Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Coast Guard-Approved Training Courses

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine. Original article by Mr. James Cavo, Mariner Training and Assessment Division Chief, U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center.

The Coast Guard approves training of three basic types:

  • training that takes the place of a Coast Guard examination for an endorsement to a merchant mariner document;
  • training to substitute for a portion of a service requirement to obtain a license or a document;
  • training that satisfies a mariner-specific requirement.

Who Provides Coast Guard-Approved Training?
There are currently almost 2,200 approved courses and training programs given by nearly 300 different organizations. These include vessel operators, unions, colleges, high schools, government agencies, charitable organizations, and a host of maritime schools.

How Can I Get My Course or Training Program Approved?
Submit a request for approval to the National Maritime Center that documents the program and the approval requested (see NVIC 5-95). The request should include a complete documentation of the course. We generally respond to all requests within 30 days of receipt.

The course is assessed against the appropriate standard to ensure it is comparable in content and that the material is covered to a similar level. The course evaluation also takes into account the manner in which the training objectives are assessed. Written examinations are reviewed to see if they adequately assess the course material.

If the training is in lieu of a Coast Guard examination, we check to see if the course’s exams are comparable in scope and difficulty. Practical exercises are reviewed to see if there is a specified, objective criterion to assess student performance, and if the practical demonstrations are appropriate to the course.

Finally, we look at the instructors proposed for the course to see if their experience and qualifications are appropriate.

If the course meets all standards, we issue an approval letter and approval certificate. The approval letter identifies the approval given to the course, the location where it can be given, and the instructors who may present it. Currently, both original course approvals and renewals are valid for five years.

What If a Course Is Not Approved?
If we determine we are unable to approve a course, we contact the school, describe the problem, and advise what is needed to remedy it. For more serious deficiencies, we send the school a letter explaining in detail the reasons we cannot approve the course. If appropriate, we include links to applicable policy documents and/or copies of applicable guidelines for the type of course at issue.

What Happens After a Course or Training Program Is Approved?
Schools using a dynamic instruction system design process will be continuously assessing and improving their programs and courses. Any change to an approved course needs to be submitted to the National Maritime Center for evaluation and approval.

Schools also need to routinely obtain reviews and approvals for any new instructors teaching their courses. Finally, the Coast Guard monitors and oversees the training it approves.

Are There Any Options for Approval Besides the Coast Guard?
Yes. For certain types of STCW training, the Coast Guard has authorized several organizations to “accept” training on behalf of the Coast Guard. There are currently three organizations the Coast Guard has approved to act as quality standards systems (QSS): the American Bureau of Shipping, the American Council on Education, and Det Norske Veritas. Training accepted by one of these QSS organizations will carry the same weight and effect as training approved by the Coast Guard.

Common Misconceptions About Course Approval
The Coast Guard Will Only Approve Classroom Courses Given Ashore.
In addition to classroom training, we have approved programs where the training is given entirely aboard commercial vessels, is delivered as computer-based training ashore and aboard ships, or is delivered over the Internet.

Although we do approve distance learning and computer-based training, we have concerns about student identity and the integrity of the training. To assuage these concerns, we require that all assessments (practical and written) be conducted live, at an approved location, and in the presence of an instructor or proctor.

Schools Must Use Coast Guard Examination Questions.
While we allow schools to use questions selected from the Coast Guard’s database of over 25,000 questions used on our merchant marine license examinations, we do not mandate their use.

In fact, we encourage training providers to develop their own questions. If they do, we may even ask permission to use them on our examinations! Schools are not bound to use the multiple choice format we use on our examinations. We permit various other types of questions, including short answers and essays. We will not, however, allow “true/false” questions.

You Must Rigidly Follow Coast Guard Training Models.
Although we have standards for minimum content for specific training, we afford schools discretion in how to present and package training. We look at the total training and determine if the training meets our standards in the aggregate. We also allow some flexibility as to the chronology of the training. We do not require that it be done on consecutive days or in any specific time frame. We do place a reasonable time limit on the time in which the course must be completed.

The Coast Guard Approves Schools to Give “The Test.”
Although the Coast Guard approves courses to substitute for our examinations, we do not approve schools to give license exams. In order to be approved, the training must include a final assessment of whether the student has achieved the same level of knowledge they would demonstrate by passing a Coast Guard exam. Students must take the entire course. Simply taking a test is not permitted.

Similarly, we don’t approve instructors, per se. We are frequently asked “How can I become a Coast Guard-approved instructor?” Since we only approve instructors as part of a specific course at a specific school or training provider, the answer is to either become affiliated with a school having approved courses, or to develop and obtain approval for your own course(s). The approval of the instructor for a course does not authorize the instructor to teach other courses or a similar course at another school.

About the author:
Mr. James D. Cavo is the chief of the National Maritime Center’s mariner training and assessment division. Prior to coming to NMC in 1997, he worked for nine years as a deck officer on U.S. flag oil tankers and for five years as a maritime attorney. He holds licenses as chief mate any gross tons and master 1600 tons. He is a graduate of the S.U.N.Y. Maritime College, Maine Maritime Academy, and the New England School of Law.

For more information:
U.S. Coast Guard
National Maritime Center
100 Forbes Blvd.
Martinsburg, WV 25404
(304) 433-3400
Help Desk: (888) 427-5662
USCG-approved courses:
www.uscg.mil/nmc

Full article and 124-page “Focus on the Mariner” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at www.uscg.mil/proceedings/fall2008. Subscribe online at www.uscg.mil/proceedings.

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: HQS-DG-NMCProceedings@uscg.mil.

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