Increasingly frustrated with current superyacht licensing pathways, deck crew are seeking more flexible routes to fit in with the demands of their careers. A relatively new STCW Officer of the Watch and Master 500gt ticket, issued by the Belgian Federal Administration for Mobility and Transport, is becoming a more viable option for yacht crew looking to progress from Master 200gt. The Belgian 500gt Commercial Yachting Certificate of Competency (CoC), a European 500gt commercial ticket endorsed by STCW specifically for the yachting industry, is increasingly popular with senior crew seeking alternatives to the traditional training routes. Once endorsed, the ticket allows all captains and officers to commercially sail yachts up to 500gt with a maximum of 12 passengers.

The Belgian Maritime Administration has so far recognised and audited only two organisations to deliver the courses: the Antwerp Maritime Academy and NaviClass Nautical Training Centre. While the CoC is not endorsed by the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), which means it cannot be used on board UK-flagged commercial yachts, some familiar flag states within the yachting sector do endorse it and these include the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) Maritime and Corporate Registries.

“The RMI will accept certificate holders from major maritime nations whose educational systems and examinations are found acceptable,” explains Patrick Bachofner, business development director of International Registries, in affiliation with the RMI. “As of today, we recognise the Belgian Maritime Administration, who are signatory to STCW as an equivalent in terms of endorsements. As such, we are obligated to accept any STCW-compliant certificate that they may issue.”

The Belgian CoC may still be relatively unknown outside of Belgium, but word is spreading in the global yachting community and NaviClass has reported a significant increase in the number of foreign students taking its courses. The main appeal for yacht crew is certainly the fewer resources the route demands compared to the more traditional training routes. While it is difficult to directly compare the Belgian system to the MCA system, as they are derived from different national legislation, the time and money required to achieve the Belgian CoC is significantly less.

This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a 3,000gt yacht ticket does not exist in the Belgian system as it does in the MCA system. Therefore, whereas candidates taking the MCA route would have to undertake their MCA OOW (Yachts less than 3,000gt) before progressing to the MCA Master (Yachts less than 500gt), this is not necessary in the Belgian system. While the obvious drawback here is that the Belgian CoC limits candidates to yachts under 500gt, it means that one phase of training is not necessary.

Secondly, the modules at both Belgian organisations are considerably shorter and less expensive than the equivalent MCA course. At NaviClass, for example, the Master module, combined with the Master Ocean Upgrade module, can be completed in less than two weeks and currently costs €2,100. There is also no oral examination included in the process, although written and/or practical examinations apply after each module.

There are, however, some who are cynical of the Belgian CoC and they mainly question the ticket’s seemingly less rigorous training process and suggest the assessment is not sufficient. Its supporters, however, reinforce the fact that candidates are required to hold a STCW Master 200gt (Yachts), or equivalent that is subject to an evaluation committee, to be eligible to start the training for the Belgian CoC. This should, therefore, ensure there is a certain recognised standard from which the students must start.

One such advocate is Captain Peter Carron, instructor at NaviClass, who is quick to reject any insinuation that the Belgian CoC is not adequate in today’s industry. “The time may be shorter than the MCA route but it is still a very professional CoC,” he explains. “The students who come to us always have much more sea time and experience than is required due to the need to hold the STCW Master 200gt ticket beforehand. Furthermore, the training is done by experienced merchant captains and maritime pilots, with use of modern radar and navigation simulators and continuous updates in line with changing legislation.”

Another assumption often made about the Belgian CoC is that its candidates are looking for an easier route to progress to the next level. However, Captain Carron says that the students he encounters are not looking for a shortcut, but are instead serious and professional candidates seeking other options that fit their career ambitions. “When NaviClass first started running these courses, we only had Belgian students. Now we have foreign students coming from all over,” he adds. “It shows that some people feel that there is a monopoly in the training sector, are fed up with the expense of other licences and are, therefore, looking for alternatives.”

While the Belgian route may not open as many doors as the traditional MCA route for crew, not just because of its 500gt glass ceiling but also in terms of its versatility and recognition, it does provide a welcome option. Captain Carron believes the Belgian CoC is more than just an alternative and while it may not satisfy the career ambitions of those crew looking to work on larger yachts, for others it might be the perfect fit.

This article will appear in full in issue 183 of The Superyacht Report - out soon. If you are a yacht owner, manager, senior crewmember, broker, designer, shipyard representative, owner’s representative, or  family office, you can apply for your VIP subscription to the magazine here.