Maritime safety: minimum level of training of seafarers

Directive 2008/106/EC on the minimum level of training of seafarers


It incorporates, into EU law, minimum standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers serving on board EU vessels which are fixed by the convention on standards of training, certification and watchkeeping for seafarers (STCW convention) of the International Maritime Organisation. The convention was adopted in 1978.

Directive 2012/35/EU introduced a number of amendments to Directive 2008/106/EC.


This directive applies to seafarers serving on board seagoing ships flying the flag of an EU country, with the exception of:

warships or other ships owned by an EU country and engaged only in governmental, non-commercial services;
fishing vessels;
pleasure yachts not engaged in trade;
wooden ships of primitive build.


The directive sets out the rules on training and the standards of competence to be met by seafarers who are candidates for the issue or revalidation of certificates that allow them to perform the functions for which the relevant certificate of competency or proficiency is issued.

The categories of seafarer to which these rules relate are:

chief mates;
deck officers and engineer officers;
chief engineer officers and second engineer officers;
certain categories of ratings (i.e. those working in an engine room, those who form part of a watch or those serving on certain types of ship); and
personnel responsible for radiocommunication.

For certain categories of vessel, such as tankers and ro-ro passenger ships, there are special rules and mandatory minimum requirements concerning their training and qualifications of seafarers. The directive also lays down rules on education and training in the management of emergency situations, fire-fighting and the supply of medical aid, as well as for crew members responsible for catering services.

Certificates of competency, certificates of proficiency and endorsements

Certificates must be issued by the competent authorities of EU countries to permit holders to serve as stated in the document or as authorised by national regulations. These documents are issued to candidates who meet the national standards for physical fitness (particularly regarding eyesight and hearing) and who provide satisfactory proof of identity, age, service at sea and skills (ability, task and level).

EU countries may issue separate certificates for radio operators.

Holders of certificates are required to prove, at regular intervals, that they still meet the standards for skills and professional competence.

Endorsements may be included in certificates or may be issued separately. Certificates may use the format contained in the STCW code (Section A-I/2) or may depart from it (in which case they must, as a minimum, include the information required in the format). Any seafarer on board must be able to produce the original copy of their certificate. EU countries must also apply the necessary measures to prevent and penalise fraud and other illegal practices concerning the certification procedure.

Amending Directive 2012/35/EU introduced a requirement for EU countries to:

maintain registers of all certificates of competency and certificates of proficiency and endorsements for masters and officers and, where applicable, ratings which are issued, have expired or have been revalidated, suspended, cancelled or reported as lost or destroyed, as well as of dispensations issued;
make available information on the status of certificates of competency, endorsements and dispensations to other EU countries or other parties to the STCW convention, as well as companies which request verification of the authenticity and validity of certificates — as of 1 January 2017, the information required must be made available by electronic means;
draw up standards of medical fitness for seafarers and procedures for the issue of a medical certificate in accordance with the directive and with Section A-I/9 of the STCW code — those responsible for assessing the medical fitness of seafarers must be medical practitioners recognised by that EU country for the purpose of such medical examinations.

Penalties and disciplinary measures

EU countries must establish the necessary processes and procedures to carry out an impartial investigation in cases of incompetence, acts or omissions that may pose a direct threat to the safety of human life, the safety of goods at sea or the marine environment. Penalties or disciplinary measures are to be provided for and applied where:

a company or master has engaged a person not holding a certificate as required by this directive;
a master has authorised a seafarer to carry out a function for which a certificate is required but they are not the holder of such a certificate, a certificate recognised by the EU countries or a valid dispensation;
a person has fraudulently obtained an engagement to perform a function or to serve in a capacity for which a certificate is required.

Monitoring and evaluation of training

EU countries must ensure that:

there is continuous monitoring of all training, assessment of issuing competency certificates and the definition of a system of quality standards detailing objectives and scope;
training and teaching objectives as well as the equivalence of training levels with the requirements of the STCW convention are defined;
the quality of examinations, assessments and the quality and experience of assessors is monitored;

independent evaluations of knowledge, understanding, skills and competence acquisition and assessment activities are carried out at intervals of no more than 5 years.
Rest periods for watchkeeping personnel

In order to prevent fatigue amongst watchkeeping personnel, which is very often the cause of accidents at sea, there are rules concerning minimum rest periods.

