Sea time might not be enough to avoid U.S. refresher courses

Nov 28, 2016 by Capt. Brian Luke

Wow. What a great boat show Ft. Lauderdale had this year. Just like most, I’m exhausted, but Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show tends to do that to all of us who participate.

This year, I had the pleasure of being one of the guest speakers at three events in and around the show. First was the 3rd annual MARE Forum, second was the PYA Sea Changes Seminar and third was the first-ever ISS Ship Advisors Breakfast Seminar.

Being that we are here in the U.S. for this boat show, many of the captains who attended these events were U.S. Coast Guard-licensed masters. The theme of my presentations focused around the unique differences between MCA-required “Updating Training” and the USCG required refresher/revalidation training.

The MCA, by way of the Manila amendments to the STCW code, seems to make it clear that any crew member who currently holds STCW Basic Training Certificates and in the previous five years has not taken or updated any Basic Training elements (Fire Prevention & Fire Fighting, Advanced Fire Fighting, Personal Survival Techniques, Proficiency in Survival Craft & Rescue Boats or Advanced Sea Survival, Fast Rescue Boats) then they would need to take updating training for those certificates prior to Jan. 1.

For those who have not taken the updating training, please do not panic. Mariners will not be fined nor will their license/certifications be revoked. It simply means they need to do so prior to their next voyage in 2017.

For those crew members who hold a U.S. Coast Guard license and certificates, the process may not be quite as clear. I will attempt to explain why I think this is a grey area at best.

The U.S. Coast Guard comments in the NMC’s website under “STCW Frequently Asked Questions: Basic Training” that mariners who renew their credentials prior to Jan. 1 and have one year of sea service within the past five years don’t have to do any shore-side refresher courses.

Traditionally with the USCG, mariners who did not have one year of sea service would be required to retake all the basic training courses in their entirety. Now if, for example, a captain renewed his USCG credential on Sept. 1, 2016 (with at least one year sea service) then the USCG is stating that he will not have to take any refresher training until Sept. 1, 2021.

This already sounds suspect to me and when one digs a little further I think it becomes obvious.

Let’s say this same captain has had one year sea service every five years for the previous 15 years. Technically speaking, this captain has not taken any formal shore-side training in all that time, yet he has renewed his license every five years without any issues. Throughout all these years, Port State Control was OK with this because that was the standard.

However, starting on Jan. 1, this same captain will not be in possession of the five Basic Training course certificates or their subsequent refreshers (issued within the previous five years). Although the USCG is stating that this is OK, it is my belief that when this same captain enters a foreign port and Port State Control boards his vessel for an inspection, the captain may find himself in a precarious position because after Jan. 1, every Port State Control officer will be looking closely for these certificates to be on hand.

Although the USCG may say it’s OK, mariners must satisfy the Port State Control officer in a foreign country.

Again, in my estimation the officer may not care what the USCG says and he will simply be looking to see if you satisfy the current STCW convention amendments.

Interestingly enough, the U.S. Coast Guard masters I spoke with at the boat show were under the impression that they would be compliant when confronting a Port State Control officer in a foreign port. And they may be correct. Their CoCs (or Merchant Mariner Credentials, as referred to in the US), list within their pages that they are STCW compliant, along with those endorsements for which they are currently qualified.

I get it. It would seem, within these pages, that compliance was granted by the issuing authority of the U.S. Coast Guard.

I would like to submit that all other countries are required to carry onboard the actual (dated) certificate that was received upon completion of STCW Basic Training. What makes anyone believe that U.S. crew members will be exempt from this same requirement? They may be right but is it worth risking the owner’s yacht to detention and the mess that follows?

My guidance would be to do like all the other signers to the Manila amendments and have these certificates on board the vessel. This will surely guarantee compliance for the vessel and job security for the crew. It will also help keep “your career on course”.

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