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It's difficult to unravel the choices you face when deciding how to pursue your professional maritime career. The choice, of course, depends mostly on your career goals. Understanding the most common options is essential for the beginner. It's very easy to find yourself in a situation where you have invested the time and money into a poor choice, so know what to expect in advance.
The choices of school and academic programs are hard to separate, but because the certification and testing are based on international standards you will get the same basics in any program. It's recommended that you choose a certification or license as your goal, then take a look at our tips for choosing a school. This will limit your bias and let you take the best path to your goal.
What Do You Want to Do?
Are you looking for a few years of working travel? Are you involved in a family business? Do you want to make shipping, maritime technology, or naval architecture your lifelong career? Your choice depends on many factors that only you know best. One useful technique is to visualize your ideal job, and work back to the necessary training. New directives are increasing the amount of initial training required, and frequent recertifications are always necessary, so keep in mind that your training will be an ongoing process.
Basic Maritime Certifications
These programs include basic safety training and vessel operations. To be hired as crew on private yachts you will need some basic proof of your competency. The same is true for short term employment like seasonal positions where the turnover is high and employers see a lot of applicants. A basic certificate is still an investment of a couple of thousand dollars so be sure that elusive job driving a tour boat in some ideal location is worth the time and money.
- STCW: This is the do-it-all multipurpose certificate. You will learn boat terminology, vessel handling, laws and regulations, safety, and first aid. The course curriculum is based on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions on Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) which is internationally recognized and used as core training in all other courses.
- Technical Certifications: There are too many of these specialties to list, but they have some common threads. A certification for vessel communications will include basic electrical practices for marine environments. The same training would be offered in the first classes of a radar technician so it's possible that some classes could count towards more than one certification.
The combination of STCW and a technical certification will make a skilled technician a valuable member of any crew. This can be accomplished in small steps if you also include things like basic networking classes that are available online.
Advanced Maritime Certifications
The most advanced maritime license is Master. This license can be thought of as an advanced degree in management since a Master manages other specialists. Because of this responsibility the Master needs to know the temperament of the Engineer as well as the condition of the equipment.
The Master also oversees all crew and services, so knowledge and good management of the galley are important in more way than one. A sailor crusted in salty ice is in a much better mood after a hot meal. Any officer position requires similar training and many career sailors hold a Master's license while acting as engineer, pilot, or some other position. Most of the other advanced certifications build off of a Master's training and sea hours. Sea time is an important part of advancing in your career and will become more stringent with the new STCW rules.