Monday, August 10, 2009

The Future of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Merchant Mariner Credentialing Program

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine.

Full article by CAPT David C. Stalfort, Commanding Officer, U.S. Coast Guard National Maritime Center, available at

Aboard M/V Renewed Hope
Malacca Straits, Andaman Sea
August 14, 2015

The liner business today was not what Captain Scott had dreamt of when he chose his sea-going career. In some ways it was harder, lonelier, and more complicated. In other ways, it was a great time to be a U.S. merchant mariner. Captain Scott looked out over the water from the bridge. The traffic in the Malacca Straits always worried him. He preferred to be on the bridge even though the second mate was experienced and had piloted the straits several times.

MM-SEAS Calling
Suddenly, his PDA chimed with a new e-mail. Pulling it from his hip with a quick, downward glance, a sudden anxiety came over him. “How could I have forgotten, again?” he sighed. The e-mail was an auto-generated message from the U.S. Coast Guard’s merchant mariner credentialing program, the Merchant Mariner Secure Electronic Application System, or MM-SEAS. It reminded him that his license was due to expire in two days!

He cursed himself, remembering that a week before, while crossing the Suez Canal bound from Hamburg to Singapore, he had received another reminder e-mail. He remembered thinking, “Oh, I’ll take care of it when we clear the canal. One issue at a time …”

But once the nightmare of the Suez transit was over, he was so relieved that the renewal reminder completely slipped his mind. Over the next few days, the Bab-el-Mandep Straits took all his attention, and once in the open ocean, his mind and efforts were elsewhere.

Now, a week later heading into Singapore, he had still not taken care of it. They had just one day scheduled in port and he knew there would be no extra time. Apart from the normal port work, drills, class, and internal audits were also scheduled.

The captain heard the bridge door creak and saw it was the chief engineer. The chief looked around, cursed the visibility, and said while shaking his head, “What a mess. The traffic’s bad enough out there without the weather making things worse. How’s it going, Captain?”

“Still recovering from the lack of sleep and backlash of work. How are you doing, Chief?”

The chief expressed his concern about his expiring license, trying to figure out how he would go about renewing with all the time planned at sea. The captain told the chief that his own license would expire in two days.

Captain, Have You Lost Your Mind?
Concerned, the chief asked, “What are you going to do during the next PSC document review? I remember hearing about how long USCG takes to issue licenses. Captain, have you lost your mind!?”

Captain Scott laughed and explained that it was no problem, as he could do it online. He told the chief that he was right to worry when talking about the old mariner licensing and documentation program of 10 years ago. “But today, it’s different. It took awhile, but the Coast Guard finally figured out how to do it right.”

The captain called the second mate to keep watch and advised the chief (who had a confused look on his face) to accompany him to the bridge wing as he went about renewing his license from 10,000 miles and one big ocean away from the National Maritime Center in Martinsburg, W.Va.

The captain sat in his chair while the wireless workstation established the Pacific satellite connection. Within moments, he was online. The U.S. Coast Guard Merchant Mariner Credentialing site was saved in his “favorites.”

The interactive program prompted him to place his right index finger on the biometric scanner located on the screen and hit “SEND” when the print was captured. MM-SEAS instantly and securely verified his identity. His license details then flashed a red banner: “Renewal Due.” He clicked “RENEW” and the initial screen showed him what information was required, what information had already submitted to the NMC, and what information was still missing.

Some of his STCW course renewals had been due when he was last on vacation in Honolulu, so he had taken the opportunity to complete the training. Though he had hard copies of the certificates, the schools also sent the results electronically to the NMC using an automated service within MM-SEAS. The results were validated electronically and his account had already been updated with the STCW refresher course results.

Online Renewal
“What if all of that information wasn’t already in the system?” asked the chief. “That’s the great thing about the program,” the captain said. “I receive periodic e-mails to remind me of my status and what’s still needed. I always know where I stand, and there’s no more guesswork about if and when I’ll receive my renewal.”

The captain continued, “Junior officers can use the online wizards to see what they need for a raise in grade or endorsement. When I applied for my license years ago, I had to read through the application packets and regulations to figure out my options. In the end, I had to go to a Regional Examination Center for help. Not anymore. The website tells you what’s needed as you step through the process. Now, we just visit the RECs for certain examinations and if we need local licenses or pilotage endorsements.”

Remembering the Malacca Straits, Scott knew it was time to complete the transaction and get back to work. The final item on the “to do” list was the question “How would you like to pay?” Scott pulled out a credit card and entered the details. The word “PROCESSING” appeared on the screen and he waited.

In seconds, he was shown his confirmation and receipt with the option to e-mail them to himself. The next screen informed him the process was complete and the IMO database on mariners had been updated with the required information and the bar code on his passport-style combined merchant mariner credential would pass the scan in his next port of call.

“Guess you’re done,” said the chief, turning to leave.

“Not quite yet, Chief.” In bold letters in the middle of the screen was the prompt “Are there any other immediate interested parties who should be informed?” Scott uploaded the e-mails of the agents in the next four ports, the charterers, owners, and the PSC officials in the next two countries, including Singapore, and pressed “SEND.“

Captain Scott now had his renewed license, and all parties were informed. He looked at the chief, who seemed impressed, but not too cheerful. Surprised, the captain asked, “What’s the matter?”

“I gotta go back to my cabin and complete my paperwork for the PSC inspection in Singapore! Maybe one day, PSC inspections will be as easy as renewing a license.”

As they both rose and started their separate ways, the captain strode back to the bridge thinking, “I remember those days …”

About the author:
CAPT David C. Stalfort is the commanding officer of the Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center. He and the crew of the NMC are leading the effort to re-engineer the mariner licensing program and achieve the vision described in this article. CAPT Stalfort has worked in the Coast Guard’s marine safety program for 23 years. He also holds a Coast Guard license as a master of steam, motor, or auxiliary sail vessels.

The author would like to thank the senior staff of the NMC, including Mr. Ike Eisentrout, Ms. Tina Bassett, Mr. Jim Cavo, Mr. Jeff Brandt, Mr. Bob Kenney, and CDR Craig Swirbliss, along with Mr. Andrew Lauden and Mr. Jonathan Davis of Quality Management International, Inc., for their contributions to this article and for their efforts to make this vision a reality.

For more information:
Full article and 124-page “Focus on the Mariner” edition of USCG Proceedings is available at Subscribe online at

Direct requests for print copies of this edition to: