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Ship's Cook Certificate: About Time, or Waste of Time?

Updated 5 February 2021 

Seven years on, we have a clearer idea of the requirements for the Ship's Cook Certificate for yacht chefs, but there is still some confusion around the process and the criteria for prior learning. Many chefs are also intimidated by the prospect of sitting the Ship's Cook Assessment.

With the help of OceanWave Monaco, we revisit our original article published in August 2014, to clarify what's involved and do away with some of the myths.

In the galley of a superyacht anchored in a bay in Mallorca, a chef is busy mangling a fish. The guests sit at a table setting of crisp white linen, enjoying the breeze as it comes off the water and eagerly anticipating the fish they've just caught to be cleaned and grilled for their lunch. To their knowledge, all is well in the galley, as their new chef is apparently 'great with seafood.'

Time passes. The stew brings more bread and fills the wine glasses with pale rosé for the third time. They try to smile reassuringly at the guests, as they begin to grumble lightly at the delay. 'Have they gone to catch more fish?' one asks. Everyone laughs, but no one really means it.

The stew goes back to the galley to find the chef in a panic and a butchered fish carcass in the sink, with a small pile of ragged fish flesh on the cutting board next to a stray bit of fish guts and a small pool of blood. On the side, another three whole fish wait to meet their ugly fate. 

'I've never gutted a fish', the chef wails. 'I lied on my CV'. The stew goes to fetch the captain, who arrives in the messy galley and promptly swears to himself, recalling that for their trial he'd asked them to cook lamb, his favourite. He took them at their word that they were 'good with fish.'

The captain takes over while the 'chef' is put in charge of vegetables. 

They were quickly fired, unsurprisingly. What is surprising, however, is how often this type of situation occurs on superyachts, particularly on smaller vessels.

When we walk into a good restaurant, we tend to assume the chef is professionally trained. Yet, oddly, the same cannot be said for guests sitting down at a superyacht table and, according to the PYA, statistics back in 2014 showed that around 44% of yacht chefs had no formal qualifications at all. 

As a result, there were entry-level chefs claiming that they could cook, ruining guests' holidays with sub-standard food. I'm not saying it was/is a common problem but, at this level, it just shouldn't happen at all. 

Yet until the implementation of the Ship's Cook Certificate as part of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006) on 7 August 2014, yacht chefs needed no formal cooking qualifications other than a Food Hygiene Certificate. 

The Ship's Cook Certificate was created with the purpose of ensuring cooks on commercial vessels have the basic skills and knowledge to cook for the crew on board, rather than being a course to teach superyacht standard food for guests. However, there is a large overlap between the crew and guest food, so it’s vital that all onboard chefs have these basic skills regardless of who they are cooking for. 

“The Ship's Cook Assessment is designed to ensure a basic minimum standard – it is not designed to catch people out. If you know how to cook and you operate best practice, there is no reason why you will not pass the assessment,” explains Duncan Biggs, chef and MD of OceanWave Monaco.

Seven years on we have a clear picture of the requirements and Ship’s Cook is accepted as part of the legislation governing our industry.

Ships Cook pasta pixabay


Who needs the Ship's Cook Certificate?

  • Q. Does your yacht regularly run with 10 or more crew?

  • Q. Is your yacht commercially registered, ie. does it charter?

If you answered yes to both questions, then the chef on your yacht must now hold a Ship's Cook Certificate.

The MCA has confirmed that a formal competency check via the Ship's Cook Certificate of Competency is mandatory, even if you hold an SVQ/NVQ Level 4 to UK standards.

Flag States and the Ship's Cook Certificate 

The Ship's Cook Certificate is accepted by all flag states, including the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry and the Republic of the Marshall Islands Shipping Registry.

Cayman Islands
James Hatcher, Senior Maritime Policy Advisor and Shipping Master said, “We (CISR) require advanced training in food hygiene and preparation for any ship’s cook where the vessel is MLC compliant and carries 10 or more crew, such as a National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) Level II in catering and hospitality. 

