As the holder of any certificate of competency, have you ever thought what it means to actually hold that ticket? What the implications are of being a competent officer?We all know what it means to not have one – the inability to serve in a desired rank. But taking time to acknowledge what it means to hold a CoC helps us to perform better by reminding us of our responsibilities and duties. This realisation that knowledge necessary for just an exam may not prepare us for what we need to know when we are actually appointed to the rank we have successfully studied towards. The realisation that is was not just a paper exercise.

Going beyond minimum standards

All too often I hear the question – ‘do I really need to learn that for the exam?’ Yes! Having knowledge which maybe above the ‘standard’ not only helps us ‘shine’ in an exam, but ultimately gives us the tools to perform the duties required onboard. Always remember that although the bar is set high by the MCA in an oral exam, it is, at the end of the day, a minimum standard that must be met. And as I said at the recent Monaco Yacht Club Captain’s Forum as part of the Monaco Yacht show, we must stop thinking that the IMO and MCA produce maximum standards, they are the minimum required and must be built upon.

The value of experience

Knowing what should be done above and beyond the basic syllabus is normally achieved through experience. Experience is the accumulation of knowledge that helps us perform at a higher safer and efficient level. That accumulation of knowledge is gained through repetition and learning, learning from both failure and success. Experience can never be replaced or replicated – it must be consumed and savoured.But knowing what constitutes experience is an advantage which can be accrued by learning above the minimum. If we always stick to minimum standards then when an experience presents itself, we either don’t recognise it or the experience is negative which may result in incident. Even worse the experience can mutate into complacency and that in itself is a breeding ground for disaster.

So pulling away from the paper exercise to a career developing learning opportunity will not only help us achieve the minimum standard and obtain that CoC, but it will skill us for the real world jobs that we are now certified to do. Learning more than what is required by the minimum prepares us for the job as well as the exam.I’ve lost count of the positive comments that have been directed my way when a ’nugget’ above the minimum standard has helped a student push through their career – normally by keeping them out of trouble. I have tried to develop excellent officers not excellent candidates. Because excellent officers make excellent candidates – but the reverse is sometimes not true – the CoC does not maketh the officer!

Industry Perspective

The industry in general, but especially the super yacht industry, is struggling to attract the right people to go to sea. Career seafarers are few and far between. Is this just a symptom of a new generation coming through, or do we need to show this new generation that we are not just training for statistics, numbers or CoC’s using minimum standards? We should be training above what’s required because we value their input into the industry, we need their devotion and we need them to stay for more than just one trip! By enhancing the training and disconnecting from the paper exercise we can showcase our industry’s best attributes – experience and respect for knowledge gained.

Think about your daily activities as an officer. They normally follow a routine. At sea this routine is normally quite regimented and helps us perform safety related duties with alarming regularity and precision. All good, all minimum and all working.Now consider challenging circumstances – non routine operations and emergencies. The crew member presenting with unusual certificates, the fire in a strange place, the navigationally risky area or the challenging charterer. They will all ask more of us than our routine experience will provide. Now we rely on that teaching above what is required. Now we realise the benefit of disconnecting the paper exercise of obtaining a CoC from the ability to know more, think outside the box and start to draw on that recognised experience. We are moving upwards from minimum standards, hopefully through training rather that trying and failing at short notice! Accruing experience and learning at short notice, in a short timeframe, normally results in panic and confusion!Suddenly you realise what it’s like to hold that CoC and act as an officer – thinking on your feet and drawing upon training that skilled you above the minimum. Leaving the paper exercise in your wake as you power through challenges drawing upon your enhanced knowledge and experience.

Case Study: Lessons from the El Faro Incident

Consider the case study of the sad incident of the El Faro, a 280m containership which succumbed to hurricane Joaquin and sank with all 33 seafarers onboard.Reading the transcript of the bridge VDR recording is disturbing. It shows that the ‘text book’ signs of an approaching TRS were there, the forecast was correct and the deck officers recognised the danger they were heading into. But nobody intervened with any effect. Nobody seemed to have the confidence to challenge the master’s decision on course setting. No-one was empowered enough by knowledge (or indeed the right experience) to do so. Even following basic TRS avoidance would have taken the vessel away from the eye (albeit by altering course away significantly from the passage plan) and would have saved the day.Knowing just the text book action may have worked, but ultimately being able to fully analyse from a position of knowledge above that required as minimum MAY have empowered someone to intervene. Of course this is circumstantial and assisted by hindsight, but nonetheless it goes some way to justify having knowledge above the minimum and using this attribute to challenge decisions – regardless of who makes them. The autocratic master of that vessel made this difficult but it’s a great cliche that one day may work.


So to summarise, when choosing a tutor, a college, a mentor or even a book, consider what you are achieving. Are you studying to just make the grade or do you want to empower yourself with more than just a minimum standard qualification? An experienced, learned and confident teacher will always give you more than needed, or perceived to be needed , delivered through experience of their own. I have always striven to provide this, my students tend to agree and eventually thank me for it. So make the disconnect and study above the minimum. At the end of the day having a paper (or plastic as it is now!) CoC does not make you a good officer. It’s not just a paper (plastic) exercise!