Everything you need to know about the STCW Courses



If you’re a professional mariner or aspiring to work in the maritime industry, you’ve probably heard of an STCW endorsement. The Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping is an internationally recognized set of rules that determines what mariners need to know to perform their jobs safely.

The first version of the STCW was formed at an international convention in 1978 and established a set of standards for mariners across the world. Before the International Mariners Organization created the global set of rules, it was left up to individual governments, which posed problems as mariners crossed international boundaries. As the shipping industry is international by nature, the STCW created the first set of basic safety and watchkeeping rules to, above all, reduce confusion.

After the international STCW Convention established the minimum safety requirements in 1978, the IMO formed a new and more comprehensive STCW code in 1995. This new amendment to the original STCW outlined more specific requirements for individual mariner positions, as well as detailed safety training. These amendments took effect in 1997, and new mariners entering the marine industry after August 1998 were required to meet the new standards of the 1995 revisions.

Some of the more notable amendments include:

  • More rigorous safety requirements for in-port operations
  • Monitoring and communication to International Maritime Organization for STCW enforcement
  • New training, standards, assessments and certification processes

In 2010, the International Marine Organization amended the STCW rules again in what’s commonly known as the Manila Amendments. Due to the rapid advancement of technology and better shipping practices, the 1995 STCW began to become outdated.

Valid from January 2012 onward, seafarers entering the marine industry are now required by the IMO and United States Coast Guard to adhere to the new rules and regulations of the updated STCW 2010. Until 2017, new requirements were implemented by the IMO every year, giving marine companies enough time to update equipment on board as well as allow their crew time to complete new training and certification courses.

The most notable amendments from the Manila convention include:

  • Increased mandatory rest hours for workers
  • Security training and awareness
  • New limits for breath and blood alcohol levels for workers
  • Additional and more specific certificates of competency for deck and engine crew
  • New medical standards and physical fitness for crew

While the specific requirements for the STCW will continue to change, the overall purpose remains the same: it promotes safety and protects property, human lives and the environment. The IMO is continually trying to come up with new regulations and best practices that will protect the lives of mariners. For example, over 20,000 casualties happen worldwide in the fishing industry every year — and in an attempt to reduce accidents, the IMO developed the STCW-F to educate fishermen about best practices and safety precautions.

Who Needs an STCW Endorsement?

Any mariner who works aboard a ship that operates outside the U.S. Territorial Boundary Line must hold an STCW endorsement. The Territorial Boundary Line is three miles away from the Coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the U.S. and 12 miles off the Gulf of Mexico — it separates Inland and Coastal Waters from Ocean Waters. If you’re working aboard any vessel that crosses international borders, you must have the STCW endorsement appropriate to your license level

What Is an STCW Endorsement?

An STCW endorsement is obtained with specific coursework and/or onboard assessments that are required to meet internationally agreed upon safety standards and competency levels.

There are different types of STCW endorsements and certifications that you may need to qualify for specific maritime jobs. The STCW endorsement you’ll need depends on the type of vessel you work aboard and your rank. To obtain an STCW endorsement on the rating or license that you hold, you’ll need to meet the minimum requirements such as age, sea-service, training and onboard assessment. To receive STCW endorsements, you need to complete U.S.

Coast Guard-approved maritime training courses that prove your competency.

Before you apply for any merchant marine position, make sure you have the proper endorsements that you need for the job.

What are STCW Assessments of Competency?

An STCW certificate of competence is similar to an STCW endorsement, but it is specific to a particular function aboard a ship. STCW certificates of proficiency certify that you are capable of performing specific duties,

In addition to completing required STCW compliant coursework, you may need to present evidence that you have completed onboard assessments of competency or “tasks”. These onboard tasks should be signed off by a Qualified Assessor and documented on a US Coast Guard issued Record of Assessment, which can be found as part of the USCG Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) specific to the license or endorsement you are seeking.

What are the Levels of STCW Endorsements?

There are different levels of STCW certification. Which one you qualify for will depend on your experience, your position and the size and range of the vessel that you will have worked aboard.

As you advance in your maritime career, you may need to upgrade your STCW endorsement to match your rank and vessel size. Depending on how much sea-service you have, you may qualify for different levels of STCW, so take the time to evaluate (or have evaluated by a professional) all of your experience to determine which level you will likely be eligible for before applying. Talk to a MITAGS advisor about your past sea service and the level of STCW endorsement you are likely eligible for.

Different levels of STCW endorsements

  • Entry Level Ratings
  • Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch
  • Rating Forming Part of an Engineering Watch
  • Able Seafarer – Deck
  • Able Seafarer – Engine
  • Operational Level Officers
  • Officer in Charge of the Navigational Watch (OICNW)
  • Officer in Charge of the Engineering Watch (OICEW)
  • Management Level Officers
  • Chief Mate/Master
  • Chief Engineer

How long are STCW certificates valid?

Any STCW endorsements you hold are subject to renewal at the time your Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) expires (5-year period of validity). Renewal of some STCW endorsements will require additional coursework to refresh or revalidate on particular topics. As described above, Basic Training is one of these elements that requires this additional training.

Do I have to have STCW to be issued a Merchant Mariner Credential or particular license?

If you are applying for your merchant mariner credential, you are not required to get your STCW endorsement, but you will be limited to working on vessels within the U.S. Territorial Boundary Line if you do not.

Are there any crew members who do not need an STCW?

No. If your vessel is subject to STCW, even if you are a steward or a cook, you need your STCW to work on a vessel over 200GRT in international waters. The U.S. Coast Guard wants to ensure that every member of a vessel’s crew knows what to do in the event of an emergency

What are the STCW Courses

At the entry-level (Ordinary Seaman), a Basic Training course will be required to obtain an initial STCW endorsement. STCW-compliant courses include training for the following:

  • Basic Firefighting
  • Personal Survival Techniques
  • Personal Safety
  • Social Responsibilities
  • Elementary First Aid


© 2021 Migrabel BV. All Rights Reserved.
Opinions expressed in the blog are only for informational and/or entertainment purposes. Opinions expressed cannot be seen as legitimate or official advice.

Published: May 3, 2023

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