The Triton


Seagoing time and service not enough to fill education gaps


Working through the ranks as a crew member in the yachting industry is no easy feat. To do so successfully requires both seagoing service and education.

Every country that issues a Certificate of Competency requires a significant amount of sea service coupled with specific educational requirements. In theory, the reason for gaining sea service is that mariners will have developed a certain level of underpinning knowledge pertaining to vessel operations. The educational requirements simply build upon and help organize that knowledge gained while at sea. Coupled together, seagoing service and education help create a solid foundation upon which to build a mariner’s skills and career.

The reason sea service is a prerequisite for most maritime credentials is that it assumes, while accumulating sea service, one would learn various facets of operations at sea. This system works well in the merchant world. Most merchant shipping companies have in place training protocols that help the mariner develop their skills while at sea. Therefore, in theory, as crew accumulate sea service, they will also have reached a certain level of knowledge and competency.

Unfortunately, in the yachting industry, this is where a significant breakdown occurs. Yacht crew have a far different agenda than those in the merchant world. Generally speaking, merchant crew are tasked with transporting goods from point A to point B. The owner is never onboard and crew spend most of their time operating or learning to operate the vessel.

On the other hand, yacht crew are tasked with catering to the needs and desires of the yacht owner/charterer and guests. This creates an environment where crew are inordinately busy cleaning and maintaining the vessel as opposed to operating or learning to operate the vessel.

Often, yacht crew have little opportunity to develop maritime skills such as vessel operations, passage planning, navigation, operating radar and bridge management, to name a few. All too often the result is seagoing service without the prerequisite underpinning knowledge being gained.

So, how do we rectify this issue and put an end to the vicious cycle of more sea service and less knowledge?

Running a training center gives me the unique privilege of working with these crew every week. I often watch in despair as they come to the training center unprepared to enter into the ranks of Officer of the Watch, Chief Mate and Master. As they struggle, my heart often breaks for them as they experience one failure after the next.

It doesn’t have to be this way, and collectively I believe we can change this outcome by working together and developing training practices not unlike merchant shipping.

Until that time comes, individual mariners can greatly enhance their success by studying prior to arriving for any short course and exam. My experience has been that those who arrive having previously studied the course material have more than a 90 percent pass rate with all courses and exams. Self-study helps them gain much of the underpinning knowledge required to successfully pass any maritime course and exam.

There is simply not sufficient time to master all of the information content of a short course during that course. Pre-study preparation is expected, and critical to success.

As the yachts become larger and more complex, the IMO and flag states around the world will continue to recognize the need to ensure crew members have gained the appropriate, documented, seagoing experience and education. This will continue to be a challenge for the megayacht industry until all crew members embrace the fact that educational requirements and “appropriate” seagoing service are both required to climb the ladder of success in the yachting industry.

Learn as much as you can while at sea, and self-study prior to any course and exam. If you do this, I guarantee that you will keep your career on course.

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

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