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Education and training

STCW: the foundations of maritime education

7 March 2023

Changes are afoot in nautical studies, with new shipboard technology and training methods matched by the need for extra social support for seafarers. In the first of our special features on education and training, David Appleton looks at the IMO convention that underpins everything, and the ongoing work to update it

Work on the International Maritime Organization's long-awaited revision of the STCW Convention started in earnest this February when the ninth session of the Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping sub-committee (HTW 9) began its work on the 'comprehensive review' of the convention and associated code.

The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), which was adopted in 1978 and entered into force in 1984, was the first instrument to set minimum standards for seafarers on an international level. Prior to this, standards were set by individual governments and varied widely.

Improvements through amendments

STCW has been amended multiple times since its inception, most notably in 1995 and 2010. The 1995 amendments introduced the 'STCW Code', set mandatory minimum rest periods for seafarers for the first time, and introduced a requirement for flag states to provide detailed information to the IMO with regards to their implementation of the convention.

The 2010 Manila Amendments introduced new requirements for mandatory refresher training, certification for electro-technical officers, human element and leadership (HELM) training and the requirement to undertake high voltage and ECDIS training for engineering officers and deck officers respectively.

When the 2010 amendments were adopted, it was agreed that as far as possible, the convention should be revised every 10 years. With this in mind, following some pandemic related delays, member states agreed at the IMO's Maritime Safety Committee in 2022 to embark on the comprehensive review – noting that there had been significant developments in the industry since 2010 which made updating of the convention and code necessary. These included the rapid pace of technological development, concerns about the quality of onboard training, and the need to address unsafe watchkeeping practices.

Setting up the latest review

HTW 9 was the first session of the sub-committee addressing the comprehensive review. Delegates were tasked with undertaking a preliminary assessment of the scope of the work to be conducted, preparing aims and principles for the comprehensive review and, identifying specific areas to be reviewed.

Following a week of intensive discussions, the sub-committee was able to establish the aims and principles that will guide the comprehensive review. Decisions of particular note include the instruction that all provisions of the Convention and Code are up for discussion, that the review should not result in downscaling of existing minimum standards, and that new and obsolete competencies and outdated requirements should be addressed. It was also decided that the review should address the impact of digitalisation and emerging technologies on ship operations and seafarer training and certification.

The work will now continue in a correspondence group where the next tasks are to establish a roadmap for the review and to identify specific areas for amendment.

A new focus on bullying and harassment

In addition to agreeing the principles for the comprehensive review of STCW, HTW 9 also dedicated a significant amount of time to developing new competencies for seafarers in relation to bullying and harassment including sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The new provisions will include training on knowledge, prevention of and response to bullying and harassment, including sexual assault and sexual harassment, understanding power dynamics and basic knowledge of the consequences on various stakeholders and the corresponding effect on safety.

These new competencies will apply to all seafarers and are most likely to be implemented via changes to the Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (PSSR) course.  

No time to lose

The comprehensive review of STCW represents a huge undertaking for the IMO which will take a significant amount of time to complete. Even getting started has been a challenge, given that the proposal for the review was first mooted by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) in 2019.

With the amendments that arise from the review unlikely to enter into force until 2028, it will be imperative that mechanisms are developed to allow for a far swifter amendment procedure in the future, otherwise the STCW and the IMO risk being left behind.  

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Have your say on the STCW review

Nautilus is involved with the STCW review as an affiliate of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and International Federation of Shipmasters' Associations (IFSMA). This means that issues raised by Nautilus members can be taken directly to the IMO and fed into the review.

Members attending the Nautilus Professional and Technical Forum in January were invited to share their views on what the priorities should be for the review. Here's a snapshot of their thoughts:

'We're not seeing enough emphasis on safety training for gas cargoes and new fuels.'

'I agree, and I think STCW should introduce ship-specific training requirements.'

'We all need to be ready for the phasing out of paper charts and ensure cadets are learning enough about different kinds of ECDIS.'

'I'm not sure we should say goodbye to paper charts, sextants and celestial navigation altogether. What happens if the technology goes down? You need basic redundancy skills on a "get you home" basis.'

'I'm concerned about mental health issues being hidden at sea, and I want to see STCW including mental health awareness training.'

'It's shocking that enclosed space incidents are still going on. The course should be mandatory under STCW and there should be a five-yearly revalidation.'

'All these are important points, but we should also bear in mind how seafarers are going to pay for all the mandatory new STCW training requirements if they're self-funding.'

  • Do you agree with these points, and do you have more ideas that you'd like to feed into the STCW review? As a Nautilus member, look out for your email invitation to the next Nautilus Professional and Technical Forum on 4 April 2023, or send your views to


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