Superyacht Crew – OOW Unlimited, An Alternative Worth Considering?

There has been much debate about the quality of education and training for superyacht crew and, of course, the 3000gt limit. On the latter point, not only does this prevent you from working on the largest superyachts, but also restricts career opportunities.

Yes, but the commercial CoC is not practical for yacht crew, it is expensive and time consuming!

As I previously wrote here for those wishing to serve as Master on Yachts >3000gt there is a difference in cost and time due to the breadth and depth of education and training, though when all factors are taken into account and weighed against the benefits, not as much as you might imagine.

Now the option of ‘blended learning’ makes an OOW Unlimited a more attractive, practical and cost effective proposition. In the following piece I take look at this pathway and compare against the traditional Yachting route.

Note: This is based on the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) who developed Yachting training and certification, now MSN 1858, as an equivalent allowed under Article IX of STCW and their requirements for Merchant Navy Deck Officers under MSN 1856.

Education Evolves

The last 18 months has seen an evolution in the way education is delivered; I suspect accelerated by COVD-19. There are now many more education and training establishments that are offering courses online or as ‘blended learning’ where there is a combination of self-study and classroom time; this is also true of maritime education.

One such establishment is Warsash Maritime College who offer OOW Unlimited and Chief Mate/Master Unlimited as ‘blended learning’ following the HNC/HND experienced seafarer route under Merchant Navy Board (MNTB) guidance and MSN 1856.

One of the major benefits of self-study is that you no longer need to spend months at college which, can be expensive due to loss of earnings and expenses – I know what it cost for my Chief Mate/Master Unlimited! You can now study for your CoC whilst still working – Warsash suggest 20 – 24 hours per week.

The Two Main Pathways

The table below summarises the two main pathways – there is also cadetship, but this is not currently widely used in the superyacht industry.

Note: table best view in landscape on mobile phone.

YACHT – MSN 1858
MERCHANT NAVY – MSN 1856
OOW CoC
OOW (Yacht) <3000gt
OOW Unlimited
Academic qualification
NIL
HNC Nautical Science
Training Record Book required
YES NO
RYA Qualifications required
YES NO
Sea Service 36 months sea service – see MSN 1858

Plus required RYA sea service if YM on vessel <15m

36 months sea service –inclusive of 6
months  engaged in bridge watchkeeping duties
Yacht Sea Service Verification
PYA or Nautilus
PYA or Nautilus
Other requirements RYA/IYT YM Offshore.

As an example, the UKSA Professional YM Offshore is 16 weeks and GBP 9,900 all inclusive.

NIL
Duration
4 weeks

OOW Genral ship knowledge

OOW Nav and Radar

Excluding RYA/IYT YM Offshore

4.5 months

HNC Nautical Science blended learning – see breakdown below

SQA Exams

Orals Exam
YES YES
Fees without RYA/IYT and short courses
*Correct 20/21 intake
GBP 4,150.00*
GBP 5,995.00*
Funding available
Slater Scholarship
Slater Scholarship

Student Loan

Short Courses required
STCW Basic Safety

EDH

Helm (O)

ECDIS

GMDSS GOC

PSCRB

STCW Basic Safety

EDH

Helm (O)

ECDIS

GMDSS GOC

PSCRB

Medical First Aid

Advanced FF

Progression to Chief Mate Yachts <3000gt
RYA YM Ocean – time and cost

Medical First Aid

Advanced FF

Helm (M)

Helm (M)
Progression to Master Yachts <3000gt
24 months onboard yacht service, inclusive of 240 days wathckeeping whilst holding OOW (Y) <3000gt

NASRAS (Master Y)

Business and Law

Celestial Nav

24 months onboard yacht service, inclusive of 240 days wathckeeping whilst holding OOW (Y) <3000gt

NASRAS (Master Y)

Business and Law

Celestial Nav

Progression to Chief Mate Unlimited
NO
12 months wathckeeping service while holding OOW Unlimited

HND Nautical Science (9 months blended learning)

SQA Exams

NAEST (M)

Proficiency in Medical Care

Orals exam

Progression to Master Unlimited
NO 36 months watchkeeping service whilst holding OOW Unlimited.  Can be reduced to 24 if at least 12 months served as Chief Mate whilst holding Chief Mate Unlimited

Orals exam

OOW Unlimited via HNC

This includes online studying for a Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Nautical Science that provides the underpinning knowledge for OOW Unlimited. A HNC is a recognised UK academic qualification at level 4 which can then be topped up to level 5 with HND or, even Degree level 6 (BSc). Subjects include:

  • Bridge watchkeeping
  • Chartwork, Tides, Sailings and Celestial Navigation
  • Cargo work
  • Meteorology
  • Ship Stability
  • Ship Construction
  • Law and Management

In addition, there are several required courses, some on campus, some online.

  • Navigation Equipment Theory and Practice NASET (O)
  • HELM (O)
  • EDH
  • Signals
  • Preparation for SQA exams
  • Preparation for MCA Signals exam
  • Preparation for MCA Oral exam

There are 3 written assessments mid-course, and final SQA exams in Navigation, Stability and Operations.

