Overview of the role

Take charge of a vessel’s safety, security and navigation during operations both at sea and when in harbour.

Details of standard

Occupation summary

This occupation is found in a wide range of specialist vessels, both commercial and military such as Royal Navy landing craft, tugs, fishing boats and workboats. Vessels are typically used to transport cargo, passengers or crew. They work close to the shore, in waters designated by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency as "Near Coastal"; an area of operation restricted to 150 miles from a safe haven on the coast of the UK and 30 miles from Ireland. 

Vessels vary considerably in their size, type and use, and therefore an Officer of the Watch’s (OOW’s) responsibilities will also vary between different vessels.

The broad purpose of the occupation is to take charge of a vessel’s safety, security and navigation during operations both at sea and when in harbour; the OOW must make key decisions on these issues, often in rapidly changing situations. Their work directly impacts the safety of all those onboard and also impacts protection of the marine environment. 

An OOW can expect their working patterns to vary considerably, depending on the type of vessel and scope of operation. This can include working for several weeks at a time on board and working at any time of day or night and in all weathers. Lengthy operations at sea are potentially followed by a similar length of leave.

In their daily work, an employee in this occupation interacts with the crew, the Master of the vessel (sometimes known as Captain or Skipper), and other navigational and engineering officers (depending on the size of the vessel). They may also interact other professionals, such as seafarers on board other vessels.  An OOW may interact with colleagues ashore, alongside, and on fixed structures at sea (e.g., oil platforms), This could include owners and their representatives, organisation senior managers, port and navigational authorities, technical and safety standards organisations, Coastguard Officers and other Search and Rescue professionals.

An employee in this occupation will be responsible for their vessel, which they are in charge of throughout their watch. They are also responsible for keeping an accurate record of notable events during the watch. An OOW is required to perform a full handover at the beginning and end of their watch.

An OOW is also responsible for directing and monitoring the crew. The OOW may also be responsible for coaching inexperienced crew.

They are responsible for the security and the safe embarkation or mooring / anchorage of a vessel. They must manage the passage plan that describes the voyage in detail, and for the safe handling of a vessel during its operation. These operations may also take place when the vessel is involved in other tasks likes towing or pushing other vessels, fishing, or landing military personnel. An OOW may be required to supervise specialist tasks such as loading cargo when in harbour. 

They must also take appropriate action and respond during emergencies to ensure the safety of the vessel and those working on board.

An OOW may also have responsibilities for the maintenance of navigational and safety equipment, lifesaving and fire-fighting appliances or have a part of vessel to look after.  An OOW must work with the legal requirements set by a number of international and national bodies, particularly with regard to safety and to protect the marine environment. 

Though the Master has overall responsibility for the vessel, there are times they will be unavailable. An OOW has delegated authority in the Master’s absence.  This is done within the scope of the Master's standing orders, which set out the operational plans and also sets out when the OOW should seek guidance. In any type of organisation, an OOW will need to balance their responsibilities with the business priorities of the vessel’s owner (if in commercial service), or Command Aim of the Commanding Officer in the case of the Royal Navy. 

Mandatory qualifications are listed below. Important notice: passing the MCA Oral and Written exams culminate in the MCA award of a Certificate of Competency to practice as an Officer of the Watch. These exams also form part of the partially integrated approach to End-Point Assessment (EPA). These exams must not therefore be completed during the apprenticeship on-programme. All of the remaining mandatory qualifications must be passed by gateway to EPA.

Training providers. Important notice - Only training providers who are on the ESFA register (the RoATP) and who are also approved by MCA to deliver OOW near-coastal 500 may deliver this apprenticeship. Training providers must contact MCA before commencing any training of apprentices.

Typical job titles include:

Landing craft master Mate Officer of the watch Second officer

Entry requirements

Every civil apprentice without exception will need to  pass the MCA’s strict ENG1[3] medical requirements.

MoD Apprentices will without exception need to pass the respective MoD recruitment entry medical assessment.  These medical examinations will check if you have a health condition that could result in you needing urgent treatment, or potentially put fellow crew or passengers’ lives at risk. The tests include, but are not limited to, severe deafness or difficulty communicating by radio or telephone, eyesight or colour vision that does not meet standards, and conditions that limit mobility and stamina. Beyond this, individual employers will determine their own selection criteria but should satisfy themselves the apprentice can meet the vocational requirements of their apprenticeship. Apprentices must accept being away from home for extended periods

Occupation duties

Duty KSBs

Duty 1 Complete vessel operations by following the Master’s standing orders and escalating to the Master any issues beyond limits of own role.

