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On Course by Capt. Brian Luke
Some time ago, a working group was put together to modernize the way in which yacht and small vessel engineers are trained and qualified. The working group included a variety of yacht industry representatives and other stakeholders. Delegates from the main UK training providers along with representatives from the MCA, the International Association of Maritime Institutes, the fishing industry, tugs, offshore support vessels, HMRC, the workboats association, active yacht engineers and two major engineering institutes were involved in the whole process.
Tim Moss, senior engineering instructor at Bluewater, was directly involved with the working group and provides most of the insight for this article.
With the assistance of this working group, the MCA has now published a new Marine Information Notice (MIN 524) that explains in detail the revised small vessel engineer structure, which includes yachts. (Considering the size of yachts today, I’m not sure I agree with the term small vessel.) It outlines the certification structure, and examination and training requirements for engineer officers wanting to work on fishing vessels, yachts, tugs, workboats, standby vessels, seismic survey vessels, oceanographic research vessels, and government patrol vessels.
Initially, the working group was concerned about the diversity of the groups. However, it quickly became apparent that the machinery, equipment and systems used by all sectors were pretty much the same. The concerns of some that a superyacht is completely different vanished as the group realized the only real differences were in furnishings and mission.
The qualifications are now transferable and the offshore limits removed. However, there is a 9000KW and 3000GT limitation due to the constraints of the STCW code. With this in mind, the training needs of the modern engineer were discussed at length and the new routes to certification established.
Whilst the new structure is not perfect, the time, opportunity and motive were synergistic enough to agree on a way ahead that suited all sectors with a minimum amount of compromise.
For those engineers with existing Certificates of Competency (CoC), it is now possible to transfer to the new Small Vessel CoC. However, candidates are not allowed to mix and match old and new modules.
Whilst change was needed, the standards and relevance of the new training syllabi were foremost in the working group’s agenda. Subsequently, sensible “grandfather clauses” were introduced so that existing seafarers were not disadvantaged and new training regimes were deemed relevant, achievable and fair.
After consultation with seafarers, there had to be routes for engineers to come into the new system from other sectors and the Merchant Navy, and vice versa. Engineers who wish to remain with their current qualifications (and limitations) may do so without penalty.
For those who wish to remain at the same level of CoC but enjoy the benefits of the new system (in that rank) can prove sea time and take an oral examination. The transferability of the new CoC will be limited to yachts, tugs, fishing vessels, workboats, standby vessels, seismic survey vessels, oceanographic research vessels and government patrol vessels at the discretion of the employer.
New routes to promotion
The new routes to promotion all start with the AEC. There will be no MEO (L) or stand-alone skills test for yachts. Whilst not a CoC, the AEC will be the start point for engineers. It was agreed that the AEC needed to be bigger, better and mandatory to provide a logical stepping stone to the next level. This, and the lack of credibility of the “skills test”, was the catalyst for a review.
The AEC will now be two weeks long and mandatory. Those already holding AEC and have three months sea service whilst holding AEC will not have to do AEC 1 again as this remains unchanged, but will have to undertake Part 2 if embarking on the new structure leading up to the Small Vessel Second Engineer Qualification.
A training record book (TRB) will be issued for all students to progress to the next qualification. The ancillary and safety courses along with HELM requirements are also detailed in the MIN but are much the same as the present.
This is great news first for the yachting industry and second for yacht engineers. These new CoCs will be interchangeable between sectors and will allow an engineer certified under the new MIN to work on a variety of vessels.
For many years, the yachting industry has suffered from a lack of qualified yacht engineers. This new certificate will allow engineers from the other small vessel industry sectors to be employed as yacht engineers. Great news for us all.
Capt. Brian Luke is president of Bluewater Crew Training USA (formerly ICT) in Ft. Lauderdale.