OK to get OOW in four years, if navigating, not just cleaning

Aug 31, 2015 by Capt. Brian Luke

Within the megayacht community, there is active debate about young crew members ascending the ladder to a captain’s position with alacrity. Basically, a deckhand spends a couple of years as a “chamois technician” and then trains for the 200-ton Yachtmaster rating, after which she or he immediately spends the next two to three years fulfilling the Officer of the Watch (OOW) training and sea time requirements.

Some think this is too fast. Considering that a young cadet in any of the U.S. maritime academies comes away from graduation with a 3rd Mate Unlimited ticket after four years of study and a minimal amount of sea time, I think not.

It is my position that three to four years for a crew member in the yachting industry to earn the OOW (< 3000gt) credential is just about right. This should be the career crew member’s goal and expectation.

Yachts, unlike most commercial ships, generally have no formal onboard training program. There are exceptions, but there is great variability as to whether deck crew will receive substantive wheelhouse experience. Though some of the onus is on the captain and chief mate, ultimately it is up to the crew to push for training.

Unfortunately, when most crew members show up for the Yachtmaster course, they are usually ill-prepared because they have spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning the vessel and virtually no time assisting the chief mate with navigational tasks such as passage planning and tide calculations.

Therefore, many crew members arrive at a training center and must attempt to learn such principles as navigation, weather, tides and currents in one week. In theory, crew should already be familiar with most of this and should only be refining previously developed knowledge.

Most training centers will send pre-study material to the crew when booked into their Yachtmaster course. My experience has been, mostly due to the yacht’s heavy workload, that the vast majority will not study the material prior to arrival.

We know that the general crew member expectation is to take the two-week course and pass a challenging final practical exam onboard a 40- to 45-foot twin-screw vessel. We also find that the crew member expects to learn everything needed during the course.

There is far too much material to master in such a short time and this expectation is therefore ill-founded, only leading to a poor outcome and subsequent disappointment.

The training center’s hope, if not expectation, is that the candidate has been exposed to tides, weather and navigation prior to the course. The requisite sea miles for the rating are set as a minimum distance and this distance comes with the expectation that crew will have been involved in at least some passage planning, which includes navigation, weather, tidal changes, etc.

When the student arrives without any real knowledge of how to plot a course or figure secondary port calculations, then she or he will be at a distinct disadvantage. The unlikely chance of passing the course and exam become self-evident at the onset and it only goes downhill from there.

Any crew member’s expectation should be to pass any and all courses, including Yachtmaster, on the first attempt. Crew should also have the expectation of receiving a certain amount of training from their senior crew. If that training isn’t offered, then they need to ask for it. Maybe crew can linger in the wheelhouse when not on duty, look through charts, ask questions. Offer to help plot the next part of the voyage, and have a superior officer correct the plan.

It is important to figure out a way to be familiar with the material before beginning Yachtmaster courses. Once signed up, make sure the training center provides guidance and materials for success.

Any way you look at it, crew are responsible for their own career. Practice and study all facets of navigation before you sign up for the Yachtmaster course to keep your career on course.

Capt. Brian Luke is chief operations officer for International Crew Training in Ft. Lauderdale. Contact him through www.yachtmaster.com.