Are you qualified to navigate?

In addition to rules concerning equipment and performance standards there are regulations governing the qualifications and the number of the people that will be called upon to use them. Safety in navigation is as much about using the equipment properly and communicating with others both on the own bridge and on other vessels. It is therefore not surprising that a large section of Chapter V of SOLAS is devoted to this sort of activity.

Crew certification and competencies are beyond the scope of this guide but in general certificates should be issued in accordance with the latest version of the STCW Code (STCW 2010) or an earlier version if the flag state permits although the dispensation given to existing certificate holders expires in 2016.

Crew numbers are set by the flag state and are laid down in the ship’s Minimum Safe Manning Certificate. The number and ranks of personnel may vary depending upon area of operations and length of voyages. There are ongoing discussions at the IMO concerning harmonising the flag states’ approach to determining safe manning levels.

SOLAS requires that every ship must have a defined working language decided by either the operator or the master as appropriate. Each seafarer on the ship is required to understand and, where appropriate, give orders and instructions and to report back in that language. If the working language is not an official language of the State whose flag the ship is entitled to fly, all plans and lists required to be posted shall include a translation into the working language.

However, while there is an element of choice as to the working language of the ship, SOLAS requires that English shall be used on the bridge as the working language for bridge-to-bridge and bridge-to-shore safety communications as well as for communications on board between the pilot and bridge watchkeeping personnel, unless those directly involved in the communication speak a common language other than English.

For most vessels, the qualifications and skills needed for navigating officers will be fully covered by STCW 2010 but for ships intending to operate in Arctic waters there are additional requirements contained in the new IMO Polar Code which came into effect in 2017. Chapter 12 of the Polar Code is devoted to the new requirements covering crew training and numbers that will affect ships subject to its provisions.

Included in STCW 2010 is a requirement for bridge resource management for senior officers and leadership and management skills within their certificate. Companies should be responsible for providing training in these areas where seafarers have not received appropriate training. Official casualty investigations frequently highlight the human factor as either the root cause or a contributory factor and consequently there is a movement within the industry to improve bridge team procedures and management.

Under STCW 2010 Officers in charge of navigational watches must have knowledge of bridge resource management principles, including:

  • allocation, assignment, and prioritization of resources
  • effective communication
  • assertiveness and leadership
  • obtaining and maintaining situational awareness
  • consideration of team experience

There are three means of demonstrating competence permitted and these are evidence of appropriate training, simulator training or approved in service experience. Beyond STCW and any flag state requirements there is no regulation currently that makes training in bridge team management compulsory because the requirement could be met by way of in service experience but failure to address known problems could be considered a non-compliance with a company’s safety management system and may be picked up on by a PSC inspection.

Under the IMO committee restructuring put in place in 2013, there is a new sub-committee reporting to the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) that has taken over the role of developing regulation with regard to STCW and other codes and conventions. The Sub-Committee on Human Element, Training and Watchkeeping will address issues relating to human element training and watchkeeping, including minimum international standards for training and certification of seafarers and fishing vessel personnel. It will also deal with technical and operational issues related to maritime safety, security, and environmental protection, to encourage a safety culture in all ship operations including the issue of safe manning.

Other work covers the review, updating and revision of IMO model courses; and promotion and implementation of the IMO’s human element strategy. The issue of safe manning is something that many believe requires an international regulation and should not be left to flag states to determine. This is a controversial issue and will be resisted by many flag states but a future rule change cannot be ruled out.

Working practices requirements are not all concerned with encouraging teamwork but address some more routine matters.

Regulation 28 covers the requirements for maintaining the ship’s log. The regulation states that ‘All ships engaged on international voyages shall keep on board a record of navigational activities and incidents which are of importance to safety of navigation and which must contain sufficient detail to restore a complete record of the voyage, taking into account the recommendations adopted by the Organization’.

The recommendations referred to are contained in IMO Resolutions A.916(22). This regulation gives flag states the option to record the information in a different way than in the official logbook. Electronic logs are available from companies such as Kongsberg (K Log) and IB (Infoship ELB) among many others. These systems can automatically record speed and position at fixed intervals with other information being entered manually as required.

Not all flag states permit electronic logbooks and it should be borne in mind that Port State Control and other officials may at various times wish to inspect a ship’s log and difficulties could arise if information that they might expect to find in writing is missing.