STCW Refreshers |Training in South Africa vs Abroad

Many South Africans have asked the question, “what do we do when our STCW certificates expire?”. Surely the answer to this is a simple one? Sadly, it is not. To summarise this article briefly, any STCW done in South Africa ​will​ need to be redone every 5 years. STCW’s done overseas will likely only need two of the four courses to be refreshed. Hopefully this post will help to shed some light onto the difficulties of renewing a STCW certification in South Africa.

Help sign in STCW life ring

In South Africa, most of the STCW training schools issue their certificates with a 5 year validity period. However, STCW training schools abroad have historically issued their STCW certification ​without ​an expiry date. That means that all the courses offered in a basic STCW (Elementary First Aid, Marine Fire Fighting, Personal Survival Techniques and Personal Safety and Social Responsibility) would not expire if done overseas. With the introduction of the new Manila Amendments in STCW 2010, all seafarers were obligated to renew their STCW Personal Survival Techniques (PST) and Fire Fighting certifications if they were greater than five years old as of 1st January 2017. Any seafarers revalidating their certifications after this date would have to provide evidence that they had completed an approved updated/refresher proficiency course within the last five years.

*STCW First Aid courses also need refresher training after 5 years if you have a medical role onboard.

So how does this affect South Africans and their ability to stay qualified in an increasingly competitive industry?

The International Maritime Organisation introduced the STCW convention of rules in 1978 and established a set of standards for mariners across the world. Almost any course or qualification that is endorsed and approved by the IMO is accepted internationally by the various maritime agencies around the world. However, the IMO does not set the curriculums for courses offered by those agencies, or the validity period of the certification until the recent Manila Amendments.

Liferaft in swimming pool during STCW training

Many agencies that previously issued some STCW course certificates without expiry dates, have introduced refresher courses into their curriculums. This allows seafarers previously accredited by those agencies to renew their now expiring courses quicker, without having to redo the entire course again. These refresher courses are generally a 1-day course on topics that include: First Aid, Fire Fighting, Sea Rescue and Personal Survival Techniques.

If you did your STCW in South Africa, then all of your certificates almost certainly have an expiry period of 5 years. However, if you did your STCW overseas, they may very well have no expiry. You will still have to re-do your Personal Survival Techniques (PST) and Fire Fighting every 5 years even if you did your course overseas, but you might get away with an endless first aid and Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (PSSR) course.

Picture of Superyacht Crew Fighting a fire during STCW refresher training

That’s great, but where in South Africa can one do these refresher courses?

Here is where we hit the first major hurdle. South Africa has its own maritime agency, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). As such, SAMSA is ​responsible for the implementation of current IMO & national regulations regarding the maritime industry as well as upon all recreational marine vessels within its jurisdiction. This means that they are also the authority responsible for setting the maritime training standards in South Africa.

Since SAMSA is a government agency in charge of all maritime activity in South Africa, they stipulate what can or cannot be recognised as a valid training curriculum in South Africa.Unfortunately​, SAMSA does not recognise the IMO approved STCW Refresher courses as part of its training curriculum.

OK, so SAMSA doesn’t recognise the courses. What’s the big deal?

Most training facilities/schools in South Africa are bound by their accreditation to SAMSA and can therefore only offer SAMSA recognised courses. This means that since SAMSA doesn’t recognise the STCW Refreshers, these schools cannot offer qualifications that are backed by a reputable maritime agency, ie, SAMSA.

In research for this post, all the training facilities/schools asked about this issue were very open about the fact that they could not offer the STCW Refresher courses because of their affiliation with and accreditation through SAMSA. Almost all the schools said that applicants would need to redo the entire STCW course again in order to be re-certified.

However, this doesn’t mean that you are unable to do STCW Refresher courses in South Africa. Some of the training facilities/schools do not get their accreditation directly from SAMSA but from further afield such as the UK and Singapore. This means that they are not bound to the limitations and rules associated with the local maritime authority.

Two superyacht crew members firefighting during STCW training.

In a nutshell, what does this all mean?

Basically the rumors are true… It is not easy to “refresh” your STCW courses/qualifications in South Africa and you will likely have to redo the entire course from scratch if you choose to do it here. These are regulations and limitations imposed on the training schools by SAMSA.

However, there are some schools in South Africa that do offer the refresher courses. Bare in mind that the full STCW course and the Refresher courses are very similarly priced in South Africa, the real saver is in ​time​. Your average ​full​ STCW course is about 11 days but the Refreshers are about 4 days.

The long and the short of it is this: If you do your STCW courses in South Africa, you’ll need to redo the entire basic STCW every 5 years. Whether or not you are overseas. However, if you do your STCW overseas, you will most likely only need to redo your PST and Fire Fighting courses every 5 years. Your PSSR and First Aid should have an open period of validity, unless you have a medical role in which you’ll need to redo Firt Aid every 5 years too.

So hopefully that clears up some of the confusion around this topic and makes life a little easier. It can be a daunting issue re-doing all your qualifications but better to be up to speed and fully compliant out there on the high seas.