Starting a career on superyachts

I am leaving school with good exam grades.

If you have good GCSE or A level grades, the most cost and time effective method of getting onto a superyacht is to enrol in the merchant navy as an engineer officer cadet. You'll be paid a wage by a sponsoring company and they will also pay your course fees. At the end of a three year period of study (depending upon starting qualifications) you should be awarded a Merchant Navy Officer of the Watch certificate. This is much quicker than the Yacht 4 route and is a far superior qualification, with fewer limitations on the size and power of yacht you'll be able to work on. It will also speed up your career progression towards Chief Engineer. Find out more about officer cadet training programmes on the Warsash Maritime Academy website.

I am leaving school and have not achieved the exam grades I expected.

Your best way forward is to get practical experience on yachts and learn on the job. Ideally you'll have transferable skills from school (woodwork, metalwork or similar). Your first step is to get a position on a yacht to achieve a minimum of one month’s service as a yacht engineer. This will qualify you to attend a Maritime and Coastguard (MCA) recognised training provider and obtain an Approved Engine Course (AEC) certificate. We are in partnership with yacht recruitment agencies that can assist in this process.

What is an Approved Engine Course?

This is an elementary engineering course designed for masters and chief mates who don’t have an engineer on board, and candidates starting their career as an engineer on yachts. It is a combined classroom and workshop based course of 30 hours’ duration and will teach you the fundamental skills and knowledge required to start you on your career. It is not a requirement to have completed this course, but if you are just starting out it shows commitment, willingness to progress and will increase your employability. To be accepted on this course you have to be over 18 years of age, be in possession of a valid ENG1 and have completed the four basic STCW safety training courses. This qualification is currently under review and will be extended to two week course with an enhanced syllabus and more hands-on practical exercises. The MCA is in the final stages of releasing an MSN with full details. Find out more about the course.

What is an ENG1 and how do I obtain one?

An ENG1 is a seafarers' medical fitness certificate which must be renewed every two years. You must have a valid certificate to work at sea. Find out more about seafarer medical certificates and approved doctors.

What are the four basic STCW safety training courses?

There are four basic training modules that every person working at sea is required to complete before they can be employed on a UK-registered vessel (Personal Survival Techniques, Personal Safety and Social Responsibilities, Elementary First Aid, Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting). This is a mandatory safety requirement and more advanced versions of these modules will have to be completed as your career progresses.  We offer the mandatory basic STCW safety training courses as a Basic Safety Training Week.

I have a degree in a technical subject and/or have been working ashore in an engineering based industry.

You will need to get experience working on board a yacht in in order to gain seatime towards your Y4 Certificate of Competency (CoC). The route that you must follow is well mapped out, however your previous experience and qualifications may give you exemptions from some or all of the Y4 modules. Alternatively, if you have a degree or qualifications as listed on page 8 of MSN 1857, you may be eligible for the fast track route to a Merchant Navy EOOW certificate. See our progression chart for further guidance.

I am a serving Merchant Navy engineer with a current CoC and want to transfer to superyachts.

It is highly recommended that you do not leave the Merchant Navy until you have obtained your Class 2 CoC, as this will allow you to reassess your career choice at any point from position of strength. With a Class 2 CoC you only require six months’ yacht service to enable you to sit a Y1 oral examination.

Many owners are beginning to recognise that Merchant Navy officers have undergone a much more robust training regime than yacht engineers and are prepared to pay a premium for this. The large yachts, because of their tonnage and engine size, can only employ engineers with a full Merchant Navy CoC, however not all Merchant Navy personnel are considered suitable for superyachts: they generally prefer to recruit staff with the social skills obtained from serving on cruise ships (tattoos and piercings are a definite no).

NOTE: do not fall foul of the difference between sea time and yacht service when going for a superior qualification (described later on).

Progressing your career on superyachts

What is involved in the engineering skills test?

The engineering skills test is carried out in our engineering workshop and is normally completed in less than five days. It gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your fitting skills.  There will be instructors in the workshop to give you guidance; they are not supposed to give you any tuition.

Before attempting the test you should be able to complete the following tasks:

  • Be able to mark out, drill, hacksaw and file some test pieces from a drawing to a reasonable tolerance, finishing off with 90 degree edges
  • Manufacture from a blank a drive key for a shaft and coupling
  • Dismantle and overhaul; the SDNR valve, Centrifugal pump and Squirrel cage motor.

