What is “STCW” and What Does it Have to Do with My Captain’s License?

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by Ken Lannamann

“Do I need STCW training in addition to my 100 Ton License?” 

Newly credentialed Captains and seafarers may wonder what STCW training is all about and if it is necessary for their career, or their next job. 

STCW stands for Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers. It used to be that each nation was responsible for qualifying their own Captains and Mariners. As merchant fleets around the globe grew and the number of maritime disasters increased, it became clear that an international body was needed to set and oversee safety policies. Today that body is the IMO, the International Maritime Organization, which initiated STCW in 1978. 

Most of the talk about STCW and the confusion surrounding it only relates to the Basic Training element. This four-part course is required of every mariner employed on a vessel subject to IMO regulations. Everybody on board needs it, not just the Captain, Mate, or Engineer. The course typically runs for one full week, you will learn a ton about safety aboard, and it’s fun!  

The course involves action. You will be donning firefighting gear and fighting real fires in enclosed spaces, practicing CPR, putting on a survival suit, jumping in the water to enter a life raft, as well as righting it after a capsize. The four required modules of STCW Basic Training are:

  • Personal Survival Techniques
  • Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting
  • Elementary First Aid,
  • Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities

If you are serious about being a licensed mariner with any intention of pursuing employment in the industry, taking the STCW Basic Training course is an essential  element, and the certification will last you for five years. 

No need for confusion, it is a necessary part of your training!

For the Captains out there, a USCG Merchant Mariner Credential specifies your “capacity” or “rating.” The U.S. Coast Guard does not require the STCW Basic Training element for many lower license grades. For example, you can earn a 100 Ton Master or OUPV (Six-Pack) license without being required to take the STCW Basic Training course. But if you haven’t completed the course, you will not be qualified to serve on any seagoing vessel that is subject to STCW regulations. Please note, this is most vessels that travel in international waters, seaward of the Boundary Line.

When you apply for your MMC or renew it, you must request the STCW endorsement and provide evidence of successful course completion. And just like your license, the STCW Basic Training certification must be renewed every five years. 

The yachting industry is a huge crew employment sector, so in your career planning, take note of how many of those big shiny yachts are foreign-flagged. 

STCW Basic Training is well worth the time and effort. Research your local providers and select one with a great reputation and knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructors.

Ken Lannamann has enjoyed a long career as a Captain aboard international super yachts. He now lives ashore with his wife and is happy to share his experience with Confident Captain.