If you’re a professional mariner or aspiring to work in the maritime industry, you’ve probably heard of an STCW endorsement. The Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping is an internationally recognized set of rules that determines what mariners need to know to perform their jobs safely.

The STCW Basic Training is the foundational step in acquiring your STCW endorsement.


Throughout this article, we’ll cover everything you’ll want to know about the STCW:

How Did the STCW Start?

What is the Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping Graphic

The first version of the STCW was formed at an international convention in 1978 and established a set of standards for mariners across the world. Before the International Mariners Organization created the global set of rules, it was left up to individual governments, which posed problems as mariners crossed international boundaries. As the shipping industry is international by nature, the STCW created the first set of basic safety and watchkeeping rules to, above all, reduce confusion.

After the international STCW Convention established the minimum safety requirements in 1978, the IMO formed a new and more comprehensive STCW code in 1995. This new amendment to the original STCW outlined more specific requirements for individual mariner positions, as well as detailed safety training. These amendments took effect in 1997, and new mariners entering the marine industry after August 1998 were required to meet the new standards of the 1995 revisions.

Some of the more notable amendments include:

  • More rigorous safety requirements for in-port operations
  • Monitoring and communication to International Maritime Organization for STCW enforcement
  • New training, standards, assessments and certification processes

In 2010, the International Marine Organization amended the STCW rules again in what’s commonly known as the Manila Amendments. Due to the rapid advancement of technology and better shipping practices, the 1995 STCW began to become outdated.

Valid from January 2012 onward, seafarers entering the marine industry are now required by the IMO and United States Coast Guard to adhere to the new rules and regulations of the updated STCW 2010. Until 2017, new requirements were implemented by the IMO every year, giving marine companies enough time to update equipment on board as well as allow their crew time to complete new training and certification courses.

The most notable amendments from the Manila convention include:

  • Increased mandatory rest hours for workers
  • Security training and awareness
  • New limits for breath and blood alcohol levels for workers
  • Additional and more specific certificates of competency for deck and engine crew
  • New medical standards and physical fitness for crew

While the specific requirements for the STCW will continue to change, the overall purpose remains the same: it promotes safety and protects property, human lives and the environment. The IMO is continually trying to come up with new regulations and best practices that will protect the lives of mariners. For example, over 20,000 casualties happen worldwide in the fishing industry every year — and in an attempt to reduce accidents, the IMO developed the STCW-F to educate fishermen about best practices and safety precautions.  Find STCW Courses

Who Needs an STCW Endorsement?

Any mariner who works aboard a ship that operates outside the U.S. Territorial Boundary Line must hold an STCW endorsement. The Territorial Boundary Line is three miles away from the Coasts of the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the U.S. and 12 miles off the Gulf of Mexico — it separates Inland and Coastal Waters from Ocean Waters. If you’re working aboard any vessel that crosses international borders, you must have the STCW endorsement appropriate to your license level

What Is an STCW Endorsement?

An STCW endorsement is obtained with specific coursework and/or onboard assessments that are required to meet internationally agreed upon safety standards and competency levels.

There are different types of STCW endorsements and certifications that you may need to qualify for specific maritime jobs. The STCW endorsement you’ll need depends on the type of vessel you work aboard and your rank. To obtain an STCW endorsement on the rating or license that you hold, you’ll need to meet the minimum requirements such as age, sea-service, training and onboard assessment. To receive  STCW endorsements, you need to complete U.S. Coast Guard-approved maritime training courses that prove your competency.

Before you apply for any merchant marine position, make sure you have the proper endorsements that you need for the job.

Questions? Contact a school advisor here.


What are STCW Assessments of Competency?

An STCW certificate of competence is similar to an STCW endorsement, but it is specific to a particular function aboard a ship. STCW certificates of proficiency certify that you are capable of performing specific duties,

In addition to completing required STCW compliant coursework, you may need to present evidence that you have completed onboard assessments of competency or “tasks”. These onboard tasks should be signed off by a Qualified Assessor and documented on a US Coast Guard issued Record of Assessment, which can be found as part of the USCG Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) specific to the license or endorsement you are seeking.

What are the Levels of STCW Endorsements?