There is no welding involved; this topic has been removed from the syllabus.

I have been working on a yacht and need to get a certificate of competency.

Assuming that you already have your Letter of Initial Assessment, you should be looking towards gaining your qualifying sea time before attending your certification courses.

Before you are permitted to sit a yacht engineering examination you must have attended an MCA recognised training course and gained a course completion certificate.

Do I have to pass my exams in any particular order?

You can sit your exams in any order that suits your personal circumstances; as long as you have an NOE you can elect to go for your oral first. However due the perceived 'level of difficulty' we advise that you do them in the following order order: Marine Diesel Engineering, Operational and Hotel, Auxiliary Equipment, then the oral exam. The reason for this is that that you will progress through the courses gaining vital experience with respect to learning and exam techniques, finishing with Auxiliary Equipment which is the most demanding of the three modules. Be aware of the 'three year rule' which is described later on.

Why do so many engineers have difficulty passing the Auxiliary Equipment exam?

The global pass rate for this exam is on the first attempt is 52% (source MCA June 2013). We recognised this fact a long time ago and have developed teaching strategies to enhance our students' chances of passing. Our pass rate for this exam since 2011 has been 74%.

Why should I study at Warsash rather than another approved training establishment?

We have an enthusiastic and dedicated team of engineering lecturers, all of whom have sailed as Chief Engineer, including an ex DNV surveyor and an ex MCA senior examiner. Each separate topic in a yacht engineering module will be delivered by a subject specialist, meaning we are able to deliver you the best teaching currently available anywhere in the world! All of these lecturers are conversant with more than one subject, so sudden illness and other unforeseen circumstances will not impact upon your course delivery.

We operate in a relaxed manner which allows students access to lecturers outside of timetabled sessions to discuss engineering issues relating to their own personal experiences. Our comprehensive study guides undergo regular updates to cater for changes in legislation and improvements in technology. They are now also available on our app, for both iPads and Android devices and are automatically refreshed when the notes are updated. 

In addition we have an extensive maritime library, with full IT facilities, for students to complete their examination preparation.

Our students enjoy well above industry standard exam pass rates, our aim is to maintain and improve upon this level of achievement.

Can I buy a set of course notes?

No, because of the amount of time and effort involved in improving them to ensure they reflect current practice. They are only available when booking a course. MEOL notes can be purchased on their own.

Can I use Enhanced Learning Credits (ELC) at Warsash?

Warsash Maritime Academy is an ELCAS approved training provider. If you have ELCAS funding available to you, you can use it to pay for your training.  All you need to do is let us know that you will be accessing your ELCAS funding, and provide us with the relevant forms to complete on your behalf when making a booking with us. Search for Warsash on the ELCAS website to see a list of our approved courses.

Where can I stay when studying at Warsash?

There is limited accommodation available at the Warsash campus along with a restaurant and vending facilities. There is also a website where students can book bed and breakfast accommodation off campus in the local area over a range of prices and facilities

There are also four pubs in Warsash village, all of which serve good quality food.

What happens in exams if I am dyslexic?

Candidates undertaking an MCA written exam conducted by SQA/IAMI who have been diagnosed as dyslexic by either an educational psychologist or a specialist dyslexia teacher may be allowed an extra 15 minutes for each hour of normal examination time. Please note that the request for the extra time must be made at least two weeks prior to the exam date and must be accompanied by the relevant paperwork.

The MCA will not allow the use of readers, scribes or computers; however, other aides, such as tinted film, are permitted. If you have been assessed, and an increased exam time has been agreed, it will remain valid for all future exams, until the tenth anniversary of the assessors report. MIN 435 explains the MCA dyslexia policy in detail.

How can I ensure that I pass all my exams first time?

There is no substitute for hard work and pre-study! It is strongly recommended that you read your study guides and from them try to answer the selection of past questions that we supply you. You may find that you need to search the internet to gain additional information before you fully understand the problem. By this means you will arrive at Warsash ‘knowing what you don’t know’, and this will then enable you to focus your studies during the course.

How do I get my exam results?

Warsash Maritime Academy is an exam centre for Scottish Qualification Association (SQA) exams. The student is a client of the SQA therefore we are not the point of contact for your results. They are usually sent out within eight weeks of sitting the exam. It is recommended that you have your results sent to a UK address.

I have passed an engineering module, what is the 'three year rule'?

