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Hiring Crew to Work On Ships and Yachts

You can use this guide as a checklist when hiring crew for ships and yachts for UK-registered vessels. Check what processes you need to follow when hiring people to work on a ship or a yacht.

Some of the things to check will include qualifications and certificates of competency for crew members. Find out what must be included in crew agreements and how to provide crew lists for ship owners.

As a rule, you are going to need crew members and deckhands to operate a ship or a yacht at sea.

But, before hiring crew for ships and yachts, you will need to:

  • Check the discharge books of crew members to verify they have the qualification and Certificates of Competency for the job.
  • Check the seafarer medical certificates and travel documents.
  • Make sure all crew can speak the common working language of the vessel.
  • Draw up a crew agreement and send a full crew list to the owner of the ship or yacht.

Note: Before starting a journey, you must also ensure that all hired crew members are familiar with the safety and emergency procedures for the vessel.

Checking Crew Members’ Qualifications

You must check that all the crew have the necessary qualifications and experience to work on a ship. So, the first step will be checking crew members’ discharge books for verification.

Some of the crew members may be carrying out specialist jobs or working on particular types of sailing craft. If so, these staff may need to have special training for the role.

Ship Officers

If the crew will include any officers, they will need to have the necessary Certificate of Competency. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency website has a facility to check the validity of a CoC.

Note: There is special training for ratings and officers available if they will be working on high-speed craft (e.g. hovercraft), passenger ships, or tankers.

Merchant Navy Ratings

It is important to ensure all crew have the correct rating for the type of work they will be doing. Watch ratings who perform engine room duties or navigation will need a CoC (details below).

Crew on Large Yachts (from 24 metres long)

Anyone crewing large yachts would need to have an MCA Yacht Rating Certificate or some other MCA recognised qualification, such as:

  • A navigational or engine room watch rating certificate issued under Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW).
  • A United Kingdom efficient deck hand (EDH) certificate.
  • An able seaman (AB) certificate issued under the International Labour Organisation (ILO) AB Convention.

Certificates of Competency (CoCs)

International regulations apply to anyone who has a commercial vessel going to sea. As such, you would need to follow the Standards in Training Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW).

Some of the crew members would need to be in possession of a Certificate of Competency (CoC) or a Certificate of Equivalent Competency (CEC) to perform certain duties on board.

Note: Some seafarer CoCs need to meet new training standards to remain valid on certain types of ship. Read more on how the STCW Regulations (2010 Manila Amendments) affect seafarer training and certificates.

Deck Officers

Masters, along with other deck department officers, will need a CoC to perform ship bridge watch-keeping duties and navigational duties.

Certificates of Competency for deck officers are restricted, depending on the size of the ship (or yacht) and the particular area of sea where it operates.

  • Complete form MSF 4274 to apply for a United Kingdom deck Certificate of Competency.
  • Complete MSF 4343 to apply for a deck yacht certificate of competency.

Note: Any seafarers who are holding a Certificate of Service (issued until 1998) can use this instead.

Engineer Officers

An engineer officer on a ship (or a yacht) with a power output of at least 750 kilowatts needs a CoC. The type you would need depends on the power output of the vessel and the area of sea where it operates.

  • Complete form MSF 4275 to apply for a UK engineer officer certificate of competency.
  • Complete form MSF 4278 to apply for an yacht engineer certificate of competency.

Revalidating Certificates of Competency

Deck and engineering officers can use Form MSF 4201 to apply for a revalidation of a CoC (every five years). There are several ways to do this, such as by completing (either):

  • 12 months of sea service within the last five (5) years.
  • 3 months of sea service within the last six (6) months.
  • 2.5 years in a relevant job (contact the MCA for further advice).

Note: Using MSF 4258 provides an alternative route for a CoC revalidation. You can use it if someone that you want to hire is unable to revalidate their CoC because they fail to meet the requirements.

Watch Ratings

Performing navigation or engine room duties as watch ratings on merchant ships means you would need a Certificate of Competency.

Note: As a rule, any cooks and security officers working on a ship would also need to obtain a CoC.

