The Maritime Training Timebomb

September 25, 2018 1:40 pm
Ticking Timebomb















People matter when it comes to training. That may seem an obvious statement, but it is always important to remember. New studies into the profile and thinking of seafarers globally has revealed some fascinating insights and raised concerns too. So, who are we training and what are their needs?


Over the past year, we at KVH Videotel have launched our new Performance Manager and competency assessment tools, which allow companies to better understand what people have done and what they are achieving. This is incredibly valuable, but we also think it is important to understand who we are training, how we can support their needs, and how we can all work together to produce the best results.

Two recent reports have given some excellent insight into the profile of the seafarers in the global manning pool today, and the wants and needs they have when it comes to training, professional development and career paths.

Training is a subject which seems to throw up competing emotions for seafarers. According to the Mission to Seafarers, and their latest Seafarers Happiness Index, seafarers naturally recognise the importance of training, but they are increasingly raising concerns about how it is delivered. The latest report reveals many seafarers seemingly resent the impact of training on their leave. Indeed, there is frustration when seafarers feel they are losing leave time or it is influencing the opportunity to relax and enjoy time at home.

So, there is a clear indication that accessing training without the burdens of time, travel, and being taken away from home are increasingly attractive and important. Something that companies need to consider when it comes to the retention of staff, but also to ensuring competency.


Knowing something of the mindset of seafarers is obviously valuable and important, so it is vital to ask questions and understand the thinking that underpins their views. Another vitally important issue is that of demographics.

Understanding the socioeconomic characteristics of the seafaring population is hugely significant, and often something that gets overlooked. Perhaps because it makes for concerning reading, or because there is often a slight disconnect in shipping between those who need to know, and those who have the means of gathering the data.

However, whatever the whys and wherefores, the demographic study of the seafaring population based on factors such as age, race, and sex allow us to understand who we are dealing with, and to make better-informed decisions. Whether these be at policy levels, or from business perspectives.

Knowing who and what we are dealing with is vitally important, and perhaps even more so when it comes to seafarers. Of the 1.5 million around the world, it can be incredibly difficult to ensure we have enough data on crew, and that we are able to make the right decisions for seafarers.


With this in mind, it was extremely interesting to see a new report from the Liberian Registry regarding the make-up of seafarers. After analysing certificates issued by the Liberian Registry since 2000, the world’s third-largest flag State was able to produce some rather startling facts regarding the age profile of seafarers.

According to the Liberian Registry data:

  • The average age of a Master has held steady at 47 years old.
  • The average age of a Chief Engineer has increased by two years to 49 years old.
  • Engine and Deck Ratings’ average ages have increased by five and six years to 40 and 39 years old respectively.
  • Both Deck and Engine Officers of the Watch have seen their average ages decrease by one year to 34 and 36 years old, respectively.
  • In the offshore industry, averages are also increasing.
  • However, offshore watchkeeping engineer officers, have seen a significant decline from an average age of 47 to 39 years old.
  • The percentage of seafarers aged 55 and older has grown. In 2000 they represented 4% of the workforce – by 2015, they were 11%.

What does it all mean? Well, in the past 18 years, chief engineers, deck and engine ratings are getting older. The net result is that there is an increasing number of seafarers aged 55 years and older. This is what Scott Bergeron, the CEO of the Liberian Registry, calls a “demographic timebomb”.

Again, according to Bergeron, “The impact of this will be felt in both obvious and subtle ways. It is going to be increasingly hard to find people (regardless of quality), a smaller labor pool could put inflationary pressure on seafarer wages, and an older seafaring community will come with its own health and welfare requirements”. We would also add that there will be training challenges too.



It seems clear that action is needed to address this rising age conundrum, and there are many worthy suggestions which are outside the focus of this article. It would seem clear from the focus on mental health and wellbeing of seafarers, that it is perhaps not the most attractive employment prospect. If we are going to attract the young talent we need, and then keep them, well that must change.

From our side of the equation, the issue of maritime training is a key component of the need for positive change. The challenge is to create and ensure a supply of training which satisfies the key demand of competent seafarers, but which then can deliver more too.

Maritime training needs to engage with its audience, which as we have been told is an ageing one. However, we also need to ensure that we reflect the needs of younger people coming in. We are on the twin horns of a dilemma, but one which it is vital we succeed in.

If we get the training right, then shipping companies get the skills, knowledge, experience and the people that they need. So together we need to ensure that the ticking timebomb is not ignored, but that we continue to innovate and explore the right approaches. Performance management is key to this, and so too are new ways of assessing competency. We are pushing hard to ensure we do all that’s possible to head off the threats to seafarer manning, while developing innovative ways of making the best of new opportunities.

What do you think about this issue? We’d love to hear your thoughts on seafarers, the demographics of the global pool, and of the needs of older crew and the young talent the industry needs to attract. Share your views with us today.