Y4, Y3 and Y2 modules are valid for three years from the date of issue of the pass certificate. If you have not passed your oral exam and all three modules within a three-year period, your modules will expire and you will have to take them again. Gaining your MN CoC removes this requirement for the modules appertaining to that certificate.

I have failed an engineering module, what now?

You can resit the examination at a licensed SQA examination centre anywhere in the world. They will require you to produce the relevant course completion certificate and pay the SQA exam fee plus their administration costs. The SQA  have now published a fixed timetable for yacht exams. In addition to these dates, an exam centre can request additional dates as long as they have five or more candidates for that paper. This means that, in practice, you will only be able to resit if an exam centre is advertising the particular module you need.

We are committed to our students’ success and will therefore allow a student who has one of our course completion certificates to attend the entire module again, as a revision course, prior to resitting the exam. This is offered at the reduced fee, under the condition that you are not displacing a student who would be paying the full fee. The fee includes the SQA exam and an up-to-date study guide. Contact our Admissions and Recruitment team for up-to-date information on the fee.

How long is a course completion certificate valid for?

MSN 1859 now states that your course completion certificate is valid for three years. If you haven't passed a written module within a three year period you must attend the course again before resitting the exam.

I have passed my entire written exams and skills test, what’s next?

Provided that you have accrued sufficient sea time and yacht service you can apply for a Notice of Eligibility; this will allow you to sit an oral exam at the MCA

What is the difference between sea time and yacht service?

On a merchant ship all time spent on board counts as sea time, however the MCA recognises that yachts spend a lot of time tied up alongside on shore power, with very little machinery actually running. The qualifying service period is therefore broken into two distinct categories:

  • Sea time: a period spent at sea with main machinery running (anchorage counts) and
  • Yacht service: time spent on board in charge of the engine room.

You must ensure that your service testimonial clearly differentiates between them.

The MCA will, in some cases, accept up to three months in a repair yard as yacht service. This is dependent upon the candidate being able to prove that there was a significant amount of engineering work taking place and that they were actively engaged with it. It is strongly advised that you read pages 8 and 9 of MSN 1859 for the definitive description.

What is a Notice of Eligibility (NOE)?

When you have accrued sufficient sea time to sit an oral exam with the MCA, you are required to apply for an NOE. This form can be downloaded from the MCA website and must be returned with ORIGINAL COPIES all of your supporting documentation (sea service testimonials, STCW certificates, exam pass certificates and ENG1) to prove that you are eligible for an oral examination.

Isn’t it a bit risky sending all this important documentation in the post?

You can take your documents to the MCA in Southampton and they will take photocopies of the originals. If you are not able to do this, sending by courier or Royal Mail recorded delivery is the next best thing. If you are studying at Warsash, the engineering course leader and a few other members of staff have been given permission by the MCA to authenticate photo copies of your ORIGINAL documents, so you do not have to trust them to the postal service.

How long is an NOE valid for?

An NOE is valid for five years from date of issue, and for three years after a successful oral exam. You must apply for your NOE well in advance of your anticipated exam date as they can take up to six weeks to be processed.

Where can I take my oral exam?

Once you have your NOE you can book your oral exam at any of the MCA offices throughout the UK. The MCA you have chosen will not confirm your booking until you have received your NOE. (note: the list now includes Falmouth)  Be aware that they do have busy periods so it is best to book your oral well in advance to ensure you get your preferred date. See the list of MCA offices.

What if I fail my oral exam?

It depends upon how badly you fail. If you didn't come up to the required standard, the examiner will advise you of what you failed on and suggest a suitable strategy. However if you made a fundamental error with respect to safety then a sea time penalty may be imposed. MIN 451 has further information about time required between re-sits of oral exams.

I have a Y3/Y2 CoC; can I convert this to a full Merchant Navy CoC to enable me to work on the larger yachts?

This is possible but will not be easy! It will involve you spending 540 hours in an engineering workshop to complete the tasks in the MNTB training record book. You will probably need to gain sea service on a Merchant Navy vessel and in addition you may have to pass the four academic modules plus the second engineer Engineering Knowledge and Motor exams. Full details of this process are laid out in MSN 1857, starting on page 24.

Do I need to attend a high voltage course?

You will not be required to have a high voltage operational or management certificate if you do not intend to work on vessels with high voltage systems. If you do not submit a course completion certificate your CoC will not be valid for service on vessels fitted with high voltage (over 1,000V) systems after 31 December 2016.

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