Marine Training: Present and future

Marine Training

Present and Future

Authored by: Capt.  Robert Kitching - Associate Dean BCIT-PMTC

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International shipping companies, after nearly two decades of neglecting marine training for officers, are experiencing a shortage of both deck and engineer officers, especially with the higher levels of marine certification.  The age profile of seagoing officers is now tending towards 50 years.  New cadets, currently being trained in first world countries, are insufficient to even meet replacement needs.  Canada has typically been a minor player in the supply of officer to the international shipping market as, in the past Canadian salaries were well above the medium level.  This however, is no longer the case.

New ships being built are employing some of the most modem technology available, requiring a much higher standard of education in young officers than previously experienced.  As a result the demand for officers trained at first world training institutes is growing.  Shortfalls of 35,000 officers by the year 2005 are expected and there is a lack of training facilities in many of the maritime nations.


Marine training both internationally and in Canada, is facing profound changes after nearly two decades of decline.  Throughout the 1970s and 80s shipping companies faced with low freight rates, an over-supply of ships and an abundant supply of low-cost labour from third world countries, opted to save money by flagging their ships in countries with open registries.  Marine training throughout most of the first world's maritime nations virtually came to a halt.  The term "Ships of Shame" entered the lexicon.  Dozens of founderings of poorly-manned and improperly-maintaincd ships, with catastrophic ecological consequences. have forced the world maritime community into action.  In 1995 the nations of the world, through the International Maritime Organization (IMO), introduced, as one facet of a tightening of international regulations, new standards for professional certification.

These standards, known as the Standards for Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW-95), require all national administrations to adhere to a minimum standard of officer certification as well as to introduce and monitor both international and national quality assurance standards.  Simultaneously, with the introduction of the new STCW-95 standards, the world's officer population is aging and, as a result of reduced training over two decades, there is developing a shortage of skilled officers, both at sea and in the management ranks of the maritime industry ashore.  In Canada senior shore positions are increasingly filled by immigrants with the appropriate qualifications.

The technology employed in the modem ship to help offset the shortage of officers requires a more advanced, technically trained officer than heretofore.  As a result, officers trained in first world countries with their higher standards of education are in demmand.  To encourage the better trained officer, salaries paid to ships officers, especially at the senior ranks, are generally high, at least by Canadian standards so a sea-going career is both challenging and remunerative.

Recent studies around the world have identified a growing shortage of officers, conservatively estimated by the - Baltic and International Maritime Council (BIMCO) to be in excess of 35,000 officers by the year 2005.  A recent report on the state of U.K. officer supply suggests that 71 percent of U.K. officers are between the ages of 40 and 65.  Professor McConville (London Guildhall University) suggests that the U.K. will have to train approximately 1000 cadets annually to help alleviate the shortfall.  Current training is running less that 50 percent of that figure.

The age profile of Canadian officers is equally apparent.  Grey hair rather than gold braids the distinguishing feature.

Most shipping companies are acknowledging that they are having difficulties recruiting, or anticipate they will have difficulties in the near future.  Western Regional Director of Fisheries and Ocean and Ocean Canada and Canadian Canadian Coast Guard stated that Coast Guard is already losing officers to shipping and other ferry services, as they have a higher pay scale.  DFO/CCG are planning to recruit both deck and engineer cadets from Canadian marine schools in addition to their own college in Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Why Canada?

In Canada, education under the Canadian constitution is a provincial jurisdiction.  The British Columbia provincial government has taken the enlightened position that the demand for qualified managers and senior marine personnel in shore employment, as well as the demand for qualified sea-going officers, will be better served by ensuring there are trained young Canadians to fill, what in effect, are a large number of well paid positions.

Salaries for qualified seagoing officers with a third class certificate will start at between US$2,000 and $3,000 per month, rising to in excess of US$10,600 for a captain or chief engineer serving on large tankers.  Service at sea typically ranges from 90 days to 180 days per tour, with from one-half to one-day leave for each day worked.

For the young man or woman graduating with math, sciences and English from grade 12, an officers career at sea is a secure, well-paid profession with phenomenal career prospects and travel opportunity.

Capt.  Robert Kitching is the Associate Dean at the Pacific Marine Training Campus (PMTC) of the B.C. Institute of Technology. The PMTC has now introduced both Deck Officer Cadet and Engineer Officer Cadet co-operative diploma courses in conjunction with both domestic and international shipping companies. The first group of 16 co-op cadets commenced their first seagoing training in late June 1999.  Acceptance of a cadet into the program included PMTC already having earmarked a position with a co-op partner before accepting the cadet.
This article was published in the August 1999 edition of The Westcoast Mariner