manila Amendments were approved internationally, the U.S. Coast Guard has issued its final rule explaining the new Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) requirements to American mariners.

The regulation, published Dec. 24, 2013, covers approximately 1,044 U.S. commercial vessels operating on ocean or near-coastal voyages. The 2010 amendments have led to significant changes to basic safety training and the course-approval process for maritime schools. Some endorsements have been modified, and two-year medical certificates are being issued for the first time.

Mariners with STCW endorsements will need to take regular refresher courses in subjects that cannot be taught while serving aboard a ship — notably, basic safety, lifeboat and firefighting.  

“That means more training and more time in the classroom for the mariner and more cost to maintain a credential,” said Capt. Ernest Fink, chairman of the Department of Professional Education at SUNY Maritime College, who was a delegate to the STCW Convention.

Finding time and resources for the shoreside training will pose a challenge to mariners and schools alike, said Barry Van Vechten, assistant director for academics at Calhoon MEBA Engineering School in Easton, Md.

“The requirement for ‘demonstrating continued professional competence’ in basic safety training, advanced firefighting and proficiency in survival craft (lifeboatman) every five years is going to cause extreme difficulties,” said Van Vechten, also a delegate to the STCW Convention.

“While the Coast Guard will allow you to demonstrate parts of the competencies by having one year of seagoing service in the last five years, the remaining parts must be done ashore,” he said. “While we already have courses approved to meet these requirements, this is going to be a significant burden on our school.”

STCW’s new medical certificate requires a physical exam every two years. Existing U.S. rules require medical exams every five years for most mariners. As it prepared to issue the new medical certificates, the National Maritime Center (NMC) in January asked all mariners with non-expired STCW endorsements to update their contact information if it has changed from the most recent credential renewal.

Endorsement changes include removing the Chief Engineer (limited-near-coastal) endorsement and adding an endorsement for Mate of Ocean Vessels of less than 200 gt. The Tankerman Person in Charge endorsement is split into three categories: oil, chemicals and liquid gas.

Rules for offshore supply vessel (OSV) endorsements provide an option to complete an approved course, with career progression path, to help meet sea-service requirements. The Offshore Marine Service Association’s (OMSA) “Offshore Orientation” or “Safe Gulf” programs are examples, in addition to the required STCW basic training and security training. The Coast Guard has agreed to omit STCW requirements that are inappropriate for OSV service, said OMSA Vice President Richard Wells.

After the classroom training, the mariner would serve six months at sea to apply for the STCW navigation-watch rating, followed by 12 months of sea service during mate training and assessment.

“Once the Mate OSV credential was obtained, then the Master OSV training and assessment program would be completed while accruing 24 months of sea service, which could result in a Master OSV credential after a total of 36 months of sea service,” Wells said. “The OSV engineer career path is very similar, with a minimum total service of 48 months.”

The new STCW rules place maritime training programs under more scrutiny. Fink said new requirements will make it more complicated to get course approval. Each program must participate in a quality standards system (QSS). Fink said the Coast Guard probably underestimated the economic cost of that requirement on the industry.

“For all the training providers, this is a big change. By 2017, they have to have a quality standards system like ISO 9000 in place for all of the courses they offer,” Fink said. “A lot of the smaller providers, to do this in-house or to pay somebody to come in and do that, it’s a lot of money.”

John Martino, president of the Maritime Education Standards Council, said his organization has created a model QSS program for member schools. Workshops will be held at the council’s annual meeting in June in Orlando, Fla.

“I am absolutely confident that the (training) industry will be ready,” said Martino, who is based at the Annapolis School of Seamanship. “One of the fears is that this was going to force some of the smaller schools out of business, and I don’t believe that will happen. … The Coast Guard has assured us that this is not designed to be a huge economic impact. We have already adopted the template for QSS, and the Coast Guard is still the auditing body.”

The final rule was effective March 24. Some of the requirements don’t take full effect until 2016 or 2019.

The Coast Guard said it would issue more than 20 Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circulars (NVICs) to provide the industry with the details. By February, nine of them were posted on the NMC’s website, including important details on grandfathering. The nine NVICs total 437 pages.

Other provisions of the final STCW rule:
– Exempt pilot vessels from STCW requirements.
– Amend rules on sea-service credit for cadets on academy training ships.
– Add training requirements for endorsement for electro-technical officer and electro-technical rating.

By Professional Mariner Staff