The Ship’s Cook Certificate is evidence of this advanced training and preparation. 

Republic of the Marshall Islands
For the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) the requirements for galley personnel and cooks on yachts are based directly on those of the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC, 2006). “Our requirement for a cook states that applicants must have successfully completed a legitimate training course or program covering practical cookery and food preparation, food and personal hygiene, galley sanitation, nutrition, food storage, stock control, environmental protection and catering health and safety,” said Captain John Hafner, Deputy Commissioner of Maritime Affairs of the RMI Maritime Administrator. 

The RMI Maritime Administrator does have some flexibility regarding training with respect to yachts. “We have many owners who employ formally trained chefs in lieu of someone trained as a ‘ship’s cook’ (as per MLC, 2006),” said Captain Hafner. The main difference is the requisite training in the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution by Ships (MARPOL) Annex V. “All seafarer applications are reviewed on a case by case basis and those chefs who are lacking the aforementioned MARPOL training, but have been formally trained as a chef, are simply required to submit a letter from the yacht captain stating that they have been instructed/advised as to the relevant MARPOL regulations affecting the yacht from which they are working.” 

Ships Cook baking pixabay


How do you get a Ship's Cook Certificate? 

To apply for your Ship’s Cook Certificate of Competency you will need to have completed the following STCW Basic Safety Courses:

  • Personal Survival Techniques (STCW Code A-VI/1-1)

  • Fire Prevention and Fire Fighting (STCW Code A-VI/1-2)

  • Elementary First Aid (STCW Code A-VI/1-3)

  • Personal Safety and Social Responsibility (STCW Code A-VI/1-4)

  • Security Awareness

Additionally, you must hold a current Seafarer Medical Fitness Certificate (ENG1) or a recognised equivalent.

You will also need to provide:

  • Proof of at least one month’s sea time – at sea or alongside

  • Proof of at least one year as a chef or as a cook in a professional working environment

  • Certificate of successful completion of the Assessment in Marine Cookery

  • Class-based Food Safety Level 2 (MCA) or Level 3 (Cayman Islands)

Verified copies of these documents will need to be sent to the MCA together with the Ship’s Cook application form and two certified passport photos to receive the Certificate of Competency.

Mark Cox of OceanWave Monaco is an instructor with great knowledge and understanding of what is required to obtain a Ship’s Cook Certificate and he regularly assesses students for their competence. Both Mark and Duncan guide superyacht chefs through the application process to ensure everyone meets the necessary requirements.

In order to receive the Certificate of Competency from the Cayman Islands, original copies of all relevant documentation must be seen by the examiner.
Your application form will be completed and expedited by OceanWave Monaco.

Ships Cook ingredients pixabay
What does the Ship's Cook Certificate of Competency involve?

The course consists of two days for checking basic skills such as the preparation of seafood, chicken, pastry and basic dishes, as well as budgeting, food safety and allergies. See the full list of tested skills here (pages 9-19).

How you go about getting your Ship's Cook Certificate depends on which of the following four categories you fall into:

NOTE: All seafarers are required to complete the STCW Basic Safety Courses listed above and must hold a current Seafarer Medical Fitness Certificate (ENG1) or a recognised equivalent.  

  • Q. Are you already professionally qualified as a chef and have worked on a yacht for at least one month?

If you answered yes and you  are qualified to the required standards, you can apply for your Ship's Cook Certificate from the MCA. 

However, there are very few, if any, shorebased catering qualifications out there which include all the elements required under MSN 1846, such as dietary requirements for shift workers and cultural and religious catering requirements. A shorebased qualification can be used as evidence of  accredited prior learning but, to bridge the gap, you will need to complete the Assessment in Marine Cookery to convert your existing shorebased catering qualification.

Food Hygiene (at least Level 2) forms part of the Assessment in Marine Cookery. However, if you have already successfully attended and passed a Food Hygiene Course it will not be necessary for this to be re-taken as part of the Assessment in Marine Cookery.

