Understanding why seafarers should be educated is one thing but understanding education for seafarers and what it entails can be another. It stands to reason that the better educated a crew member is in their chosen profession and role, the more effectively they should be able to perform their tasks. And with the majority of accidents that occur within the maritime industry being caused by human error, it is clear there’s a long way to go when it comes to ensuring  health and safety on board vessels.

Generally speaking, the reasons for these human errors can be pinpointed as one of three things: training, education and working conditions. The latter is a separate issue for the purposes of this life at sea article but education and training are two things we would like to take a closer look at here. So to eliminate, or at the very least minimize, accidents caused by crew members, it is clear that the quality of education within the shipping sector is hugely important. Indeed, it is the foundation on which successful careers at sea are often built. It is also crucial if an operator is to run an efficient organisation that has an excellent track record when it comes to safety.

And from a seafarer’s point of view, the quality of their education will often translate into how employable they are and the opportunities for promotion that come their way. So while it is in everyone’s best interests to place more emphasis on schooling, particularly at a university level,  how can shipping operators begin to understand all the different facets of education for seafarers?

One thing for ship owners and ship managers to keep in mind is that just because a vessel is registered in the EU, it does not necessarily mean that the seafarers who are crewing it are EU nationals. And that means that the likelihood of them being educated, trained or certified within the European Union is slim. That means that shipping operators should look at ways to ensure that all of their non EU crew members are educated to the same standards as those from the Union.

Since 1994 the EU’s member states have declared a set of rules that govern the training and certification of seafarers. This is to ensure that the global standards as laid out by the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW Convention) are followed. Therefore all seafarers working on board EU registered ships should have equivalent competencies to those required by the Convention.


But directives and conventions aside, what are some of the other areas that ship operators need to take into consideration? One hot topic is that of the perpetual advancement of technology on board vessels. Today’s seafarer is increasingly required to be as tech savvy as they are skillful in mathematics for marine engineers or navigation at sea. And one way for crew members to either brush up on, or learn new skills in, coding, Artificial Intelligence or computing is to continue their education in conjunction with their career.

And thanks to an increase in distance learning courses and the advent of fully cellular ships, gaining new skills and qualifications is now a viable option for seafarers who want to upgrade their skill sets while on a voyage. And ship owners and managers who recognize the value of having crew members who are willing to evolve, and who are taking steps to encourage further education by facilitating training on board, will only reap the benefits as their vessels become safer and more efficient.