Able Seaman OR Rating forming Part of a Navigational Watch? Confused? You are not alone!!
With the implementation of STCW, confusion has reigned supreme with regard to the traditional way mariners qualify for ABLE SEAMAN (AB) and their ability to work on a large SEAGOING ship under that rating OR as a RATING FORMING PART OF A NAVIGATIONAL WATCH (RFPNW) "rating". Before coming to any understanding on this issue, you need to understand how the two regulatory systems (U. S. and STCW) differ.
There are three basic watch standing levels under the STCW structure. The “Support Level”, “Operational" (Officer in Charge), and “Management”. AB would best fall under the Support Level of the STCW structure, but not perfectly! Able Seamen (AB) ratings have been around for many years in this country. Traditionally this rating was and still is for mariners who have moved up into the Wheelhouse of a ship. Their primary watch standing duties include steering the ship and standing a lookout. But they are also trained in many other areas of deck seamanship and safety. With particular attention to being trained as LIFEBOATMAN. It WAS the traditional, non-maritime academy way to eventually becoming a ship’s officer on the deck side. However, STCW has taken this path away.
STCW calls the deck support watch stander RATING FORMING PART OF A NAVIGATIONAL WATCH (RFPNW). This individual must be assessed in their ability to steer the ship and stand a proper lookout. Under the STCW code, this individual is NOT required to hold an AB rating! In order to receive an STCW endorsement from the Coast Guard for RFPNW, you must have at least 180 days of “approved seagoing service”. Half of which must be on a vessel of 200 Gross Register Tons or more. “Approved seagoing service” also means that the person completed watch-standing duties under the supervision of another RFPNW or an Officer in Charge of the Navigation Watch (OICNW). This system was designed to allow ANY deck personnel to become qualified to stand a navigational watch. To “form part of the navigational team” if you will. It is important to note that RFPNW is ONLY required on a SEAGOING vessel over 200 Gross Register Tons.
To qualify for an AB under the U.S. Coast Guard system you must have “service on deck” for a specific number of days and complete Lifeboat OR Proficiency in Survival Craft (PSC) training. Completion of a Coast Guard exam OR an approved course that substitutes for the exam is also required. The exams cover many areas of deck seamanship, Navigation Rules, and Safety. But here’s the rub. Qualifying for AB does NOT automatically qualify you for RFPNW under the STCW scheme.
Many mariners have been frustrated by this dichotomy. Commercial fishermen are a prime example of those who may qualify for AB but NOT for RFPNW. Frustrating to say the least but it’s not the fault of the Coast Guard!! They are bound by the STCW treaty! Yes, it’s an actual treaty we signed, which supersedes ALL U. S. shipping laws and regulations. The reason commercial fisherman don’t qualify for RFPNW is because they don’t have “approved seagoing service” under their belt. They will issue an AB rating on their Merchant Mariner’s Document, but they won’t issue the corresponding STCW endorsement with RFPNW on it until they obtain the required service.
Have I confused you more? Probably so but one key point to understanding this issue is that the STCW convention clearly spells out how one qualifies for certain Ratings. Since seagoing ships of 200 Gross Register Tons are required to have RFPNW qualified personnel as part of the navigation team, it only makes sense that experience on vessels that size or greater be required. It’s actually one of the few areas that does make sense from a practical standpoint! But don’t tell anyone I said that!!