“STCW” has been the bugaboo of mariners for years now.  What it is, what it requires and of whom are ongoing questions for many seamen.  Some think it is the USCG requirement for Basic (Safety) Training.  It is . . . but it is also much more.

The International Maritime Organizations’s “Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping,” more commonly known as the STCW, is a type of treaty known as a “convention.” Generally treaties between nations come into force as a means to resolve disagreements and end conflicts. By contrast, in a “convention,”  nations agree preemptively to work on specific issues that pose global threats.  A “convention” is not only a document, it is a  process which begins with deliberations and ends with an agreement signed and ratified by member countries.

The initial STCW Convention was ratified in 1978. It did not have a significant effect on US mariners because its standards were essentially those of the United States. But an amendment to the Convention in 1995 introduced significant changes, including rigorous enforcement of certain prescribed standards and the creation of a “Code.” This Code consists of regulations imposing strict requirements on mariners operating internationally. The 2010 Manila Amendments to the STCW, the latest iteration of the Convention, impose still more requirements on mariners and companies working on International waters.

Certain vessels and the mariners who man them are not subject to the STCW Code. These include the following:

  1. Uninspected passenger vessels as defined in 46 US Code 2101(42)
  2. Fishing vessels as defined in 46 US Code 2101(11)(a)
  3. Fishing vessels used as fish-tender vessels as defined in 46 US Code 2101(11)(c)
  4. Pleasure yachts not engaged in trade
  5. Wooden vessels of primitive build
  6. Barges as defined in 46 US Code 2101(2) , including non-self-propelled mobile offshore drilling units
  7. Vessels operating exclusively on the Great Lakes or on the inland waters of the US. Inland waters means those waters shoreward of the Boundary Line.

The credentialed personnel on some other vessels are considered compliant with STCW by virtue of their US license and are under no further obligation to STCW. These vessels are those less than 200 GRT operating on a domestic Near Coastal voyage (“Near Coastal” is defined as those waters within 200 miles of the US shore and within the jurisdictional waters of the US).

Mariners subject to STCW must hold the appropriate STCW credential for their position on board the vessel.  While all mariners covered under STCW must take Basic Training, for example, officers on board vessels over 500 GT must in addition hold an STCW endorsement as OICNW (Officer in Charge of a Navigational Watch) or, in the case of the Master, an STCW Management level endorsement.  Several supplementary courses are required for the OICNW and Management level credentials.

In the past, the USCG combined the requirements for Domestic and STCW endorsements.  Several years ago, the two types of endorsements — National and STCW — were separated.  To serve on board a US vessel navigating in Inland waters of the US, a mariner need only hold the appropriate National endorsement.  To serve on board a US vessel navigating beyond US waters, the mariner must hold both the National (formerly known as “Domestic”) endorsement and an STCW endorsement.