crew safety: the education gap

George Self

George Self

Riela Yachts Safety and Compliance Manager

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my safety experience

As a former Seafarer who has experienced different aspects of yachting, from roles in the Deck and Interior Departments to shore side (Safety & Compliance Manager). I can confidently claim first-hand, that there is an education gap when it comes to safety management practices in yachting… and it’s about time we fix it.

When training for a career at sea, you will be awarded Certificates of Competency (CoC) as you progress through your professional development. Whether this is for entry-level, Engineering or Deck. However, there is a noticeable absence within the training industry when it comes to the effective application and implementation of the International Safety Management (ISM) Code.

When I first began my training for a UK Officer On Watch (OOW) CoC, I, like all others following the Deck/Navigation route, took a number of courses which varied from General Ship’s Knowledge to training in Electronic Aids and Navigation. More recently additional leadership aspects have been added via the Human Element, Leadership and Management (HELM) courses. However, despite part of the oral exams covering safety management and the requirements of the ISM Code, the record-keeping requirements, best practices and most importantly how to scrutinise an SMS and ensure it is fit for purpose, are not covered in sufficient detail.

When I was at sea, no one explained or described to me the benefits of having a relationship with maritime safety and compliance staff ashore. I wish they had, as shore staff are there to help you (if in your experience they are not, then changing them should be considered). The staff in these roles are there to support you, by answering queries, clarifying issues and to promote and assist the onboard safety culture.  They should be considered an extension of the crew, aiding with environmental protection and contributing to ensuring that you, your fellow crew and all those on board keep safe. This is the day-to-day job of maritime safety and compliance staff, and their success is yours. I know first-hand because this is what I now do, and I love it. Like many, I took this safety education into my own hands, but the same cannot be said for everyone. Particularly if you have not been shown why it is so important to have this safety knowledge in the first place.

why we need to see change

Safety education for Crew, based on the ISM Code and associated conventions and other codes is, I believe, important for several reasons:

  1. It allows Crew to understand actions and recognise consequences, this should also bring a more professional experience to Guests and Crew alike.
  2. It prompts and assists in compliance with rules and regulations in relation to ship safety and the environment.
  3. Most importantly, it will reduce common incidents. Through education and reporting, it will help mould the future safety culture for all at sea.
Yacht Crew Safety Education

By writing this article, I hope to encourage an in-depth level of discussion within the early stages of Crew training in the areas surrounding safety management education. However, in the meantime, it is worth highlighting that there are alternate ways to achieve this goal. As discussed in my previous post, most Crew and Captains tend to start their careers on smaller vessels. Therefore, becoming familiar with and taking advantage of the tools provided through a Mini ISM system is the ideal opportunity to learn more about how to manage safety onboard and put best practice into place.

personal development of crew

In addition to the many benefits of increased safety compliance, yacht Crew safety education will also assist in personal development of the Crew. For example, being taught the concept of a safety culture onboard will help it become second nature when navigating the seas. The Mini ISM system can assist with this when working on smaller vessels, as the similar skills used to follow the intuitive system are in parallel to that of larger vessels who adhere to the full ISM Code. Therefore, and in the absence of any mandated training, adopting a Mini-ISM could be the best way to bridge the education gap often experienced in Crew training.


If at this stage you are sat thinking: “this is me, I have no ISM training”.

Remember, there is always opportunity to learn.

Even if you only work on a smaller vessel, using the Mini ISM system, if you have one, still allows you to learn these practices on-the-go, allowing for the adoption of a safety and environmental culture onboard.

Due to the high frequency of serious incidents which occur at sea, as Crew, it is important to recognise your own responsibility in breaking this trend. You owe it to yourself and others around you to value your own safety.

The next time you are looking to join a yacht and its Crew, ask the question of whether the vessel has active ISM Code practices in place, when the SMS was last reviewed or verified internally/externally and most importantly whether its effectiveness is being monitored and how. You won’t regret the difference it could make!

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