• English language skills, with sufficient fluency to express communications clearly; and
  • other knowledge considered necessary by the competent authority (IMO,1981).


To obtain the support of IMO member states for their acceptance and implementation, the STCW standards reflect a middle ground among all the existing national requirements. The STCW forms modest baseline standards. Its requirements with respect to knowledge, skills, and abilities are based on long-standing traditional practices known to work if effectively applied. The adequacy of these standards with respect to modern navigation technology has not been assessed. Furthermore, there are no content or quality control requirements to guide the development of knowledge, skills, and abilities through sea service, nor have sea-time requirements been validated through a program of research to determine their relevancy and adequacy.

Flag-state licensing authorities had few motivations to exceed STCW requirements, although forward-looking shipping companies and unions often have programs that exceed both applicable license criteria and STCW provisions. That the STCW is undergoing considerable updating reflects increased interest in improving marine safety as a result of major marine accidents with extensive pollution, beginning with the grounding of the Exxon Valdez in 1989. Action to update the STCW guidelines also reflects flag-state and marine industry concerns about industry trends to reduce crew sizes and operating costs, and the safety implications of resulting practices, such as one-man watchkeeping at night.


IMO (International Maritime Organization). 1981. Training, Qualification and Operational Procedures for Maritime Pilots Other than Deep-Sea Pilots. IMCO Resolution A.485(XII) adopted on 19 November 1981. London, England: IMO.

IMO (International Maritime Organization). 1993. STCW 1978: International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping, 1978. London, England: IMO.

IMO News. 1994. World maritime day 1994: better standards, training and certification—IMO's response to human error. IMO News (3):i-xii.

Muirhead, P. 1994. World Maritime University, personal communication to Wayne Young, Marine Board, National Research Council, September 20.

NRC (National Research Council). 1994. Minding the Helm: Marine Navigation and Piloting. Committee on Advances in Navigation and Piloting, Marine Board. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

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