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Taking the STCW: what's it really like?

We follow a candidate through her STCW 2010 at Warsash Superyacht Academy, to see what getting your first qualification is really like. Read Amber's account and watch her video blog to find out.…

Taking the STCW is the first step for anyone who has decided, or considered, that the superyacht industry is the one for them. Crew training is a mixed bag, with many bemoaning the quality of the training and, equally, a great number praising the training schools for their offerings. To get a better idea of what's really involved in training up today's junior crew, we follow Amber Harley as she takes her STCW at Warsash Superyacht Academy, known for its excellent facilities and lecturers, via her daily written and video blog.

Day one: Personal safety, social responsibilities and an introduction to fire fighting

Today was the first day of my STCW basic safety training course at Warsash. I woke with a slight feeling of apprehension, however watching the yachts leave the harbour from my student accommodation I was quickly reminded why I was there.

The aim of day one is: train students to comply with emergency procedures; take precautions to prevent pollution of the marine environment; observe safe working practices; understand orders; and, finally, to contribute to effective human relationships on board. Day one was classroom-based, and the morning was based around personal safety and social responsibilities and included a combination of independent and group work. Working in teams was especially enjoyable as it gave us all an opportunity to get to know each other. It was particularly interesting hearing about people’s various reasons for taking the STCW and their different backgrounds and goals.

After a relaxing lunch break we moved on to the second part of the day: the essential education and introduction to fire prevention. This included the theory of combustion, movement in smoke and the correct actions to be taken in the event of an emergency. The different classes of fire and types of fuel where also explained and, finally, we were instructed on the maintenance and use of portable firefighting equipment.

The first day gave me a great insight into what I could expect from the rest of the week, as well as confirming the absolute importance of a vessel’s safety.

Day two: Fire safety and prevention

Having been introduced to the concept of firefighting and the relevant safety precautions, I woke up on my second day ready to get stuck in and put these lessons into practice. The aim of day two was to meet the knowledge, understanding and proficiency (KUP) requirements for minimising the risk of fire, maintaining a state of readiness to respond to emergency fire situations and fighting and extinguishing fires. 

The day began with everyone changing into the full firefighting suit, helmet and all, following which we were taken into the ‘hot area’ in which we were able to experiment with different fire extinguishers on various types of fires. Returning to the classroom we elaborated on our knowledge from the previous day regarding the classification of fires, as well as learning about emergency organisation, fire protection and fire detection systems and installations.

After a much needed lunch break we moved on to learning about fire safety breathing apparatus, where each student assembled and used the breathing gear. Although slightly heavy, it was really interesting to see how the apparatus worked and to witness its use first-hand.

Day three: Fire fighting

The final day of the firefighting course was entirely practical and based on the fire ground. The first part of the day involved the use of firefighting equipment, including fire hoses and larger extinguishers, following which we donned the full kit and breathing apparatus to carry out live fire exercises within the fire unit, in restricted visibility and hot fire conditions.

The first exercise required us to find a casualty in a smoke-filled room and focused on search procedures while wearing breathing apparatus – an extremely disorientating and surprisingly difficult task. The afternoon’s exercise involved entering a building that had a ‘class A’ fire. Initially the aim was to locate the fire (this was on the lower deck, which required us to descend through a hatch in full gear and complete darkness) and, having located the fire, we used the fire hose to put it out before vacating the vessel the same way we came in.

Having completed my final day on this course I feel confident I have achieved the desired outcomes of this component of the training. I very much enjoyed the firefighting course, but, in all honesty, I’m glad it is now finished.

Day four: Personal survival techniques

The purpose of the personal survival techniques element of the STCW course is to ensure that, in case of an emergency, students are able to act sufficiently. The main aspects of the course include safety procedures, such as donning and working suitable under-water and flotation gear, managing and boarding survival crafts and operating the survival craft equipment, location devices and radio equipment. 
Survival elements such as protection from drowning, hypothermia and first aid in a survival environment were covered in the classroom including a demonstration video of a cold-water shock helicopter recovery technique.

We were then transported to the Andark Diving Centre where we launched and dry-boarded a raft. We also entered water from a height and practised swimming wearing a lifejacket, following which we were put in a real life ‘simulated’ environment in a darkened room with water spraying from all directions. Directed to carry out an emergency procedure, we jumped into the water from a height, entering the craft from the water and then looked into airway protection and conserving body heat.

The day was really interesting and it was great fun having the opportunity to test all of the equipment in an almost real life situation.

Day five: Proficiency in security awareness and first aid

The final day of my STCW course is complete. I will be sad to leave Warsash, but am very excited to have finally completed my STCW’95.

The aim of the proficiency in security part of the course is to provide essential knowledge, understanding and proficiency (KUP) to those personnel on ships who do not have any designated security duty on board. This is a new mandatory course brought in by the Manila Amendments to the STCW Code (also known as STCW 2010). The course objective is for students to be able to contribute to the enhancement of maritime security through heightened awareness, recognising security threats and understanding methods of maintaining security awareness and vigilance.  

The second part of the day was based around elementary first aid, aiming to provide us with a basic knowledge of the immediate action to be taken upon encountering an accident or other medical emergency on board. We began by assessing the scene, establishing a chain of survival, completing a primary survey, doing basic life support and managing the casualty. We also covered management of shock, bleeding, burns and moving a casualty.

The course was great fun and an incredible experience. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone hoping to enter the yachting industry.

Within just a few days of completing her STCW at Warsash Superyacht Academy, Amber got herself a job on board a 62m motoryacht and is now on board and undertaking a transatlantic crossing before beginning life on board as a stewardess.

*Please note: any mention of the 'STCW'95' in the video blogs should be viewed as a reference to the STCW 2010 - the latter of which is the course Amber was taking.

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