STCW just imperfect or actively bad

Interesting take from our brethren to the North.

Did older licensing regimes of “western” or advanced maritime nations produce better engineers (officers in general) than the “stamping out” of the latest two rounds of amendments to STCW the author describes?

Is it easy for a less than sincere nation to adopt the standard or model course for OICEW (15 day), slap an arbitrary sea time requirement on top of that (6 months) and issue a COC based on that alone?
Is this the “stamping out” he refers to?

Is STCW dumbing down the competency of deep sea mariners on average?


Martin’s blog is really excellent. The situation in Canada is quite similar to the US, with one very big exception.

Canada’s seagoing labor market is not flooded with thousands of unemployed oil patch mariners that got easy limited licenses, further depressing jobs and wages of everyone outside the oil patch.


Deskilling is probably a more accurate term. No need to drag Bloom’s stuff into the fight.

That’s closer to the mark I think, I can’t think of the legal term for the assumption that a person with the proper credentials is assumed qualified unless proven otherwise.

Got “easy” limited licences? Interesting take that should be elaborated upon. I’m a oil patch hawespiper, and don’t remember the easy part of staying away from family for the majority of my adult life as I developed a career to support the same. Although, I have never been unemployed. Most of the time, I’m doing marine assurance auditing on the side…and have my fair share of too much work at times.


Presumption? That means the party has met their burden to provide evidence in support of their position. It can of course be rebutted, but they will have met their burden of proof if they are able to successfully invole a legally accepted presumption.

For example, under the well-known “Pennsylvania Rule” a party will have met a burden to prove a vessel was at fault if they show the vessel was in violation of a safety rule (e.g. the rules of the road’). They will have met their burden of proof as the presumption is that the violation was the cause of the accident.

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I thought there was a Latin term. If crew member holds a valid license etc than the burden is on the other side to prove that they are not qualified.

Res ipsa loquitir? Literally, the thing speaks for itself.

My recollection is that I saw it on one of your posts so if you can’t think of it I must be mistaken.

This is a dilemma for Surveyors doing Suitability Survey when asked to assess crew qualification for a particular task or assignment.

If a person hold a valid CoC from the same county as his passport (national licence) and an endorsement from the flag stat (where applicable) and the CoC corresponds to the position held, type/size of vessel and intended operation area, how can you say that he/she is NOT qualified?

Yes, you can ask questions about previous experience from similar vessels, tasks or assignments and make an assessment of whether he/she IYHO is likely to be up to it, which may be included in a confidential report to your client.

But to state that a person is NOT QUALIFIED has to be based on the CoC, otherwise you open yourself up to potential legal problems.

Is STCW perfect? Not at all, but it is a lot better than when there were no set standard. For some countries this has meant that the standard has become less stringent, for other more so, but it create a minimum standard that has to be adhered to and possibilities to check the validity of any CoC presented.

A discussion about the ultimate usefulness and success of STCW approach as it has evolved since 1978 can quickly degenerate into various side discussions.

Point about usefulness of a “standard crew” to insurance and regulatory bodies - taken.

Point about accepting at face value presentation of properly issued credentials - taken.

However, I think the linked post in the OP suggests to me that the STCW regime came with a cart load of untended consequences.

I would not be able to make a blanket statement that any mariner holding a COC only by virtue of being trained to the exact outline of the IMO STCW “model” course for OICEW and having sailed as cadet for say 6 months is unqualified. BUT are they AS qualified as either a maritime academy or hawswpipe third assistant produced by USA or Canada or other similar nations? My opinion probably not. Again let’s put aside the exceptions we all have sailed with. We are talking about the average or likely typical cases for this purpose.

Remember it’s not as if these other nations had higher standards and lowered them to STCW levels, it’s more that they could adopt the outline, tinker with internal national requirements and be recognized officially in an “international” manner. That’s the golden ticket for these nations to actively seek out crewing more ships at lower costs.

If that is true (and I suspect it is) then in answer to my question:

It would appear you could make a case for “yes it is”.

IF current STCW level of competency could reasonably be evaluated as less than under the previous regime of some seafaring nations
AND since meeting the lower standard is acceptable to regulatory bodies and owners
AND IF this acceptance leads to greater employment of the less competent (absolute value wise) mariners and less employment of the more competent sort
AND IF level of competency times number of mariners divided by total mariners = average competency
THEN I think you could say the average competency could be lower now.

This is a strange result when one considers the purpose of STCW was the exact opposite.

Again this is not saying they are not “competent enough”. However, it is disappointing to me that what is being claimed as an innocuous adoption of a minimum and perhaps low bar for competency could have ripple effects such as less seagoing positions for more qualified officers, immigration policy (in the case of Canada and the red herring of lack of qualified officers in general), Cabotage, increased motivation to flag out and perhaps overall less competent mariners working at sea. Again not saying (necessarily) incompetent just not the most competent. Then again in these days what economic argument can be made for using the best crew possible?

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Obviously, you’re a very exceptional guy. You’ve worked hard and made the most of the oil patch opportunities that came your way. You’ve been extraordinarily successful and earned your Unlimited Master.

However, there are special, easier to get, OSV licenses for the oil patch. And too many mariners have them. A lot of guys got “grandfather licenses” in the oil patch. The oil patch created a lot of licensed mariners that have only experienced one port, Fouchon, and two courses, “out to the rig” and “back to Fouchon.”

According to the USCG, Master OSV + 30 days observation time towing + TOAR = an instant Master of Towing license. I’m not sure how many guys got their 30 days on an AHTS while it wasn’t doing any towing, but apparently too many.

This oil patch bust, and the enormous surplus of licensed mariners it created, has severely impacted the rest of the maritime job market.

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I’d pick prima facie myself.