Radio Operators

Any radio operators handling distress and safety radio-communications would need CoCs using MSF 4354. Radio personnel who serve on UK-registered ships must be in possession of (either):

  • A Restricted Operator’s Certificate (ROC)
  • A General Operator’s Certificate (GOC)

Further Guidance

  • MSN 1856 (M+F) outlines the certification structure and examination and training requirements for merchant navy deck officers.
  • MSN 1857 (M+F) outlines the certification structure and examination and training requirements for merchant navy engineer officers.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) can also confirm which of your crew members need to have a Certificate of Competency.

MCA Training and Certification Helpline
Telephone: 023 8032 9231
Find out about call charges.

Certificate of Equivalent Competency (CEC)

Having a CEC means officers holding STCW certificates issued by selected non-UK countries can work as officers on UK-registered merchant ships.

Crew members must complete form MSF 4203 to apply for a Certificate of Equivalent Competency (CEC). The application process may ask them to prove:

  • Their standards of competency.
  • An ability to use the English language (can include an oral exam).
  • Some knowledge of United Kingdom law relating to their particular job.

Note: The MCA produce extra guidance for non-UK qualified officers on how to apply for, or revalidate, a Certificate of Equivalent Competency for working on UK-registered commercial vessels.

Crew Agreements

A crew agreement creates an employment contract between the owner of a ship or yacht and its crew members. As such, all crew agreements must contain:

  • A cover that has the details of the ship and its owners.
  • An up-to-date crew list that includes their names, addresses, and dates of birth.
  • A list of anyone on board who is below the age of 18 (or exempt from a crew agreement).
  • Contractual clauses set out for each crew member.

Note: Crew agreements can be valid for a period up to twelve (12) months. Thus, you would need to draw up a new crew agreement after reaching this period.

A Contractual Clause Must Include:

  • The crew member’s name, a description of their job, and details of their pay, hours, and leave entitlement.
  • A description of the journey(s) that the agreement relates to.
  • Details of required notice procedures and how either party may terminate the crew agreement.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency provides extra guidance on drawing up crew agreements for merchant ships and yachts:

  • MGN 477(M) ‘Maritime Labour Convention, 2006: Seafarers’ Employment Agreements’

You can also contact the MCA if you need further help or advice on drawing up a crew agreement.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA)
Telephone: 0300 123 1142

Who Needs to Sign a Crew Agreement?

As a rule, anyone working on board a ship (or yacht) needs to sign a crew agreement. But, separate employment contracts apply to certain people on ships, so they would not need to sign. They include:

  • Ship’s captains
  • Nannies
  • Entertainment staff
  • Security personnel or bodyguards

After Drawing Up a Crew Agreement:

  1. Get all crew members to sign their agreement at the time they join the ship and again at the end of the journey.
  2. File the agreement with the shipping registry in the ‘flag state’ of the ship (the country of registration).
  3. Display a copy of the agreement on board the vessel.
  4. Send a copy (with the official log book for a merchant ship) to a superintendent or proper officer within three (3) days of its expiry.

Travel Documents

All the crew members will need to be in possession of a valid (either):

  • Passport.
  • Seafarers Identity Document (SID) that contains a photograph, signature (or fingerprints) and a description of the holder (including nationality).

Note: The British Seaman’s Card (BSC) is the standard identity document for British citizens who are seafarers.

Crew Lists

As the master or the skipper of a ship registered in the United Kingdom, you must:

  • Provide a copy of an up-to-date crew list to the owner of the ship at the beginning of each journey.
  • Inform the ship’s owner if there are any changes to the crew list during the actual journey.

If a Ship is Lost at Sea

Authorities will use the crew list to determine who is missing in circumstances where a ship is lost at sea. In this case, the owner of the ship should either hand in the crew list to a local Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) Marine Office or send it by postal methods to:

Registry of Shipping and Seamen
Anchor Court
Ocean Way
CF24 5JW

Note: You can also check the contact details and opening times for coastguard and marine offices managed by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Checks to Make Before Hiring Crew for Ships in United Kingdom