Calls for STCW to Evolve

December 13, 2018 12:03 pm














KVH Videotel was proud to be Diamond sponsor at the CrewConnect Global Conference in Manila. Amongst the many fascinating presentations was one by the Chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping, calling for changes to the standards of maritime training and certification. Let’s look at the debate in more depth.


Speaking in Manila, the Chairman of ICS, Esben Poulsson, called for a revision of The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978 which sets minimum qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships and large yachts.

Poulson’s argument is a compelling one – and based on the reality that STCW is seemingly being left behind by the number of employers who are providing additional training and assessments before the deployment of many officers holding STCW certification.

Accordingly, this practice raises questions as to whether the Convention is still fit for purpose in the 21st Century. It is the hoped, therefore, that a revised STCW regime should enable the industry to adapt more effectively to technological advancements including increased automation.

While any evolution of standards should also provide sufficient flexibility to meet the demands of a changing world fleet, while it might need to establish a more modular approach to competency accumulation and certification.


With so much change surrounding the maritime industry, it was also hoped that any revised STCW will enhance transparency and the robustness of implementation oversight. With the Blockchain and digitalisation being key issues for shipping, it is going to be necessary that standards are able to mesh and inform the systems which people do business within.

The architecture of shipping seems to be changing like never before, and it seems healthy and positive to hear a debate about standards. The maritime industry does not exist in a vacuum, and so change elsewhere will inevitably impact those at sea.

There have been some largescale and high-profile changes to STCW, not least the Manila amendments in 2010. However, the ICS believes that this was merely part of the evolution, and that the time for real change is here.

The 2010 changes are seen as being more about training and certification provisions, rather than the necessary structural changes to address new developments in training or the competencies that will be needed to operate ships in the future.


So, with ICS calling on industry stakeholders to consider the next comprehensive revision of STCW, as happened back in 1995. It seems that change could be in the air. The last wholesale changes were now 23 years ago, the landscape is a very different one now, and it seems that training and certification will have to evolve to remain fit for purpose.

Time and tide waiteth for no man, as the saying goes. It seems that change is already almost upon us. December 2018 sees the 100th meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) in London. The meeting will discuss a raft of regulatory changes, and while not all will impact STCW there are some that definitely will.

The modernisation of emergency communications, developments in e-navigation and regulation changes required for autonomous vessels, are uppermost in the thinking, and MSC 100 members will be faced with a host of human element issues, not least the latest developments in modernising the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS).

In addition, there will be feedback on maritime cybersecurity issues and progress the industry is making towards reducing the risk from online threats. It will also hear of the regulatory changes needed to be made to SOLAS, STCW, and the convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) to accommodate “Maritime Autonomous Surface Ship (MASS)”. Change is coming and is coming fast.


As so much in shipping, there is always room for debate and criticism. Maritime training and certification have long been a target for those who feel the industry is not doing enough.

Amongst the criticisms of STCW is that it has been responsible more than anything else for the “dumbing-down” of shipping standards. Rather than creating high quality, professional seafarers, there are concerns that it has created the lowest common denominator effect.

There are also concerns that the level playing field, so important for companies, is actually set too low. So, in essence, it becomes a race to the bottom for many in the industry. The high achieving, good quality companies continue to aspire and invest, but there is a sense that they are always fighting against those who cut corners, and who see compliance as the high-water mark.

There is concern that there appears to be too little incentive to go above and beyond, and that has long been a problem. While others see that ultimately STCW needs to be re-tooled to make a thorough understanding of human performance issues the foundation for all maritime industry training.


As the calls for change echo, what are the steps that can or will be taken? What does the future hold for the certification and standards of seafarer training? Here are our thoughts on the big developments coming now, or which are over the horizon:

1. Performance Management: KVH Videotel has been leading the way when it comes to performance management at sea because it is so important. STCW has created demands, but so too have some charterers. It can be hard to keep pace with what is needed and wanted. With a system to monitor and manage training and attainment, then competence can far more easily become excellence.

2. Virtual Reality: We have written at length about VR in an early blog (A Whole New World of Maritime Training), but the future of training is changing. The ability to really fire the imagination of trainees, and to test their mettle under pressure is becoming reality. This brings huge potential for improving the skills and competence of seafarers.

3. Understanding future mariners: The criticism of legislation is that it can be slow to adapt. Obviously, that is the nature of laws and rules. However, that should not be an excuse for stalling on progress. Shipowners have the chance now to get to know their crews and to ensure that they are trained to excel in the challenges facing them.

4. Skills development: Moving from the competency to excellence model means appreciating how to get the best out of people. How we as an industry hone the skills that seafarers have, and of the best ways to train and educate.

5. Getting the mix right: There are, in essence, two main ways of maritime training, these are cognitive and behavioural. Cognitive is based on knowledge; while behavioural training teaches seafarers to apply their skills and acquired knowledge in all sorts of situations. Getting the balance right is vital today and will remain so in the future.

6. Going Beyond Compliance: When everyone is compliant, the challenge for companies is in how to move beyond that, and of how to make it pay. Shipping has long struggled with how to reward and recognise those who go above and beyond, but a new global training regime might hold the answers, or at least should.

What do you think? Is it a time for change for STCW? How do you think the future of training will look? We would love to hear your thoughts.