All who are assigned duty as officer in charge of a watch, or as a rating that forms part of a watch, must be allowed at least 10 hours of rest in any 24-hour period. This may be divided into no more than two periods, one of which must be at least 6 hours long. In addition, amending Directive 2012/35/EU requires that such officers or ratings have 77 hours of rest in any 7-day period.


In circumstances of exceptional necessity, competent authorities may issue a dispensation permitting a given seafarer to serve on a given vessel for a specified period not exceeding 6 months. This would be in a capacity for which the seafarer does not hold the appropriate certificate as long as their qualifications are sufficient to guarantee normal safety conditions.

EU country responsibilities

EU countries must designate the authorities or bodies that are to:

give training;
organise and/or supervise the required examinations;
issue certificates;
grant possible dispensations.

On-board communication

To enhance maritime safety and prevent loss of human life and maritime pollution, communication among crew members on board ships sailing in EU waters must be improved.

A common working language must be established on board all passenger ships flying the flag of an EU country and on board all passenger ships starting and/or finishing a voyage in an EU country’s port. In the case of oil, chemical or liquefied gas tankers, the directive requires that the master, officers and ratings be able to communicate with each other in one or several common working languages.

Port state control

EU countries can monitor seafarers serving on any ship using their ports, irrespective of the flag it flies, in particular to verify that all seafarers who are required to be certified by the STCW convention are. They must ensure that the relevant rules and procedures laid down in Directive 2009/16/EC on port state control are applied.

In some cases, it is necessary to assess the ability of seafarers to maintain watchkeeping standards as required by the convention (verification of certificates). This is especially necessary where a ship using an EU port flying the flag of a country which has not ratified the STCW convention has been used in such a way as to present a danger for persons, goods or the environment, or has a master, officer or rating holding a certificate issued by a non-EU country which has not ratified the convention. In other cases, crew members may be asked to provide an on-the-spot demonstration of their competence.

The directive specifies the grounds on which a vessel may be detained, such as lack of training or working conditions of the crew, where it has been established that these inadequacies represent a danger for goods, persons or the environment.

In 2015, the European Commission published a list of non-EU countries recognised as far as the systems for training and certification of seafarers. Since then, Ethiopia, Fiji, Oman and Montenegro have been added to this list.

Directive 2008/106/EC has applied since 23 December 2008. It revised and replaced Directive 2001/25/EC that itself repealed Directive 94/58/EC. Directive 94/58/EC had to become law in the EU countries by 31 December 1995.

Amending Directive 2012/35/EU has applied since 3 January 2013. It had to become law in the EU countries by 4 July 2014.


Directive 2008/106/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on the minimum level of training of seafarers (recast) (OJ L 323, 3.12.2008, pp. 33-61)

Successive amendments to Directive 2008/106/EC have been incorporated in the original text. This consolidated version is of documentary value only.

Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2018/501 of 22 March 2018 on the recognition of the Sultanate of Oman pursuant to Directive 2008/106/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the systems for training and certification of seafarers (OJ L 82, 26.3.2018, pp. 15-16)

Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2017/1412 of 1 August 2017 on the recognition of Fiji pursuant to Directive 2008/106/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the systems for training and certification of seafarers (OJ L 202, 3.8.2017, pp. 6-7)

Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2017/1239 of 6 July 2017 on the recognition of Ethiopia pursuant to Directive 2008/106/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the systems for training and certification of seafarers (OJ L 177, 8.7.2017, pp. 43-44)

Commission Implementing Decision (EU) 2017/727 of 23 March 2017 on the recognition of Montenegro pursuant to Directive 2008/106/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards the systems for training and certification of seafarers (OJ L 107, 25.4.2017, pp. 31-32)

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