IMO Model Courses to train seafarers

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

14 April 2017


In spite of its role as a regulator setting out requirements for training and the standards to be achieved, the IMO does not take an active role in training seafarers. However, it does play an important part in enabling seafarers to meet the requirements of STCW through its programme of Model Courses.

Prior to the introduction of STCW 1978, all officer and crew training was fully in the hands of flag states. Individual flag states adopted various methods of training and examining seafarers some involving government owned and run academies and others relying on private institutions. In addition, the early career path could be fully provided by an academy or training institution or by acquired sea time with a shipping company interspersed with taking the appropriate exams for advancement to the next level. Many training institutions would have access to training ships that sometimes operated on a semi commercial basis carrying cargo.

Traditional seafaring nations required a high level of education and training for officers in particular although a career at sea rarely depended upon having attended the best schools or universities and was seen as a way for people from very modest backgrounds to achieve a relatively high earning potential. Ironically the current shortage of seafarers is seen as most acute in these countries and it is poorer nations such as the Philippines where working at sea is one of the few ways to escape from grinding poverty.

It was in recognition of the diverse standards of training and education that the STCW first came about and as a means of reducing the difference, the IMO began drawing on the expertise of acknowledged leaders in education and began formulating Model Courses that maritime institutes and their teaching staff could use in organising and introducing new courses or in enhancing, updating or supplementing existing training material.

IMO Course material

Many of the courses are produced based upon a particular set of IMO guidelines that have been adopted in relation to a topic or regulation. The delivery of the Model Courses is currently undertaken by many institutions and training centres around the globe. While some names such as; Warsash Maritime Academy and Greenwich Maritime Institute (UK), State University of New York Maritime College, Massachusetts Maritime Academy and United States Merchant Marine Academy (US), Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (Philippines), Admiral Makarov State Maritime Academy (Russia), Marstal Navigationsskole (Denmark) are known and respected globally the vast majority are smaller bodies.

A full list of approved facilities is difficult to locate but each flag state will have a list of training establishments offering approved courses in its own country and most will also be able to give details of foreign training facilities which are approved by them.

The model courses each include a course framework (detailing the scope, objective, entry standards, and other information about the course), a course outline (timetable), a detailed teaching syllabus (including the learning objectives and competences that should have been achieved when the course has been completed by students) and guidance notes for the instructor. Many courses include background information for students, in a compendium.

Completion of one of the model courses under an approved instructor will enable seafarers to meet the appropriate requirement for minimum training under STCW. The courses may be extended by a training institution beyond the minimum requirements, either to meet the demands of a flag state authority or even the proprietary requirements of a major shipping operator or other interested party.

A very topical example of this extended training over and above a Model Course is the situation surrounding the current role out of mandatory ECDIS. The IMO’s Model Course 1.27 is intended to provide the knowledge, skill and understanding of ECDIS and electronic charts to the thorough extent needed to safely navigate vessels whose primary means of navigation is ECDIS. The course emphasises both the application and learning of ECDIS in a variety of underway contexts and is designed to meet the STCW requirements in the use of ECDIS, as revised by the 2010 Manila Amendments.

Course 1.27 is however a generic course and to fully satisfy the ECDIS regulations in SOLAS, users must also be familiar with the specific equipment on any individual ship. Many training establishments and even some leading ECDIS suppliers, offer approved ECDIS training that combines Course 1.27 with the appropriate type specific training. Of course not every seafarer will be able to know in advance what type specific equipment he or she will be operating in the future, some training establishments can partially overcome this by offering familiarisation on a range of different makers’ products.

New IMO Courses added

The scope of IMO Model Courses is continually expanded and kept up to date by revision of existing courses. Now that training in Polar navigation and for LNG and other gas bunkering is becoming mandatory, these could well be suitable subjects for new model courses.

While the training establishment offering Model Courses should be making use of the latest version it would be wise for potential candidates or their employers to ascertain if this is indeed the case. One of the reasons for the problem of Philippines training being considered suspect by the EU was that some of the training establishments there were not reaching required standards.

The range of courses available at present number almost 70 although some of these are issued in connection with the related but separate STCW Fishing Convention and are aimed at seafarers on fishing vessels as opposed to merchant ships. There are too some specialised courses aimed at surveyors and instructors rather than seafarers.

An example of one of these specialist courses that is of particular relevance to this guide is Model course 6.10 Train the Simulator Trainer and Assessor. In the IMO’s own words ‘The topics that have been covered in this modular course have been chosen in such a way as to provide a valuable introduction for those who have little experience in teaching and also as a very useful refresher for experienced instructors. In addition, those whose teaching experience has been limited to lecturing will gain considerable exposure, as they will explore the world of maritime simulation along with a variety of teaching techniques’.

The course deals with the relevance of simulators in maritime training and the simulator pedagogy associated with the use of training on a maritime simulator. The basic aspects of the learning process, purpose of training, setting of training objectives and basic principles of course design and the psychology of learning has also been touched upon. It has a large practical component in which the participants implement the theoretical guidelines by planning, creating, executing and evaluating their own simulation exercises.

The experimental nature of the course being conducted largely using simulators provides the participants the opportunity to hone the necessary skills required to be an effective simulator instructor.