K3 K6 K7 K10 K15 K20 K26

S3 S4 S13 S18 S19 S25

B3 B5

Duty 2 Take charge of a watch at sea, ensuring the safety of the vessel and its crew by taking decisions on navigation and vessel operations such as avoidance of collision with other vessels, and safe navigation of natural and man-made hazards

K1 K2 K5 K9 K10 K11 K12 K13 K24 K26

S1 S2 S4 S5 S10 S11 S25

B3 B4

Duty 3 Take charge of a watch in harbour, ensuring the safety of the vessel and its crew, including when embarking and disembarking, and loading and unloading stores / equipment / cargo.

K1 K2 K3 K5 K7 K9 K19 K24 K26

S1 S2 S4 S6 S25


Duty 4 Ensure a lookout is kept at all times during the watch and a record kept of notable events.

K1 K2 K3 K10 K11 K12 K18 K24

S1 S2 S5 S10 S11 S20


Duty 5 Deliver incoming and outgoing handover of Watch responsibility from/to another officer.

K1 K2 K3 K17 K18 K19

S1 S2 S17 S20 S22

B3 B4

Duty 6 Manage the vessel passage plan during a voyage.

K5 K6 K9 K10 K11 K12 K13 K22

S3 S5 S6 S7 S8 S10 S11

B3 B5

Duty 7 Manoeuvre the vessel safely, commonly in busy waters, taking account of weather, sea state and tides

K2 K4 K5 K6 K9 K10 K11 K12 K13 K21 K22

S3 S4 S5 S6 S7 S8 S9 S10 S11

B1 B3 B4 B5

Duty 8 Supervise specialist operations, such as cargo, instructing the crew and coordinating activities.

K2 K4 K5 K7 K8 K9 K19 K21 K26

S4 S6 S21 S25

B1 B3 B4 B5

Duty 9 Take charge of a response team during an emergency, including communication with emergency services, search and rescue coordinators and crew. Use the Safety Management System processes where instructed

K3 K4 K5 K15 K17 K19 K23

S13 S14 S19

B3 B4 B5

Duty 10 Comply with all relevant laws, regulations and with organisational procedures

K2 K5 K6 K7 K8 K10 K14 K18 K19 K25 K26

S6 S12 S25

B1 B3 B5 B6

Duty 11 Maintain the security of the vessel and its contents

K3 K4 K7 K8 K20 K25 K26

S1 S2 S25

B3 B5

Duty 12 Ensure that safety equipment is in good order ready for immediate use, and in compliance with appropriate regulations

K4 K5 K7 K8

S12 S21 S23

B1 B3 B5

Duty 13 Monitor crew performance and their ability to conduct duties (e.g., monitor fatigue)

K2 K3 K17 K18 K19 K25

S17 S21 S24 S25

B1 B3 B4 B6

Duty 14 Maintain effective communications with all parties onboard and ashore throughout the watch

K2 K3 K11 K16 K17 K18 K19

S15 S16 S17


Duty 15 Work within the organisation’s business priorities and constraints, while ensuring the safety of the vessel and its crew

K2 K5 K7 K20 K26

S18 S24

B1 B3 B4 B6

Duty 16 Support on board learning for junior crew members

K3 K17 K18 K19

S1 S17 S21

B1 B2 B3 B6



K1: The importance of maintaining a watch when in harbour and when at sea. Back to Duty

K2: The ways in which watch-keeping contributes to the safety of the vessel and all of those onboard. Back to Duty

K3: The principles of teamwork. Back to Duty

K4: Different vessel types and structure Back to Duty

K5: Techniques for determining a vessel’s capability. This includes, for example, ship stresses, the impact of external forces on a vessel such as sea state, swell and wind. Back to Duty

K6: Principles and regulations for manoeuvring a vessel in near coastal waters (An area of operation restricted to 150 miles from a safe haven on the coast of the UK and 30 miles from Ireland) Back to Duty

