What is the STCW Convention, and why is it so important?

What exactly is the STCW convention?

If you’re considering joining the merchant navy, it’s likely that STCW are going to become some of your most commonly heard letters during training - but do they really stand for? This is simply an acronym for the conventions set for the standards for training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers. They were adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 1978 to ensure all seafarers across the world meet a certain level of minimum training before reaching officer level.

Every seafarer aboard a commercial vessel, from the captains and chief officers to the chefs in the kitchen will all have to have completed STCW basic safety training before beginning work at sea. These lay out the basic knowledge needed to keep yourself and others safe on any vessel from a cargo ship to a cruise liner. The basic course will usually take about a week to complete and has four modules: personal survival techniques (PST), fire fighting and fire prevention (FPFF), elementary first aid (EFA) and personal safety and social responsibility (PSSR). Once these modules have been fulfilled, the trainee should be competent in preventing any incidents, but also being able to quickly and efficiently resolve any issues that arise- protecting both themselves and others.

Everyone aboard a commercial vessel will need to have completed this course, and then there are further STCW requirements based on department and rank. For example, an engineer will have to meet requirements to prove their competency in working and maintaining engine equipment, and the ability to work under pressure should an emergency arise. Higher levels of competence certifications are also required as an officer rises through the ranks, so a lower level officer needs less training than a chief officer, who in turn needs less than a captain or master. Time and experience working at sea is also required for these higher positions.

Why is this convention so important?

Before 1978 when the IMO agreed on the original requirements, different countries had differing rules on the minimum level of training a seafarer had to achieve before being hired aboard a merchant ship. Considering the international nature of commercial ship work, this was impractical and led to difficulty due to the inconsistency- officers from different countries had difficulty working with each other and with the ports they were docking because of the inconsistent training levels.

With established and consistent minimum training regulations, maritime officers are now safer when at sea knowing themselves and their colleagues are competent in at least basic safety procedures, if not higher certifications. This massively reduced the risk of accidents on the ship, and increases efficiency when responding to any incident that should arise- every person aboard the vessel is safer under these regulations.

The new 2010 amendments to the convention also ensure that the STCW requirements are reviewed every five years so the IMO can help officers stay up to date with the rapidly improving technology available for use on commercial vessels. This is important because it ensures an officer is going to be competent in their position even when faced with new equipment that they otherwise may never have seen before. So, if you’re thinking about joining the merchant navy, it is crucial to take this training seriously- it’s a requirement for very good reasons.

Where can you find an STCW course?

At Viking Crew, we aim to make your path into the merchant navy as simple as possible, so we have partnered with the Maritime Skills Academy (MSA) to be able to help our users train under the best tutors on the course that suits them best. This means if you’re a Viking Crew user looking to get your STCW certifications you can get 20% off with the MSA.

Take your first steps towards the sea by reading about the initiative here