Therefore, except in the rare case that you hold an SVQ/NVQ Level 4 (or higher) to UK standards you will need to sit the Assessment in Marine Cookery.

  • Q. Are you a professionally qualified chef hoping to get your first job on a yacht? 

If you answered yes, the MLC requires that you have one month of sea service first.      

Food Hygiene (at least Level 2) forms part of the Assessment in Marine Cookery. However, if you have already successfully attended and passed a Food Hygiene Course it will not be necessary for this to be re-taken as part of the Assessment in Marine Cookery.

As above, except in the rare case that you hold an SVQ/NVQ Level 4 to UK standards you will need to sit the assessment.

  • Q. Are you unqualified as a chef, but have more than one year's experience in the galley of a yacht? 

In this case you will have to pass the Assessment in Marine Cookery.

Food Hygiene (at least Level 2) forms part of the Assessment in Marine Cookery. However, if you have already successfully attended and passed a Food Hygiene Course it will not be necessary for this to be re-taken as part of the Assessment in Marine Cookery.

  • Q. Are you unqualified as a chef, but have more than one year's experience in a kitchen ashore?

You will have to get one month's sea service and pass the Assessment in Marine Cookery and complete all the Basic Seafarer Safety Courses.

A cook who is untrained and has no yachting experience is highly unlikely to get a job on a charter yacht. However, chefs who are professionally trained or not, can still work on yachts with under 10 crew without holding a Ship's Cook Certificate, and progress to larger yachts with the additional catering and basic seafarer training.

Food Hygiene (at least Level 2) forms part of the Assessment in Marine Cookery. However, if you have already successfully attended and passed a Food Hygiene Course it will not be necessary for this to be re-taken as part of the Assessment in Marine Cookery.

The change that had to come

The Ship's Cook Certificate has become a mandatory certificate for those looking for jobs as yacht chefs on vessels with more than 10 crew (in line with rules on minimum manning). Crew placement agents now require all candidates to have this standard qualification. 

The certificate will also help counteract the many forgeries in the sector: made-up cooking courses, phony references - even 'pity references', which are a common problem in this industry due to friendships on board. Many a time we've seen someone fired for incompetence, still leaving with a glowing reference due to the captain 'feeling bad'. 

More broadly, “Gaining this qualification will enhance a chef’s career and enable them to aim for better jobs. The MCA Ship's Cook Certificate is not only a legal requirement, it sets a level playing field on which captains/recruiters rely when making hiring decisions.” Duncan stresses.

Is 'self-taught' ever good enough?

Many of the yacht chefs I know are self-taught, and they are extremely good at their jobs. Now, with a Ship’s Cook Certificate, self-taught chefs can get the certification they need to demonstrate their skills and aid their career development.

Without curriculum courses, self-taught cooks almost inevitably cook the types of food they like best, neglecting the things they find difficult, but a chef on a charter yacht needs to have core skills across a wide range of cuisines.

Another positive outcome of this certification is that it requires chefs to know about food allergies, special diets and religious dietary requirements. With this becoming more prevalent among owners and charter guests, as well as crew, it's vital that a chef really knows what they are doing in this regard. Many think they know how to cater to a gluten free diet, only to put soy sauce or pre-grated cheese on their dishes. (Look it up!).

Professional recognition for chefs

It’s a fact that the yachting industry is evolving and is becoming more regulated, and in line with this training and assessments are required to fulfil these needs.

With all departments being subject to more exams and assessments, this is an opportunity for chefs to be recognised as a valued member of the crew, highlighting the hard work involved in managing a successful galley operation, from menu planning and budgets to supplies and stock control.

For the full MCA merchant shipping notice pertaining to the Ship's Cook Certificate, please click here.

With thanks to 


Related Articles:

Superyacht Chef Duncan Biggs on Why Knowledge is Power
Richard Sprenger: The Future of Food Safety on Board Superyachts
Ensuring Superyacht Quality from Farm to Table


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