Sink or swim

The importance of training in the maritime industry
2020 is going to be a challenging year for many training companies in the Maritime sector. The recently issued Maritime Training Insight Database (MarTID) report states that the role of the modern seafarer is changing and so maritime training budgets will increase over the next few years. This is great news for the training companies but even more so for those working in the industry who want to become more qualified. The industry is required to employ qualified people and regular training is the only way to achieve this. 

Why is training so important?

Today seafarers are required to operate bigger, more complex and technologically sophisticated vessels with smaller crews. Their daily challenge is to safely and efficiently deliver a cargo in time, at lowest cost possible, to its destination. And to do so while abiding with international laws and regulations and with as little as possible impact on the environment. It is clear that this is not an easy task and all this work has to be done by people. So training is indispensable in ensuring that seafarers are capable of adapting to the complexity of their role and the constant changes in the industry.  

Assumptions about English proficiency

Training in many areas is obligatory for seafarers. Safety and medical training are high on the list as are fire-fighting and maritime legislation. Lower down that list is an English language course. The assumption is that everyone can speak and understand English, but this is not always the case despite the fact that sailors have to understand and use the IMO's Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP). Companies are constantly having to ensure that their seafarers’ training is up to date in a broad range of areas and that they have the right qualifications to work on a ship. 

How to choose?

There is a huge diversity of training companies worldwide offering courses for shipping companies and seafarers, so it is not always easy to make a choice and to determine what type of training best fits your needs. What do you want to achieve? How do you know whether the training method and content is worth the investment? Of course there are recommended and approved institutes but that does not help you decide what is right for your situation. Let’s look at some of the options. 

Training options

Courses are generally taught in a classroom environment and this has lots of advantages. Questions can be asked straight away and participants can learn from each other. A good teacher can help motivate students, offer advice on the best approach and give direct feedback. But how does it affect the quality of the course if a teacher is not inspiring? It is also often hard to get a group of participants together at the same time for lessons and to form a group of the right size with students of a similar level. The costs and quality of lessons may vary. At the end of a course, shipping companies and seafarers want to see proof of attendance and a certificate if the participant has passed. Most training institutes provide these and make additional information and documents available online. This enables all the parties involved to look up results, track progress and see when courses are finished.


Another training method is simulation. Something that works really well in the maritime industry. Captains, operators and other seafarers are placed in an electronic simulated situation, where, for example, the engines fail or a storm strikes the ship. This gives crew members the opportunity to experience certain events. It is too complicated and expensive to train people for this on a real ship. But in a virtual environment, participants work with real equipment and can be corrected immediately if something goes wrong.

The Human Element

Another simulation training is the ‘Human Element In Shipping Simulations’, a program developed by Atria Learning and Development. This training concept requires the participants to use their behavioural skills and practical experience to solve problems and ensure the virtual crew takes the appropriate action. Although simulation training is popular and useful, it might be more expensive than a classroom-based course, because seafarers may have to incur additional travel and accommodation costs to use such facilities. 

Online learning

Online learning has taken off in recent years and many courses are now available on the Internet, via websites or apps, for example. Learning online offers many advantages. Provided participants have access to the Internet, they can study anywhere and at any time of the day. They need no further materials, like books, and can choose an environment where they feel comfortable to study. Theory, practice exercises and tests are available and usually the students can ask questions via chat or email.

Self motivation

Of course online learning also has its disadvantages. For instance, participants need to motivate themselves to start and complete training courses within a certain timeframe. Each individual is responsible for their own progress and results. However some online courses offer the option of support from an online teacher, who can be contacted whenever participants need help or advice. In general online learning is a relatively cheap way of training, although those courses that incorporate regular contact with an online teacher may be more expensive. 

Classroom, simulation, online or a combination?

It is clear that all three training methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. In a classroom environment, a motivated teacher can be the decisive factor in making a training course successful. The simulation training is similar although more specific and with more of a focus on individual handling skills. Online training is increasing in popularity and is a practical way to learn for people who need to study at home or while traveling. Even more beneficial is an online course with an online teacher.

Strong combinations

A combination of classroom or simulation with online learning can lead to better measurable results. The option to do a competence scan before attending a classroom or simulation course will give the teacher valuable information which can be used during the course. In addition, when end tests are done at home, one has more time to spend on actual cases during class. So many different types of training are available and looking at it, we think that, depending on what the objective is, a blended solution that incorporates online learning may offer the best results.

International teams and crews

Spot On Learning develops training and communication programs to help organizations with international crews and teams to be more successful. The ability to learn and change fast is vital in a world where safety and compliance with international laws and regulations is so important and where efficiency and quality really count. 

Sharing 'lessons learned'

For many years now the Spot On Learning online learning methodology has helped to improve the English maritime language skills of thousands of seafarers all over the world. Here are some things we have experienced and learned over the years.

  • By using speech technology we give instant feedback to online learners and measure how they improve.

  • The online entry and level up tests measure progress towards a required level.

  • We developed ways to motivate seafarers all over the world to constantly work towards their learning goals in the most effective way.

  • We compare the progress of seafarers from different countries and find ways to overcome their different (pronunciation and other) challenges.

  • We combine English language training with measuring and improving cross-cultural communication competence.

More information and sources

We are open to share our leanings with professionals in the maritime industry and are interested in ways to improve communication skills of seafarers worldwide with other partners and clients. 

If you would like more information about the unique online communication programs offered by Spot On Learning, please contact us.

Sink or swim

Spot On Learning
Kleine-Gartmanplantsoen 10
1017 RR Amsterdam
The Netherlands

+31 (0) 20 30 80 041

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