Recently, several mariners contacted me about the difficulties they are having with license processing at the National Maritime Center (NMC) in West Virginia.

Most of the grumbles center around three main concerns — the medical review process, inconsistent interpretation and implementation of NMC policies, and international Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) creeping into domestic licensing.

Medical issues. The most frequent complaint I hear has to do with the new medical card. The card expires on a different date than the mariner’s license. This is confusing and creates yet another detail that mariners must deal with in the already cumbersome licensing and renewal process. Wouldn’t it be simpler to harmonize the expiration dates of all mariner credentials? I have also heard about the difficult communications between a mariner’s personal doctor and NMC doctors. This can severely slow or completely halt the licensing process.

Interpretation of NMC policies. For example, if a mariner operated a passenger vessel and a towing vessel, the license type was always determined by the tonnage of the passenger vessel, not the towing vessel. Now, the NMC combines the tonnage so that a 100-ton Western Rivers operator may now need a 200-ton license or similar. Also, if you operate passenger vessels for several years and not towing vessels, you may have an extremely tough time renewing your towing license, even though you have logged many hours on the water operating passenger vessels.

STCW and international regulatory creep. I am particularly concerned about the potential effect that STCW and international standards will have on the domestic maritime industry and its mariners. In some cases, I believe that the Coast Guard has adopted international training and medical standards because it supposedly makes things more consistent. Change is generally a good thing, but I don’t think you should adopt international rules just for the sake of consistency. Our domestic operators and mariners deserve a system that is fine-tuned to their needs, not those of the international maritime community.  

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