The total time for the above is around 27 weeks, approx. 20 weeks online and 7 weeks at Southampton Campus and Simulator Centre.

On top of this you would require the STCW short courses, which are the same as for OOW (Y) plus the addition of Advanced Firefighting and Medical First Aid, which make a lot of sense to have anyway.

Some Pros and Cons

Once you add the time and cost for RYA qualifications on top of the OOW Yacht 30000gt sea service and courses, there is really very little difference compared to the OOW Unlimited. And, unlike a OOW Yacht <3000gt, an OOW Unlimited allows you to progress to Chief Mate Unlimited following similar ‘blended learning’ (HND) and then onto Master Unlimited.

You can also apply for funding to help pay for the qualification.

Apart from the higher standard of education, academic recognition and training provided, there are other significant benefits. You could serve on the largest superyachts, career prospects are improved and not just commercial shipping, but also land-based occupations such as with Flag, Class Societies, insurance, ship management and operations, etc.

It is important to note that currently a Master (Yachts) <3000gt who wants to obtain a Master Unlimited will have to first start with OOW Unlimited and then progress as per MSN 1856 – I have heard that there may be some dispensation following OOW Unlimited for past sea service as Master on a yacht, but this would need to be clarified with the MCA.

For those wanting to serve on Yachts >3000gt, there is also the Marshall Islands (Yacht) Unlimited, but you need to hold a Master Yacht <3000gt and fulfil certain criteria. It is currently only recognised by the Marshall Islands and Cayman Islands registries and restricted to Yachts. This may make sense for those who already have Master Yachts <3000gt, less so for junior officers who have the opportunity earlier in their career to opt for Unlimited certification.

The main challenges I see with the OOW Unlimited pathway are:-

  • Self-study – this requires commitment and dedication and may not suit everyone.
  • Watchkeeping service for OOW and Chief Mate/Master may be a little more challenging to obtain on some yachts.

Conclusion

For those who want to work on the larger superyachts e.g. 500gt and above, there is no doubt the option of ‘blended learning’ for the OOW Unlimited and Chief Mate Unlimited that allows you to study whilst still working, is a positive development.

With its clear advantages, this pathway is now definitely worth considering by those newly entering the superyacht industry, and by those who may be looking to attain Unlimited certification to further expand their knowledge and career opportunities.

If this is of interest my advice is to do your own research, read the MSN’s, contact the various maritime colleges, obtain the very latest information, weigh up the pros and cons, and then decide which pathway best suits your current and future career goals.

By |2021-07-26T20:35:16+02:00July 26th, 2021|captains, qualifications, regulations, Safety|

Yacht and Commercial Qualifications and the Path to Yachts >3000gt

With the superyacht fleet >3000gt still growing, I thought it worthwhile to look at the difference between Yacht and Commercial qualifications, the various pathways to an Unlimited CoC and, some considerations to factor into your choice of pathway.

A Little Background

We know that education, training and experience are vital to ensuring safety on yachts and ships, and although there is the Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention that regulates minimum standards, it was introduced for commercial ships and those destined for a merchant navy career.

In recognition of the requirements of the yachting industry, in 2002 the MCA and, their contributing partners, introduced MGN 195(M) the first yacht specific standards of training and certification as allowed under Article IX of STCW.

Prior to this, commercial STCW qualifications or RYA qualifications for recreational boaters were the only qualifications available to professional yacht crew. Given yachting’s trajectory, it made absolute sense to combine elements of both to develop a qualification that was relevant and attainable. There is no doubt that the Large Yacht Code has significantly improved the standards of safety and professionalism within our industry.

Though there have been amendments, and we are now at MSN1858 (M+F), there are perhaps questions whether it has adapted sufficiently to the changes and challenges we have seen within our industry and, of course, why there is still a barrier that prevents Yacht captains serving on Yachts >3000gt? To answer this and other questions we need to explore the options available.

For unlimited tonnage qualifications under MSN1856 (M+F) there are several different pathways. If we look at the MCA Higher National Certificate/Diploma (HNC/HND) route for experienced mariners the one experienced yacht crew would be more inclined to choose – there are significant differences in the educational and sea service requirements. For example, the classroom time requires an extra 53 weeks compared to Yacht qualifications.

Another difference is bridge watchkeeping. No verifiable bridge watchkeeping duties or, experience, is required for a Yacht OOW/Chief Mate <3000gt, only 4 months for Master 500gt and, 8 months for a Master Yacht <3000gt and Marshall Islands (MI) Master (Yachts) Unlimited – this is in stark contrast to the minimum of 30 months required for a STCW Master Unlimited under MSN1856 (M+F).

Perhaps these are the reasons why it has proved so difficult for the MCA to provide a suitable transition – how do they reconcile the differences and still comply with STCW? Perhaps an Endorsement, like there are for special vessels like tankers, could be a way forward; though, it should be pointed out these Endorsements are on top of STCW qualifications.

The Marshall Islands recognised an opportunity to provide a pathway to unlimited tonnage yachts for experienced captains and introduced their own qualification. This allows experienced captains, through additional modules and an assessment by MI examiners, to obtain an Unlimited CoC restricted to Yachts.

