The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978, as amended, sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships. STCW was adopted in 1978 by conference at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London and entered into force in 1984. The Convention was significantly amended in 1995.
The 1978 STCW Convention was the first to establish basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers on an international level. Previously the standards of training, certification and watchkeeping of officers and ratings were established by individual governments, usually without reference to practices in other countries. As a result standards and procedures varied widely, even though shipping is the most international of all industries.
The Convention prescribes minimum standards relating to training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers which countries are obliged to meet or exceed.
The Convention did not deal with manning levels: IMO provisions in this area are covered by regulation 13 of Chapter V of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, whose requirements are backed up by resolution A.890(21) Principles of safe manning, adopted by the IMO Assembly in 1999, which replaced an earlier resolution A.481(XII) adopted in 1981.
One especially important feature of the Convention is that it applies to ships of non-party States when visiting ports of States which are Parties to the Convention. Article X requires Parties to apply the control measures to ships of all flags to the extent necessary to ensure that no more favourable treatment is given to ships entitled to fly the flag of a State which is not a Party than is given to ships entitled to fly the flag of a State that is a Party.
The difficulties which could arise for ships of States which are not Parties to the Convention is one reason why the Convention has received such wide acceptance. By December 2000, the STCW Convention had 135 Parties, representing 97.53 percent of world shipping tonnage.
The Amendments require that seafarers be provided with "familiarization training" and "basic safety training" which includes basic fire fighting, elementary first aid, personal survival techniques and personal safety and social responsibility. This training is intended to ensure that seafarers are aware of the hazards of working on a vessel and can respond appropriately in an emergency.
STCW, as amended, will require all training and assessment activities to be "continuously monitored through a quality standards system to ensure achievement of defined objectives, including those concerning the qualifications and experience of instructors and assessors." The 1995 amendments require those responsible for instruction and assessment of the competence of seafarers to be qualified for the type and level of training or assessment involved. Persons performing these roles are expected to have received guidance in instructional techniques and assessment methods. The US Coast Guard has drafted policy guidance for use in qualifying and managing training and assessment personnel.