The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant disruption to many aspects of the superyacht industry, including the training and certification sector, which saw training centres temporarily suspend operations and MCA exams cancelled due to social-distancing restrictions. Now MCA oral exams have started to be conducted virtually through Microsoft Teams and engineering and deck exams have re-commenced, some training centres are adapting operations to suit the new climate.

UKSA has become one of the first MCA training centres to resume COVID-secure, virtual MCA yacht training. Despite onsite operations being temporarily suspended due to the social-distancing restrictions in the UK, the training centre received its first permission from the MCA in May to start delivering online Officer of the Watch and Master (yacht) oral preparation training.

While several MCA training centres in the UK were able to resume normal operations and deliver training to merchant seafarers (who have been classified as key workers during the pandemic), this did not include training centres for superyacht crew. So, through discussions with the MCA, and following extensive planning, delivering pilot programmes and auditing, the UKSA has now been accredited by the MCA to be able to resume the delivery and examination of its yacht training modules.

As one of the first centres to get this permission from the MCA, the UKSA team has been working hard ensure courses can be delivered smoothly and to the same high standard that students expect. “The team has been diligently rewriting lesson plans and notes for each course, which have been audited by the MCA,” explains Chris Frisby, UKSA’s director of training and operations.

“Theory courses will now be delivered online via Zoom from two new dedicated virtual classrooms in the MCA Training Centre...”

“Theory courses will now be delivered online via Zoom from two new dedicated virtual classrooms in the MCA Training Centre. [These classrooms] have been converted, sound treatment is being applied to the walls and specialist lighting for video is being installed. We have invested in several powerful PCs to run the sessions, as well as two document visualisers for each room and professional microphones and cameras, rather than standard webcams. We have also boosted the WiFi signal across the site.”

By using Zoom, students can still ask questions during the lessons, either in the private chat function or in a group Q&A session. The instructors can constantly monitor the students’ progress and alter the pace of delivery or revisit topics if required. Alongside Zoom, the instructors will be utilising Microsoft Teams to share resources and enable students to ask them questions outside of class time when they are studying. All the Zoom sessions will also be recorded and posted on Teams, so students can revisit the lessons if needed. Exams will then be held as usual at the end of each course.

Depending on the course, some students have the choice of being onsite to undertake their training. “For theory-based courses, like General Ship Knowledge (OOW Yacht), students can choose to study onsite, or elsewhere, they will just need a stable internet connection,” says Frisby. “Full attendance is required wherever students choose to undertake the training and all exams will be held onsite.”

For those choosing to stay onsite, accommodation will be in single en-suite rooms, with a desk and appropriate study space to set up their laptop and course notes. Those onsite will be able to schedule socially-distanced face-to-face sessions with the instructor. 

“We believe this creative blend of online and face-to-face delivery will really help our students accelerate their learning, whilst remaining COVID secure at all times,” adds Frisby. “The MCA is allowing candidates a maximum of six months to take their exams, so should further lockdowns or travel restrictions be put in place, candidates can defer taking their examination or choose to take one at a centre they are able to get to.”

Practical elements of the STCW Basic Safety Training at UKSA will be delivered with appropriate social distancing

In terms of courses with practical elements, UKSA is unable to offer training in any of its simulator suites at present. However, for courses such as the STCW Basic Safety Training, all theory elements will be delivered over Zoom. Practical elements are planned to be delivered with appropriate social distancing. For example, for the Sea Survival element, only five students will be allowed in its onsite pool at one time, and drills will be completed individually. At the fire ground, all students will have their own personal equipment, which will be disinfected between groups. UKSA’s first MCA courses started this week.

With training centres in Antibes, Palma and Fort Lauderdale, Bluewater has also been affected by local lockdowns and social-distancing restrictions, but its centres are now putting on the most-demanded courses as a priority. “We are currently running basic training, refresher training and medical courses,” says John Wyborn, director of training at Bluewater. “We are receiving many calls on a daily basis from crew needing training, usually for new boats they are joining, so we’re feeling positive that the industry is beginning to recover.”

Wyborn remains optimistic for the future and the Bluewater team has been busy realigning its services to meet the changing demand. “For example, we are working on a range of online training courses for crew who aren’t able to travel but still need their various certificates,” Wyborn adds. “We are currently working with the MCA on approvals and plan to make these a permanent feature in the Bluewater course catalogue.”

While setting up virtual training courses and examination where possible has been an immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, training and certification providers that invest in this new format have the potential to bring about a more long-term change in the sector. With crew traveling further afield and having busier schedules than ever before, the training and certification process has been crying out for a digital upheaval. Perhaps the pandemic will signify a new era of virtual learning and assessment in the maritime industry.

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