Levels of STCW requirements for mates, chief engineers, and more Graphic

There are different levels of STCW certification. Which one you qualify for will depend on your experience, your position and the size and range of the vessel that you will have worked aboard.

As you advance in your maritime career, you may need to upgrade your STCW endorsement to match your rank and vessel size. Depending on how much sea-service you have, you may qualify for different levels of STCW, so take the time to evaluate (or have evaluated by a professional) all of your experience to determine which level you will likely be eligible for before applying.  Talk to a MITAGS advisor about your past sea service and the level of STCW endorsement you are likely eligible for.

Different levels of STCW endorsements:

  • Entry Level Ratings
      • Rating Forming Part of a Navigational Watch
      • Rating Forming Part of an Engineering Watch
      • Able Seafarer – Deck
      • Able Seafarer – Engine
  • Operational Level Officers
      • Officer in Charge of the Navigational Watch (OICNW)
      • Officer in Charge of the Engineering Watch (OICEW)
  • Management Level Officers
      • Chief Mate/Master
      • Chief Engineer

Questions? Contact a school advisor here.

How do I get an STCW Certification?


STCW simulation prep course

Different types of STCW endorsements allow you to do different jobs aboard a merchant vessel. The best way to obtain these endorsements is to attend a U.S. Coast Guard approved training school such as a Maritime Academy or Maritime Vocational School (such as MITAGS).

You’ll learn valuable information that you can apply in your career from seasoned professionals who will guide you through the process and help you make the best decision regarding the appropriate next step in your maritime career. Find an STCW Course

When you enroll in a Coast Guard-approved maritime training course, you’ll complete both hands-on and classroom portions to satisfy the requirements for STCW certification. You qualify to take the courses if you currently hold an entry-level merchant mariner credential or if you have the appropriate sea service and requirements to apply for the license you are seeking.

How long are STCW certificates Valid?

Any STCW endorsements you hold are subject to renewal at the time your Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC) expires (5-year period of validity). Renewal of some STCW endorsements will require additional coursework to refresh or revalidate on particular topics. As described above, Basic Training is one of these elements that requires this additional training.

To ensure you are maintaining your STCW endorsements and certifications appropriately, it may help to reach out to a MITAGS advisor to discuss the renewal process and make sure you are on the right track.

Do I have to have STCW to be issued a Merchant Mariner Credential or particular license?

If you are applying for your merchant mariner credential, you are not required to get your STCW endorsement, but you will be limited to working on vessels within the U.S. Territorial Boundary Line if you do not.

Are there any crew members who do not need an STCW?

No. If your vessel is subject to STCW, even if you are a steward or a cook, you need your STCW to work on a vessel over 200GRT in international waters. The U.S. Coast Guard wants to ensure that every member of a vessel’s crew knows what to do in the event of an emergency

Find STCW Courses

What are the STCW Courses

At the entry-level (Ordinary Seaman), a Basic Training course will be required to obtain an initial STCW endorsement.  STCW-compliant courses include training for the following:

Questions? Contact a School Advisor


Choose MITAGS for STCW Training

With over 40 years of maritime training experience, MITAGS can help you reach your career goals. We offer several STCW training courses from coast to coast — in both Baltimore, Maryland, and Seattle, Washington — as well as other locations upon request.

Our training programs include a wide variety of U.S. Coast Guard-approved STCW courses:

  • Entry Level and Safety Training:
    • Basic Training
    • Basic and Advanced Firefighting
    • Lifeboatman – Proficiency in Survival Craft
    • STCW Revalidation and Refresher coursework
  • License Advancement: STCW required training for advancement to Qualified Rating, Operational-Level Officer, Management-Level Officer.

Our STCW courses are hands-on — and we take the success of each of our students personally. You’ll learn from seasoned professionals who give practical, real-world information that will help you become a better mariner.

And we stay up-to-date with the latest technology, meaning you will leave our program with the most relevant experience for today’s work environments.

Check out our STCW courses to find a location near you, or contact us for the answers to any additional questions you may have.

TL;DR: The Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping, also known as STCW is an internationally recognized set of rules that determines what mariners need to know to perform their jobs safely. Any mariner who works aboard a ship that operates outside the U.S. Territorial Boundary Line must hold an STCW endorsement. Different types of STCW endorsements allow you to do different jobs aboard a merchant vessel.