Yes. Prima facie, “on its face”, is the correct term. A license is “prima facie” evidence of competence. If one has a license, he is presumed competent. It’s a rebuttable presumption.

Res Ipsa loquitor “the thing speaks for itself” is a legal concept that creates a presumption of negligence. For example: There is no direct evidence that someone was negligent. However, X does not normally occur unless someone was negligent. X happened. Therefore, someone must have been negligent. Res Ipsa loquitor creates a rebuttable presumption of negligence.

As I recall, “The Pennsylvania Rule” which comes from a famous case of the same name involving a collision between the PENNSYLVANIA and another ship (I think it was in the Delaware River in the 1870’s) is actually two rules. The first rule is an elaboration of the legal concept of “violation of statute”. If one is in violation of a statue, he is, or can be, presumed negligent. I cannot remember the second rule.

The Pennsylvania Rule takes the rebuttable presumption of violation of statute a step further in the context of the Rules of the Road to also shift the burden of proof. If a ship violated the Rules of the Road, then the burden shifts to that ship to prove that it’s violation of the Rules “could not have contributed to the collision”. ( I’m going off my old memory not using Wikipedia, so I do not remember the wording exactly).

While The Pennsylvania Rule creates a rebuttable presumption of negligence, the shift in the burden of proof makes avviolation of a Rules of the Road almost impossible to defend. As I see it, the Pennsylvania Rule stops just short of imposing strict liability for a violation of the Rules of the Road.

The Pennsylvania Rule may be 150 years old, but it’s still good law and has been used in recent cases and in USCG actions against mariner’s licenses. It’s a good rule for mariners to know. So much so, that a description of The Pennsylvania Rule should probably be in the appendix to the Rules of the Road.

Once the STCW regime has been accepted as adequate then it makes it difficult to make a free market argument for a system that (presumably) produces officers that meet higher standards.

Should the U.S. withdraw support for the maritime academies and instead focus on training mariners to meet STCW standards only? Cost/benefit calculations that involve risk are difficult. So it becomes a political argument.

Is STCW dumbing down the competency of deep sea mariners on average?

If the countries with higher standards are forced to lower their standards the overall average still could be higher.

EDIT: Unless you’re thinking the STCW standards enabled a system that’s analogous to fast food franchises or big box stores displacing existing structures.

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Because as we see all too frequently, there can be an enormous difference between “qualified” and certificated.

Are we assuming that US Academies produce better qualified seafarers than any other Maritime Education institutions?

When someone come out from a US Academy they have received 4 years of schooling, but not all of that is directly maritime related. If they pass an exam that is STCW compliant they are thus academically “qualified” to be issued a CoC. But are they qualified to serve as 3rd Mate on ships any size and type in unlimited trade?

Are they any better prepared for independent watch standing then someone with two years at a Maritime School anywhere else, where they are concentrating on maritime knowledge only?

I don’t think so. In both cases they need seatime, either in the form of apprenticeship, or as Cadet, to gain experience under supervision.

The American (and Canadian?) system with military style Academies that also issues academical credentials other than those required for maritime qualification, or short STCW approved training courses in individual subjects as required to obtain a CoC, is very different from the norm in other countries.

Some other countries have military style Academies, notable Russia and the Philippines, but in most other countries Maritime Education is a purely civilian affair. Usually two year at school, one year operational and one year managerial, each ending with a STCW compliant exam for the relevant level.

Yes, Navy Academies may include STCW compliant subjects and exams to enable the officers to apply for CoC if and when they leave the navy.

Good academic results and x number of years at sea does not guarantee that anybody is actually “qualified”. Actual “qualification” is a combination of schooling, training and experience.

Before anybody is actually qualified for a position, they need all of the above, but that type of qualification can only be assessed by observing a person over time and at work.

The question becomes: while STCW sets the accepted MINIMUM international standard for training, do we prefer to have a higher standard?

A higher standard just for us? Or a higher standard for 1st world countries, and let the 3rd world stay at STCW levels? Or a higher standard for all STCW countries?

From my perspective, STCW imposes a lot of new, expensive, burdensome requirements. That may be good in theory, but it fails to achieve much in practice. Certainly, not enough to justify the regulatory burden or cost.

About 5 years ago as I was spending a lot of money on STCW courses, Transport Canada came aboard my American tug for PSC inspection. I was very surprised that the Canadian inspector took a very dim view of STCW. He felt that STCW was “dragging Canada down to Filipino standards.”

Should we try to raise IMO standards?

Should we let IMO set a minimum standard for all, but set higher standards for ourselves?

Should we work with other first World countries to form our own “club” with higher standards?

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Yes, if you read my post you will see that I explicitly said that assumption was being made.

:a system that (presumably) produces officers that meet higher standards.

Some of the better officers I have sailed with have come through the hawsepipe. Others have served as apprentices in worldwide tramp companies such as Bank Line (Andrew Weir and Sons). Nautical Acadamies in Poland, Gymnasiums in Germany and the Netherlands have also produced first class deck officers. The Polish Academy graduates spent time in square rig and it showed
If I could add launching a boat from a ship is a perishable skill. Use it or lose it. Seismic vessels launch boats frequently, some Pilot vessels use boats (Shanghei Pilots).
My early years in the Navy the sea boat ( oar powered Whaler) was launched every day at sea unless the weather was more than force 6.
The deaths resulting in lifeboat accidents have occurred in recent years and we have got to the point that they have now killed more than they have saved

I should add I think a SOLAS rescue boat is a travesty. Normally lowered in close proximity to the propeller and propelled by a 15hp outboard it is the very last thing that I would risk the crews life in. It is far better to manoeuvre the ship to effect the rescue.
The rescue boat has its uses, transporting the master to the town centre from the berth at Papeete for instance.