STCW Refreshers: Don’t bury your head in the sand!

By December 15, 2015 training, yacht management

STCW refresher

Are you and your crew prepared for the upcoming deadline for the STCW refresher courses? If not you could face a very difficult situation preventing your superyacht from operating come 2017. With only a year to go, courses are booking up fast and there looks likely to be a shortfall of spaces. Make sure you know the facts with an update from Mikaela Favill

In yachting, we are in the business of providing owners and charterers with fun and out-of-this-world experiences. But behind the scenes, we are all aware of the importance of safety and compliance relating to the operations of a yacht; as managers, captains and officers, we have a responsibility to make sure all those onboard are not at risk.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) and other regulatory bodies are continually updating regulations, which trickle down to superyacht operations and crew, and there’s little you can do but make sure you and your vessel comply.

Back in 2010, the IMO had a significant revision of the STCW – or Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping – known as the Manila Amendments. There were a large number of changes put into place, to be rolled out over the coming years, with the final deadlines for compliance falling on 1 January 2017.

Time marches on and suddenly we find ourselves just a year away from this point, with a rather enormous elephant in the room called the STCW refresher courses (MSN 1865 (M) on the MCA website).

Globally, there are 1.4 million seafarers affected by the STCW refresher course introduction, and they are all vying for the same spots on the same courses. To make the situation even more challenging, there are relatively few training schools that have been approved by the MCA to teach the courses (see which ones have been approved or are pending approval HERE). Cruise ships and other commercial fleets have been block-booking classes for their crew at some training facilities, so it is becoming very difficult to get a spot.

It’s best not to panic about the situation, but it’s important to make sure that your yacht is going to be prepared. The rules apply to both private and commercially operating superyachts, above 24m load line length. Whether your crew members will need to take responsibility for attending the course themselves or you will enroll them, time is running out, so it’s best to look into the situation as soon as possible.

Here is a run-down of the basics that you need to know:

  • The new rules state that, come 1 January 2017, anyone who works at sea, is mentioned on the crew list and has safety related duties (which is almost every crew member) will need to have either completed their Basic STCW training after 1 January 2012 or will need to have completed the newly created refresher courses before the start of 2017.
  • If your yacht is inspected by Port State Control (PSC) after 1 Jan 2017 and for all those named on the crew list you do not have onboard the original copies of your Basic STCW courses and the refresher courses, where applicable, then the yacht could be in serious trouble and prevented from operating. I.e., if you have a charter or owner trip starting the next day, you will not be allowed to take the guests until all the crew on the crew list are legally certified – Read: a very stressful situation you don’t want to find yourself in!
  • Technically, if your yacht is out of the water at a refit yard come Jan 2017, you may buy yourself a couple of months on the certification front as long as it is high and dry, but there is still likely to be a significant backlog of crew looking to get certified at this point. And if you are still in the water and rules of safe manning apply (crew on watch, etc), then the new rules most certainly will apply.
  • Most of the refresher courses cannot be taken remotely or on your yacht, with the exception of the Advanced Fire Fighting, which some schools are permitted to teach onboard (but not all). Class sizes are limited at each training school, based on staff and facilities size, so this is also going to limit how many crew can get through the courses before the deadline.
  • There is only a handful of training schools that are able to offer the courses (see a table with information from MCA website HERE) and the number of places available is becoming increasingly limited. Many of the courses for the end of 2016 have already been booked up.
  • On a personal level, if you do not have the relevant courses completed after 1 Jan 2017, you will not be able to work on a yacht and you will not be able to revalidate your certificate of compliance.
  • The likelihood of postponement of implementation of the rules is very slim. It will not pay to delay action and hope the deadlines will be put back in the next 12 months.
  • The refresher courses you need to take will depend on the courses you have already taken:

You took Basic STCW courses after 1 Jan 2012: You will need to take your refresher courses before five years has elapsed since you took the course, but have no rush for 1 Jan 2017.

You took both Basic and Advanced STCW courses before 1 Jan 2012: You need to take both the Basic and Advanced refresher courses for safety at sea and fire fighting before 1 Jan 2017.

You took Basic STCW courses before 1 Jan 2012, but advanced courses taken after 1 Jan 2012: You will only need to have the Basic courses refreshed before 2017, and the Advanced courses refreshed before five years has elapsed since you took them. Be aware that if it’s not long until the Advanced courses are due to be refreshed, you may want to sync all these refreshers together to save on taking time off work and travel to get to the training schools; plus, going forward, you will be able to keep them to five-year cycles for refreshers.

Warsash Superyacht Academy in the UK is one of the few training schools certified to teach all the refresher modules (see a list of them HERE). Lars Lippuner, who is the Director of the training school, says of the escalating situation surrounding the STCW refresher courses:

I often hear officers and captains say of the situation, ‘We will deal with it after the next Med season as we don’t know how many of the current crew will still be on board by then.’ Luckily, most junior crew – where the turnover is the highest – are fine, as in most cases they would have done their Basic STCW after 1 Jan 2012. It is mainly the more senior crew who have been working in the industry for much longer (and took their initial courses long ago) who are affected. These crew are less likely to leave the yacht.

The STCW refresher courses are an unavoidable inevitability, and it’s important that every captain and first officer knows where their vessel is going to stand come January 2017. It looks as though PSC is going to be increasing its depth of inspections on certification as a result of these new regulations, too; so be sure that all your underlying certification is up to date and originals are kept onboard to prevent any nasty surprises.

“We feel it’s important to forewarn the yachting community as a whole,” says Anthony Sands, Founder and CEO of Edge Yachts. “This situation is not going to go away so it will not help to bury your head in the sand. All yachts should make sure they are prepared for this upcoming deadline.”


With thanks to Lars Lippuner of Warsash Superyacht Academy