For some time now, a great deal of captains have lamented the basic skill set of crew – something Captain Alistair Bendall of motoryacht Revolver discussed with The Crew Report in issue 67. “I worked as a deckhand on various yachts for over 10 years, learning all the skills such as painting, varnishing and leather and rope work, nor forgetting boat handling and wash downs. Today, all these skills seem to be forgotten. As long as you have a bunch of tickets and no experience, you’ll be fine. In fairness there are a few exceptions, but I am constantly amazed at how little deckhands know these days.”
In fairness, the introduction of refresher training clearly shows the industry is listening to its captains and should be praised for its proactivity, could it be that these new requirements confirm what these captains have been bemoaning for so long?
Roger Towner, head of seafarer services and ship registration at the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), points out that these refresher courses are not specific to yacht crew, but are applicable to all seafarers covered by the STCW convention. However, Towner does highlight that one particular course that has been introduced – the Efficient Deck Hand (EDH) – at the request of the Professional Yachting Association (PYA) raises some questions about the competency of yacht crew. “Where the MCA would have expected most aspects of basic seamanship to have been covered at a lower level, it has been found in many cases that this is not the case.”
An astro-navigation examination has also been introduced as a prerequisite for the issue of a Master 500gt or 3000gt and is an area where, for Towner, the superyacht industry is lacking expertise. “Although this is covered by the RYA and IYT Ocean certificates, the best I can say is that many candidates for those certificates appear to have forgotten much of what they were taught. Many candidates that I have examined failed even in the simple task of determining the Sun’s declination for a date and time when given a nautical almanac. In one instance, I had only one candidate out of a group of 20 who managed to both recognise that the sextant he was given had an error or perpendicularity and also managed to remove the error.”
“Where the MCA would have expected most aspects of basic seamanship to have been covered at a lower level, it has been found in many cases that this is not the case."
Asked what these updates have to say about training standards, Lars Lippuner, head of business development at Warsash Superyacht Academy, believes the problem lies not with training standards, but knowledge retention. “The requirements of updating are asked on the fact that scientific research indicates that the knowledge retention appears to drop by 70 per cent in the first six months of training.”
When asked if there was a space in the market for optional refresher training, Lippuner explains this is something the industry is already experiencing. “Refreshing in general has probably taken place more on medical courses. MedAire regularly runs non-mandatory all-crew refresher courses and Da Gama Maritime does run non-mandatory on-board fire training, which in many respects is a refresher course. We have seen captains before who have refreshed their business and law knowledge without having been forced to do so by regulations. We also see officers and captains refresh their knowledge by taking bridge team management courses or ship handling courses.”
Refresher training really can only be a good thing for the industry (though we can expect complaints from those who rail against the plethora of classroom courses on offer), particularly given complaints about the current skill set of crew. But when it comes to the skill set of crew on these complex vessels, questions arise as to whether this training should be needed at all in the first place.