The International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW), 1978 sets qualification standards for masters, officers and watch personnel on seagoing merchant ships. STCW was adopted in 1978 by conference at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London, and entered into force in 1984. The Convention was significantly amended in 1995.
The 1978 STCW Convention was the first to establish basic requirements on training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers on an international level. Previously the standards of training, certification and watchkeeping of officers and ratings were established by individual governments, usually without reference to practices in other countries. As a result, standards and procedures varied widely, even though shipping is extremely international by nature.
The Convention did not deal with manning levels: IMO provisions in this area are covered by regulation 14 of Chapter V of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), 1974, whose requirements are backed up by resolution A.890(21) Principles of safe manning, adopted by the IMO Assembly in 1999, which replaced an earlier resolution A.481(XII) adopted in 1981.
One especially important feature of the Convention is that it applies to ships of non-party States when visiting ports of States which are Parties to the Convention. Article X requires Parties to apply the control measures to ships of all flags to the extent necessary to ensure that no more favourable treatment is given to ships entitled to fly the flag of a State which is not a Party than is given to ships entitled to fly the flag of a State that is a Party.
The difficulties which could arise for ships of States which are not Parties to the Convention is one reason why the Convention has received such wide acceptance. By 2014, the STCW Convention had 158 Parties, representing 98.8 per cent of world shipping tonnage.
On 7 July 1995 the IMO adopted a comprehensive revision of STCW. It also included a proposal to develop a new STCW Code, which would contain the technical details associated with provisions of the Convention. The amendments entered force on 1 February 1997. Full implementation was required by 1 February 2002. Mariners already holding certification had the option to renew the certificates in accordance with the old rules of the 1978 Convention during the period ending on 1 February 2002. Mariners entering training programs after 1 August 1998 are required to meet the competency standards of the new 1995 Amendments.
The most significant amendments concerned:
The IMO Convention on Standards of Training Certification and Watchkeeping of Seafarers adopted a new set of amendments in Manila in 2010 called "The Manila Amendments". These amendments were necessary to keep training standards in line with new technological and operational requirements that require new shipboard competencies. The Manila Amendments were effective as of 1 January 2012. There is a transition period until 2017 when all seafarers must be certified and trained according to the new standards. Implementation is progressive, every year a modified set of requirements comes into force. The most significant amendments are:
On 7 July 1995, the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Fishing Vessel Personnel was adopted as a separate treaty as part of the comprehensive revisions to STCW. It applies the principles of STCW to fishing vessels from ratifying states that are 24 metres in length and above. STCW-F came into force on 29 September 2012.