Training should – and does – increase as vessels grow more complex

Oct 3, 2016 by Capt. Brian Luke

Superyachts have come a long way in the past 30 years. Vessels are much larger and more complex than ever before, whether in their integrated bridge systems, highly complex steering and engine control systems, or integrated information and entertainment systems.

On both superyachts and commercial ships, these complex integrated systems onboard have reduced the number of crew required.

The fact that most superyachts are more complex, coupled with reduced crew, has created a substantially greater requirement for more formal training and education in conjunction with increased onboard training in the safe operation of the vessel.

So has onboard training and education kept pace with this level of sophistication employed in the superyacht industry?

As I often do, I like to make comparisons with aviation as a good litmus test to determine where we might be in the maritime community compared to our friends in the aviation industry. The airlines have gone through the same complexity challenges and continue to do so today.

Years ago, airlines used to have four crew members operating on the flight deck: a captain, a first officer, a navigation officer and a flight engineer. (The flight engineer managed the electrical, hydraulic, and fuel systems, etc.) As the aircraft flight deck navigation systems became more sophisticated the navigator was eliminated with the captain and first officer assuming the navigator’s duties.

Years later, somewhere around the early 1980s, the aircraft systems became more automated and the flight engineer was eliminated. The control and monitoring of these newly automated systems could also now be managed by the captain and first officer.

Today, all major airlines operate with a simple, two-pilot crew. Contrary to what many believe, this automation increases the responsibility and workload of the two pilots. However, in conjunction with an essential increase in training and education, the automation has improved the level of safety in daily airline operations. Airline pilots now operate their aircraft at a much higher degree of safety than ever before.

So what does this have to do with superyachts? Like our friends in aviation, our systems have also become much more complex, thereby necessitating the need for greater automation. This increased automation has commensurately reduced the number of crew required to operate a far more complex vessel.

And just like in aviation, the corresponding need for training and education is greater than ever before to efficiently, effectively and safely run a complex superyacht.

The MCA has attempted to drive us in the right direction by requiring all OOWs, chief mates and captains to have an ECDIS (Electronic Chart & Display Instrumentation Systems) endorsement to their Certificate of Competency (CoC). And all OOWs are now required to have taken and held EDH (Efficient Deck Hand) for 18 months prior to receiving their OOW CoC.

These are but two examples of recent regulatory recognition for additional training regarding ever more complex maritime systems.

However, these courses are just a couple of examples of specific land-based training requirements, and does not address the need for onboard training for a specified vessel. Land-based training only provides half the solution to efficiently and safely operate a superyacht today. The other half involves both onboard training and developing and effectively following a well-designed, vessel-specific Safety Management System (SMS).

Both onboard training and the SMS can and should be used for every onboard operation where safety is an issue. It is of very little use to have a well-designed vessel-specific SMS in place but not formally train the crew using it. As an example, onboard training and a good SMS will allow us to not only operate the complex firefighting and fire suppression systems but help us follow appropriate procedures and best practices for managing and monitoring these systems.

By appropriately managing the automated detection systems, we may be alerted to an issue before it evolves or gets out of control.

As another example, it is impossible to correctly train crew on launching the vessel’s RIB if the SMS is not followed or one is not in place. Launching the RIB simply becomes a matter of how the captain wants it done. That puts crew safety at increased risk in our highly complex environment.

The SMS ensures that the multiple complex systems and tasks onboard our yachts are managed in a safe, consistent, effective and efficient manner on a particular vessel. And that can only occur if there is an SMS in place and the crew are trained consistent with the standards of the procedures defined in that management system.

The young men and women signing on as crew today have grown up with rapid technological advancement, and most are comfortable with technology. Many in the older generation had some difficulty with such technological advances and resisted it for years, but young crew generally embrace this technology and are therefore eager to learn and work with the complexity of a superyacht.

Let’s give them the tools and knowledge they need and it will well reward our industry. This younger generation is the future of superyachting and they are poised to take advantage of all the advances in equipment and systems.

Land-based maritime education and training, coupled with onboard training and Safety Management Systems, are the keys to keeping your ship running safely and efficiently. So train often and follow your SMS to keep your career on course.

Capt. Brian Luke is president of Bluewater Training USA (formerly ICT) in Ft. Lauderdale ( Comments are welcome at