OK, fair warning here, I’m going to be bitching (a bit) in this post…
This week I’m in Houston re-taking the Basic Safety Training (BST) course. This is a class that the USCG (Coast Guard) started requiring all mariners to take back when they were trying to get the US in compliance with STCW (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping) around the turn of the century (STCW 95 went into full effect in the US Feb 2, 2002).
BST is a very basic course that is supposed to teach you what you should know before you can go offshore. Things you would know if you’d ever spent more than a couple of days (working) out there. Things like ‘what is a station bill? what is a muster station? what are the alarm signals? what do you do if someone falls overboard?, where can you find a lifejacket? how do you use a fire extinguisher? etc.
STCW is an international standard and the USCG is in charge of making sure all US mariners comply.
For once, the USCG actually made a rule that sort of made sense. They decided that if you were still sailing during the 5 years before you had to renew your credentials, (still working offshore where you were required to do safety training and drills every week), then you wouldn’t be required to spend another week of your supposed time off and a few hundred dollars (minimum) to ‘learn’ how to do such things as put on a life jacket or about the different types of fires.
It’s really pretty sad to have to require someone who’s been going to sea for 20 years (or even ONE year) to spend a week of their time off in this kind of class.
At this point, the USCG still does not require us to take the BST class more than once. They have caved in to the IMO and WILL be forcing us all to re-take the BST refresher course starting in 2017 (but they’re not yet). So far as I know, there are no approved ‘refresher’ courses since this is a fairly new ruling. Hopefully, the refresher course will only cover what we don’t do every week on board the ships. Things we CAN’T do (supposedly) out there like jump in the pool and/or put out real fires.
Maybe they’ll be sensible and just let us do a one day course on only those couple of things (I can hope, can’t I). 😉
In the meantime, certain companies don’t really care what the rules say. They insist that no one could possibly be ‘safe’ unless and until they finish going to training for THEM.
I see it more and more often in the Gulf of Mexico. The drilling companies (clients) are especially bad about it. Instead of accepting Safegulf or Rigpass, (both of which cover the same very basic materials and are pretty much the same as the BST but more for the rigs vs the boats), each company wants you to go to THEIR training before you go offshore (even tho it’s all pretty much the same material).
Some of the trainers won’t even give you any proof that you attended the class! They don’t want you to be able to go to another company and avoid having to take it again (so they will get paid again for teaching you the same stuff they just taught you 2 months ago)!!
I have no idea why. Well, yes I do, but nobody likes to admit it. All the STCW courses cover the same material. They HAVE to. The USCG requires certain things to be taught. They require that we spend so much time on each subject. There is very little leeway in how these courses are taught.
The purpose of the STCW was to ensure that everybody in the entire world has the EXACT SAME TRAINING. Every country that is approved (on the white list) has basically the same courses teaching the same things. That is so that we can all be certain that every seafarer from every country will have at least the same basic minimum knowledge base.
Now, it seems the intent of the STCW is being subverted. I am hearing that some countries will not accept training from other countries. The sailors have to go and spend all that time and money taking the classes again for the country they want to work in! In fact, the US is one of those countries! (I am simplifying it a little here).
The USCG will not accept a course if I go to another country to take it. For example, if I went to take Basic Safety Training in Greece, they would not accept it. If someone from the UK were to come here and try to get a mariners document, they would have to re-take the BST course here. The USCG is supposedly in the process of changing the rules (again) but in the meantime, its a real pain in the ass for a lot of sailors around the world!
I’m actually lucky this time. I am starting a new job and the company is sending me to the ‘training’ this time. I have pretty much always had to spend the time and money out of my own pocket for all the other times I’ve had to do this.
I spent over $50,000 (!!!!!) re-taking classes I already took in order to get my chief mates license between 2002-2008!
Basically, I am just sick and tired of having to take the same classes over and over again. There’s very rarely even anything new covered in them. The very few things that have changed are things we could have got out of a safety alert or an email. But nooooooo, we have to go spend a week and a few hundred bucks (minimum) to sit through all the rest of the stuff that has NOT changed.
I think if I have to do it again at this point, that will be the last straw. I would just have to say the hell with it and give up sailing altogether. 🙁
And they wonder why it’s so hard to recruit mariners?
It’s very sad that this is what it’s coming to. People say to me, “how can you be against “safety””? OK, let’s get this straight! I am NOT against safety!! I AM against these people (companies and governments) making up rules and checklists and “training” to COVER THEIR ASSES instead of doing the RIGHT thing!
IMHO, the real purpose of all these things is so they can send us to a class for a few days and then send us offshore and if we ever get hurt they can say “it’s not OUR fault, we sent them to TRAINING, they should have known better”. In other words, it’s all about CYA.
Of course, no one will actually ADMIT that.
Instead of actually giving a new person the time to learn the job PROPERLY on the job, with the people they will be working with who know the specifics, they send a new person off for a few days in a classroom.
OK, that’s better than nothing, I admit it, but it’s NOT better than the way they used to learn things BEFORE these rules were put into effect!
We used to take a new person offshore and train them on the job. We would make sure to watch over them and ‘mentor’ them until we were all sure that they knew how to handle themselves. There were enough people out there for that system to work very well. Now that the companies have cut the crew size down to the bare minimum (or less, in many cases), no one really has the time or energy to watch over a new person like that.
So, now we have to trust that they know everything they need to know when they show up on board. After all, they’ve been “trained” and there is no way anybody can just ‘watch and learn’ anymore. Everybody out there now is going to be expected to pull their weight.
Personally, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that there were MORE accidents and injuries since the start of all this STCW and company “training”. (Don’t even get me started on the paperwork component of all this: JSAs, tool box talks, etc, etc, etc). So far, I have not seen any kind of apples to apples comparison. I’m not sure anybody wants to see that done. It might show the companies that all their talk about safety is just that- TALK!
They might just have to come up with something a little more effective at making things safer out there, like maybe putting a few more people back on board the vessels? Or maybe cutting down on all the extra workload each person has had to shoulder since they cut out over half the crew years ago? Or maybe actually letting a person get some rest before they go to work on crew change day instead of putting them straight to work after they’ve just been up for 24+ hours traveling! OMG, they would have to spend a few bucks on a hotel room!!!
Nawwww, that would never happen, they might just have to spend a few more dollars on those crew members then they do on all their ‘safety’ programs. Not ever gonna happen. 🙁