Below is a summary of the main differences.

MCA Master Yachts <3000gt

  • 21 weeks education and short courses
  • Minimum 60 months sea service – including 8 months of bridge wathckeeping
  • Cost approx. €25,000

MI Master (Yachts) Unlimited – including MCA Master Yachts <3000gt

  • 31 weeks of education and short courses,
  • Minimum 72 months sea-service – including, 8 months of bridge watchkeeping, and 12 months served as a Master on a yacht >500GT
  • Cost approx. €40,000

MCA Master Unlimited – following the HNC/HND experienced seafarer route

  • 61 (college) + 13 (home study) a total of 74 weeks of education and short courses
  • Minimum 60 months sea-service, including 24 – 36 months of bridge watchkeeping, and 6 months watch keeping duties prior to OOW
  • Cost approx. €25,000

Of course, there will be additional expense for a MCA Master Unlimited due the course duration, loss of earnings and subsistence costs.

From Yacht to Unlimited

There is the MI Master (Yachts) Unlimited and, although a practical option for those with Yacht qualifications to upgrade, there are some considerations. So far, the Cayman Islands are the only Administration to have recognised this CoC, the fleet of Yachts >3000gt is small, and the Yacht restriction, further reduces its value compared to an Unlimited commercial CoC.

Unfortunately, the MCA don’t make it easy. A Yacht captain, irrespective of experience, still must start at the beginning with an Unlimited OOW, followed by Chief Mate Unlimited before Master Unlimited. Due to time/cost considerations, this only makes sense for those who make the decision to follow the commercial pathway early in their career or, already have an STCW OOW or Chief Mate Unlimited, and wish to upgrade.

There are other Administrations, such as AMSA in my example below, who also have their own pathways. But these are generally based on STCW.

Interestingly, there is a growing number of deck crew, especially those working on the larger yachts, who are choosing the commercial route, it certainly provides them with better career opportunities, including commercial shipping, harbour Pilotage, ferries, as well as shore-based employment with a Class Society, Flag Administration or insurance company.

Whatever pathway you choose to Master Unlimited, there will be a cost and no guarantee of the returns. You might have to accept work as a 2nd officer or chief officer to gain the relevant large yacht experience. And, the reality is that, as mentioned, the Yacht >3000gt fleet is small so opportunities are limited, and you will be competing against commercial officers and captains who have now made yachting their home.

My Own Journey

Late in my career I embarked on my own journey to Master Unlimited. I had earned my OOW Unlimited working for BP Shipping before yachting and with that and my sea service on yachts (all Private) I was accepted into the Chief Mate Unlimited/Master Unlimited pathway with AMSA, the Australian Maritime Safety Agency.

The process involved attending college full-time for almost 10 months in Fremantle, Australia, for my Chief Mate Unlimited. This was an experience, as I was, let me say, a more mature student, and my classmates were all about 20 years younger, with relevant commercial experience; I was that ‘white boat captain’ a bit of a novelty! I was certainly self-conscious of that from the outset. However, what became clear was that, as seafarers, ultimately, we face the same maritime challenges, and whether a ‘white boat’, box boat, tanker, or anchor handler, there was much similarity and we all benefited from the different experiences we brought to the classroom.

On obtaining my Chief Mate Unlimited I then returned to sea to earn another 12 months of sea service necessary to sit my Master Unlimited orals exam. This was not easy as AMSA required sea service on vessels over 3000gt for Master Unlimited (they were supposed to reduce this to 500gt but Australian politics intervened). Fortunately, my industry connections came to the rescue and I found myself as Chief Officer on Katara then Eclipse where I obtained the bulk of the sea service required. I then returned to Fremantle for a months prep before successfully passing the oral exam and becoming Master Unlimited.

So, starting with an OOW Unlimited to becoming a Master Unlimited, took nearly 3 years and I had already worked for nearly 20 years as a yacht captain. And, the the cost of taking a significant amount of time off, leaving a good job with loss of earnings, living expenses, college fees, etc., all mounted up.

Summing Up

So how was my own return on investment?

If I’m brutally honest, the financial rewards have not been great. However, for me, the sense of achievement, professional pride, my greater knowledge and understanding, and the experiences gained from my time served on Yachts >3000gt, have been a far more important measure of success than the monetary cost.

For those starting their career, it is worth considering the MCA or, equivalent, Commercial qualification pathway. This will provide you with the greatest flexibility and broader range of opportunities in the future. And not just at sea, there are many related industries who value a Master Unlimited qualification.

Unfortunately, until the MCA change their qualification standards and pathways, the choice is limited for experienced yacht officers/captains who want to serve on Yachts >3000g. The options are, the MI Master Yachts (Unlimited) or, the MCA Unlimited or, other Administrations, Commercial pathways.

Finally, it’s worth remembering that there are some amazing yacht Owners and yachts below 3000gt and that bigger, is not always betterthey come with challenges and differences that may not suit. Think carefully about the time and cost involved and your career goals. And, find time to speak to those who have already trodden the path

By |2021-06-14T09:40:10+02:00August 27th, 2020|captains, qualifications|
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