K7: The different types of cargo operations Back to Duty

K8: The range of internationally used cargo codes, their meaning and impact on operations. For example, codes indicating dangerous goods. Back to Duty

K9: The methods for calculating tide conditions and obtaining meteorological forecasts. Back to Duty

K10: The purpose of a passage plan and how it is created. Back to Duty

K11: Methods for finding vessel position or other location. Back to Duty

K12: The different types and purposes of chart work, electronic navigational aids, maritime publications and navigational tools. Back to Duty

K13: Methods for plotting, executing and monitoring vessel progress. Back to Duty

K14: Relevant maritime legislation and regulation, the bodies responsible and the legal consequences for transgression. This covers COSWP (Code of Safe Working Practices), IRPCS/COLREGS (International Rules for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea), class and flag state requirements, health and safety and environmental protection such as SOLAS (International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea), MARPOL (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) and LOLER (the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations). Back to Duty

K15: Procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency (for example fire, flooding), and crew roles. This includes contingency plans such as the use of distress signals and evacuation procedures. Back to Duty

K16: The international code of signals, its purpose and usage. Back to Duty

K17: A range of verbal and written communication methods and techniques for choosing a method to fit the audience. Back to Duty

K18: Methods for using digital platforms to access and complete reports. Back to Duty

K19: The range of OOW stakeholders, their roles and responsibilities and how the OOW interacts with them. Back to Duty

K20: The importance of their own organisations commercial or operational priorities. Back to Duty

K21: How the OOW occupation fits in the wider digital landscape including the impact of automation and artificial intelligence. Back to Duty

K22: Types of propulsion system(s), their features and uses. Back to Duty

K23: the procedures and techniques for applying emergency first aid to others. Back to Duty

K24: The principles for completing a ships log that accurately describes key internal/external factors that occur during a Watch. Back to Duty

K25: Recognise signs of fatigue Back to Duty

K26: Procedures for maintaining the security of a vessel and its contents Back to Duty


S1: Keep watch over the vessel and crew. Back to Duty

S2: Co-ordinate your team in order to provide constant watch cover. Back to Duty

S3: Manoeuvre a vessel in near-coastal waters, taking account of compliance requirements, vessel type, capability, loading and external factors like tide and weather. Back to Duty

S4: Select a mooring or anchoring solution that is relevant to the circumstances, including compliance, vessel type, capability, loading and external factors like tide and weather. Back to Duty

S5: Avoid collisions by using chart work and situational awareness, anticipating and responding to all potential threats to a safe navigation. This includes (but is not limited to) both the physical surroundings and other vessel traffic. Back to Duty

S6: Perform calculations and give necessary direction to your team to ensure the vessel has suitable load stability. This applies both when the vessel is moored and also when at sea. Back to Duty

S7: Create a passage plan that meets operational objectives, is safe and complaint and has due regard to the external environment and other vessels. Back to Duty

S8: Execute and adapt a passage plan taking account of the prevailing conditions at sea. Back to Duty

S9: Handle a range of vessel types in near coastal waters. This may include as examples single screw, twin screw, variable pitch, Schottel and other propulsion configurations. Back to Duty

S10: Monitor and respond to data provided by navigation and other equipment available on-board Back to Duty

S11: Cross-compare different data sources to reach an accurate conclusion. (For example, VHF reports). Back to Duty

S12: Support the Master in meeting the legal, regulatory, environmental, and organisational requirements of the vessel and crew. Back to Duty

S13: Coordinate the response in the event of an emergency. Operate emergency equipment and deploy contingency plans appropriate to the situation. (This will range, for example, from recovery of a man overboard through to evacuation of the vessel). Back to Duty

S14: Administer emergency first aid and coordinate with the coastguard in the event of a medevac if required. Back to Duty

S15: Communicate externally deploying the international code of signals when required. This includes for example using the flag system and Morse code as appropriate to the circumstances. Back to Duty

S16: Communicate effectively at different seniority levels of the organisation, selecting an appropriate communication method for the audience. Back to Duty

S17: Develop working relationships with crew, officers and other impacted maritime stakeholders to support the delivery of required performance standards. Back to Duty

S18: Recognise your own limitations and escalate decisions where appropriate to another member of the bridge team, including the Master Back to Duty

