The maritime industry faces numerous challenges on many fronts in a competitive and depressed commercial market. However, no matter whether the markets are good or bad, the need to find qualified, competent and motivated seafarers remains the same.

Let’s first clarify the terms we use:

Competency: is the description of the knowledge, skills, experience and behavioral attributes necessary to carry out a defined function to the standard of performance expected in the workplace, i.e. a performance standard

Competence: is the ability to perform particular tasks and duties to the standards of performance expected in the workplace, i.e. doing the required task to the required standard

The factors that need to be taken into account with respect to crew competence are:

  • The seafarers: multiple nationalities, multiple languages, varying training and education standards, a broad range of qualifications.
  • Costs: the costs of assessing and training seafarers.
  • Balancing training needs and managing them: HR departments, crewing department, DPA, safety department, etc.
  • Turnover of good personnel – crew retention.

The matter of “crew competence” (as opposed to just “knowledge”), came to the fore leading up to the adoption of the STCW Convention, as amended in 1995, wherein the STCW Code specified competency standards for watchkeeping and safety related functions.

By training people, we develop their competence.  Training should not only be for regulatory compliance but also to develop skills. Training standards define learning outcomes, and learning outcomes should be consistent with the performance criteria expected for the workplace. However, what happens after the training has been completed?

The ability to retain key skill sets requires periodic refreshing and review.  Exercising the brain is the same as exercising the body.  Over time, without refresher training, and regular practice, our skills decay.

This can be mitigated through periodic performance assessment to identify skills gaps, followed by targeted refresher training to close the gaps, thereby enhancing skills retention.  The following diagram demonstrates that periodic assessment and then refreshing of key skill sets aids retention. When this process is done systematically over time the result has a positive effect on long term skills retention.

Companies need to show commitment to assuring crew competence through such a systematic approach. Training that targets identified skills gaps will not only close the gaps but save time and a lot of money in the training budget that would otherwise be wasted on training that is too broad and not necessary.

As part of our long term commitment to loss prevention, the American Club had recognized that we could play a key part in assisting our shipowner Members in identifying key risks areas to safety and the marine environment given our particularly unique position as underwriters whereby we see a greater frequency of the incidents that occur.  We were particularly concerned by the lack of crew competence in respect of compliance with the requirements of international mandatory instruments (e.g. SOLAS, MARPOL, etc.) while conducting surveys on some ships. The American Club’s e-Learning tools have been developed in cooperation with IDESS Interactive Technologies since 2005. Subjects selected are based upon claims, experiences during vessel surveys and implementation of targeted regulatory requirements. The tools feature assessment, training and competence assurance systems, that provide real time tracking and management of all aspects of crew skills development. A Plug & Play facility provides capability for shipboard training when offline.

Claims incidents, observations from vessel surveys and changes in the global maritime regulatory regimes have led to our focus upon these key specific issues to date since our relationship with IDESS IT began. Our e-learning modules as part of the competence assurance process are:

  • Marine pilotage: Stranger on the Bridge
  • Entry into confined spaces– Silent Assassin and Invisible Assassin
  • Clean Seas: Complying with MARPOL 73/78
  • Bulk carrier safety series– IMSBC Code, BLU Code, Code for the Safe Carriage of Grain in Bulk, TDC Code
  • Vessel General Permit (VGP and s-VGP)
  • International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS)
  • Ship-to-Ship transfer (under development)
  • Translations into Mandarin (under development)

In conclusion, training needs to be relevant and focused, and requires commitment and patience. Keeping in mind that competence assurance processes are core to efficient, cost-effective training, the American Club is committed to further developing and disseminating such tools. We are working with our shipowner Members in embracing competence assurance concepts and we are currently seeing greater emphasis by oil major charterers on seafarer competency.


Above text is an edited article of William Moore’s presentation during the 2017 SAFETY4SEA Conference

You may view his video presentation by clicking here

The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.


William H. Moore, Senior Vice President – Loss Prevention, American Club

Dr. Moore is the Senior Vice President for Loss Prevention at the Shipowners Claims Bureau, Inc., managers of the American Club. In that capacity, he brings 21 years of experience to the development and implementation of the Club’s loss prevention initiatives to assist shipowners in the reduction of maritime risks and incidents. He formerly worked at ABS in New York and Gard Services in Norway. He acquired his doctorate degree at the University of California at Berkeley in Naval Architecture & Offshore Engineering and is also a graduate of Ocean Systems Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr. Moore is also formerly the Chairman of the IMO’s Joint Maritime Safety Committee & Marine Environmental Protection Committee’s working group on the Human Element