The Yacht Path Vs. Small Vessels Certificate

Yachting engineers have recently faced a dilemma: should they continue down the traditional yachting route or try the new Small Vessels engineering certificate, which will be offered from September 2017.

Both newcomers to the industry and established yachting engineers have faced the same confusion that has cropped up in the pursuit of their dream superyacht crew job. We spoke to Shaun Towers from Warsash Superyacht Academy to find out more about the courses.

The Y4, Y3, Y2, and Y1 Route

Engineers wishing to begin a career in the yachting industry have traditionally completed the Y4 qualification, and progressed up to the Y1 qualification over time.

The Y4, Y3, Y2, and Y1 yachting qualifications were created in response to industry demand and underpin the importance of a standardised qualification structure for a yacht engineering career. While the current system has advantages and disadvantages, one major issue is that the qualifications are duplicated between levels.

Mr Towers elucidates: “The Maritime and Coastguard Agency run lots and lots of exams so they have parallel syllabuses for tugs, fishing vessels, and small work boats. The administration for them was getting too much, bearing in mind the financial constraints on government bodies in England.”

These downfalls have necessitated the creation of the Small Vessels – a course that will centralise engineer certification for all small vessels. The English Maritime and Coastguard Agency, and the main training establishments, came together to simplify and streamline the educational process. For a while, the new Smaller Vessels course – which various institutions are offering from September – will be taught alongside the current Y4, Y3, Y2, and Y1 qualifications.

The Small Vessels Qualification

The English Maritime and Coastguard Agency and the main training establishments have restructured the new syllabus to make a more simple and encompassing course for all small vessels. They added new subjects and the syllabus avoids repetition.

Shaun, who was involved in the creation of the new syllabus, explains what makes it different: “We basically threw out all the inappropriate questions, which left gaps. We then collectively wrote probably another 200 questions to fill all the gaps. All the questions are now relevant to small vessels, whereas previously a lot of questions weren’t because they were written by merchant navy engineers who had little to no knowledge of the yachting industry.”        

An engineer can now advance from beginner to advanced with an even workload and fewer complications. One less positive point Shaun makes about the course is that engineers might potentially not get the same level of training, as the Small Vessels qualification allows students to skip the process of logged sea time.

Shaun comments: “It could be argued that engineers will not get the same level of training; that they’re actually moving up faster where they won’t have the experience to back up their qualification. People are running before they can walk, which is happening in the entire industry anyway because of the shortage of skills. Most people are now doing the yacht route and they will move sideways at some stage to the new route. You can change from the yacht route to the new route at any stage of your career.” (This process is fully outlined in MIN524)

Which Route Should Students Choose?

So which route should students should take in September? Before Shaun can answer the question he describes how seafarers’ lack of seagoing experience may be dealt with: Students will need to do extra courses before starting the Small Vessels qualification. You’ve got to do an AEC, which is an Approved Engine Course, and an AEC2.”

Originally, it was agreed that once the MCA offered the new Small Vessel route, they would retire the old yacht route. Unfortunately, the MCA later decided that the yacht route would remain operative until 2021. There was only meant to be one course: the Small Vessels course. Students were not supposed to face this dilemma and the implications have been far-reaching.

Shaun describes the implication that this decision has had, saying that the problem is based on people trusting the established route. He expands by saying, “the new route is something different and most training establishments obviously have to offer commercially viable training. When there is sufficient demand the courses will be on offer at all institutions and the yacht route will slowly become a thing of the past. The other implication is that most yachts’ Safe Manning Certificate will have to be updated by Flag to ensure statutory compliance.”

Shaun offers this advice to those contemplating what to do:

“My advice to anybody at the moment is to start on the yacht route, because it’s well tried, it’s well tested. All the training providers are used to providing the training and obtaining good pass marks. The questions are going to be roughly identifiable. As soon as someone breaks ground and reaches into the new syllabus, there’s going to be a lot of question there that are going to pose potential upsets, as they are unseen. Go on the proven route. Until you get to Y4, maybe Y3, then move sideways, because that’s the only opportunity you’ve got at the moment. If you go on the yacht route, you’ve saved yourself two weeks of courses and all the associated expenses. There is a crossover point at every stage. Once you’ve moved across then you’ve got to progress up the new route.”

What lies ahead for the Small Vessels qualification?

Rest assured that the Small Vessels course be implemented at every level eventually, but it may take a while. Shaun expresses his final thoughts on the future of the new qualification:

“The syllabus is in place. The exams are in place. It’s down to each training provider to decide when they’re going to get their course approved by the MCA and offer it to students. It’s got to happen eventually. It’s untenable for any training establishment to run two parallel courses, which are almost identical, apart from a few fine points.”

It is said that the Small Vessels course will be available for students to start from September 2017. For more information, contact individual training providers.

NOTE: this information outlines the current situation. It will change as soon as training providers start offering the full range of courses and career routes as outlined in MSN1859.