S19: Take charge in the event of the Master's incapacitation and take suitable contingency action such as getting the vessel to shore and alerting relevant authorities. Back to Duty

S20: Complete an accurate ship log Back to Duty

S21: Identify skills gaps across the team and deliver coaching and mentoring to less experienced staff. Back to Duty

S22: Identify and respond to all internal/external factors that provide for a consistent watch following a handover. Back to Duty

S23: Check that life-saving appliances and other safety equipment is functioning and assess any remediation needed. Back to Duty

S24: Identify the signs of crew, and one’s own, fatigue. Back to Duty

S25: Implement own organisations security procedures, instructing the crew accordingly. Back to Duty


B1: Follows safe working practices and promotes a safety culture Back to Duty

B2: Seeks to continuously improve and develop Back to Duty

B3: Takes ownership of work Back to Duty

B4: Calm and effective under pressure. Back to Duty

B5: Actively protects the marine environment from pollution. Back to Duty

B6: Role-models own organisations equality and diversity requirements Back to Duty


English and Maths

Apprentices without level 2 English and maths will need to achieve this level prior to taking the End-Point Assessment. For those with an education, health and care plan or a legacy statement, the apprenticeship’s English and maths minimum requirement is Entry Level 3. A British Sign Language (BSL) qualification is an alternative to the English qualification for those whose primary language is BSL.

Other mandatory qualifications

STCW Personal Survival Techniques (PST)

Level: 2

The government statutory regulator, MCA, has approved this apprenticeship standard and has confirmed each of the qualifications listed is a mandatory requirement. Passing these qualifications contributes to notice of eligibility - the application process that culminates in MCA oral and written tests - leading to certificate of competency. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/apply-for-a-uk-seafarer-coc-deck-and-engineer-officers#deck-officers

STCW Fire Prevention & Fire Fighting

Level: 2

see above

STCW Elementary First Aid

Level: 2

see above

STCW Personal Safety and Social Responsibility

Level: 2

see above

STCW Advanced Firefighting

Level: 2

see above

STCW Proficiency in Medical First Aid

Level: 2

see above

STCW Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boats

Level: 2

see above

STCW Navigational Watch Rating

Level: 2

see above

MCA Efficient Deck Hand

Level: 2

see above

AMERC GMDSS General Operators Certificate

Level: 2

see above

Navigation Aids, Equipment and Simulator Training (NAEST (O))

Level: 2

see above

Human Element, Leadership and Management “HELM(O)” certificate

Level: 2

see above

Signals Certificate

Level: 2

see above

Diploma in Maritime Studies: Officer of the Watch on Merchant Vessels of less than 500 Gross Tonnage (Near Coastal) - 603/4946/3

Level: 2

The diploma, awarded by MSQ, is the "vehicle" by which many of the other qualifications listed are delivered and assessed. The diploma was developed by MCA in conjunction with MSQ and MCA has confirmed it is a requirement as part of this apprenticeship.

Officer of the Watch certificate of competence

Level: 3

see above

Professional recognition

This standard aligns with the following professional recognition:

  • The Nautical Institute for Full Membership (MNI)

Additional details

Regulated standard

This is a regulated occupation.

Regulator body:

Maritime and Coastguard Agency

Training Provider must be approved by regulator body

EPAO does not require approval by regulator body

Occupational Level:


Duration (months):



Status: Approved for delivery
Level: 3
Reference: ST0842
Version: 1.0
Date updated: 07/01/2022
Approved for delivery: 12 November 2021
Route: Transport and logistics
Typical duration to gateway: 36 months (this does not include EPA period)
Maximum funding: £15000
Regulated standard:
This is a regulated occupation
Regulator body:Maritime and Coastguard Agency
Training Provider must be approved by regulator body
LARS Code: 666
EQA Provider: Ofqual

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Contact us about this apprenticeship

Employers involved in creating the standard: Serco, Cornelis Vrolijk, Dover Harbour Board, Forth Ports Towage (Tilbury). Kotug Smit, RNLI, Royal Navy, SMS Towage, Solent Towage, Svitzer, Caledonian Towing, Targe Towing

Version log

Version Change detail Earliest start date Latest start date Latest end date
1.0 Approved for delivery 12/11/2021 Not set Not set

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