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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

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BC Ferries Leads in Innovative Training Practices

Posted to Maritime Training Issues with Murray Goldberg (by on October 3, 2011

BC Ferries has moved the industry a step forward by advancing the state of the art in familiarization training and clearance. They have implemented what they call the “SEA Program” - which stands for “Standardized Education and Assessment”. This blog provides an overview of the SEA program. I think all marine trainers will be interested in what they have done.

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BC Ferries Leads in Innovative Training Practices

BC Ferries has moved the industry a significant step forward by advancing the state of the art in familiarization training and clearance. They have implemented what they call the “SEA Program” - which stands for “Standardized Education and Assessment”. The program is half way through it’s company-wide implementation and, once fully rolled out, will be used for on-the-job familiarization and clearance for all 4,000 employees across the deck, engineering, catering and terminals departments.

BC Ferries, like most marine organizations, previously used a job-shadowing approach for familiarization and clearance. While recognizing that this system had some very positive aspects such as hands-on practice , BC Ferries felt that job shadowing suffered from variability and  lack of standardization due to the level of ability and operational constraints of the person being shadowed. It also had the tendency to perpetuate imperfect or anachronistic practices to new employees. Likewise, the clearance process which was based on a checklist of competencies was susceptible to varying levels of objectivity and rigour depending on who was filling out the checklist. In all, this created an opportunity for improved training and assessment, with a resulting improvement in performance and safety.

The principles of the SEA program are:

  • Standardization and consistent information
  • Detached and trained trainers and clearers
  • Capturing best practices in the documentation
  • Comprehensive supporting materials provided to trainers and candidate
  • Rigorous and auditable training and assessment
  • Multi-mode assessments to ensure  that candidates are prepared to perform
  • Measurement and analysis to support continuous improvement
  • Provision of resources for ongoing skill enhancement and progression to next position
  • Efficiency in delivery to either maintain or reduce the cost of training

The SEA program varies somewhat by position, but the core system is delivered in four phases.

Phase 1 is self-study. In this phase, candidates learn on their own from a comprehensive set of learning resources tailored to their position. The materials include self-tests so the candidates can gauge their progress and readiness to move on to the next phase. The goal of this phase is to provide the candidates with the Fleet-wide fundamentals for that particular position, thereby bringing them all to a common level prior to embarking on the vessel/route/terminal-specific on-board/on-site phase of training.  Phase 1 culminates in an assessment called the “Summative Exam”. This is a written test, typically taken on-line, which is the gate between phases 1 and 2.  If the candidate successfully achieves a minimum of 80% on this exam, he or she is allowed to move on to phase 2, on-board/on-site education.

Phase 2 is onboard or on-site education. This phase takes place on-board the vessel or on-site at the terminal where the candidate is taught by a trained and dedicated trainer  (i.e they are not part of the operational crew while training) who is well versed in the SEA program, company best-practices, and adult education. Depending on the position, between one and four candidates can be trained simultaneously by a single trainer. In addition to performing training, the trainers are also active crew on the vessel/equipment they are training for and therefore are experienced experts in their field. The trainers have been selected for the training role and, while training, are 100% focused on the candidates’ learning needs, as opposed to simply being shadowed while performing their regular duties.

This phase is highly effective and efficient, made more so by the fact that the candidates come equipped with significant knowledge gained during phase 1 as proven by the summative exam at the end of that phase.  Also, having dedicated, trained, detached trainers focusing completely on the training greatly adds to the effectiveness and efficiency of the training process.

Phase 3 is the Clearance Phase where the candidate is assessed for readiness to perform his or her duties. The clearer is also  trained in the SEA program and in the intricacies of clearance, and is always a different person than the Trainer in Phase 2. This eliminates any possibility for conflict; the trainer is responsible for training and the clearer is responsible to ensure that training was successful.

The clearance phase consists of:

  • Demonstrative performance where the candidate demonstrates abilities such as donning fire-fighting gear or securing the vessel in her berth
  • Verbal scenarios where the candidate addresses a set of pre-determined scenarios applicable to the position
  • A randomized multiple-choice exam that is either paper-based or online depending on internet connectivity. This exam is a critical component of clearance in that it tests rigorously, comprehensively and most of all, objectively
  • A meeting with the Master (in the case of the deck department) or other Senior Supervisor along with the Clearance Officer to ensure that confidence can be placed in this candidate regardless of the testing outcomes.

The candidate is required to pass all 4 components of the Clearance Phase in order to be cleared for duty.

Phase 4 is the continuous improvement phase. Continuous improvement is a core principle of the SEA program and applies in many different ways. In this case, continuous improvement refers to ongoing skill enhancement and support for career progression for each employee trained using the SEA process at BC ferries. In this way, the SEA process is not a one-time or periodic event which comes into play only when an employee is to be cleared for a new position, new vessel or new terminal. Instead, the SEA process is a part of the employee’s continual professional development, supporting the employee and ensuring professional and safe practices throughout their career at BC ferries.

Learning Management System

The SEA process is supported by a web-based learning management system called MarineLMS (referred to as “SEA Web” at BC Ferries). I will blog about this in detail later, but suffice it to say, for now, that the system is integral to the SEA process and is in place for several critical reasons:

  • To cost-efficiently deliver all learning materials (which are numerous and sophisticated) which are part of the SEA process.
  • To cost-efficiently manage the maintenance and ensure the currency and correctness of those materials.
  • To objectively deliver and automatically grade all assessments (tests), either on-line or on-paper as needed.
  • To provide metrics which allow BC Ferries to “measure” the training process and outcomes in order that a process of continual improvement can be enabled.
  • To provide an on-line community to support the trainers ensuring the sharing of best practices, improving trainer buy-in, and enabling the mentoring of new trainers.


The SEA process has been very well received for its objectivity, standardization, professionalism, and improved and consistent learning outcomes. It also seems to be very cost effective. For example, when job shadowing was in place, the time required for new candidates (ones who had not worked at BC Ferries previously) was highly variable and could be one week, 10 days, two weeks, or even more. Now, with SEA, for a new deckhand the self-study (phase 1) takes approximately 1 day, on-board education (phase 2) takes 5 days, and clearance (phase 3) takes one day. Extensions are very rare, but granted when necessary.

In this blog post I have only just touched the surface of the SEA program. In subsequent blogs, I intend to dive more deeply into each phase and the benefits of each.

About this blog

In general I will blog about any and all issues connected with in-house familiarization training and assessment in the marine industry. This is an issue near and dear to my heart and I believe we can all benefit and learn from one another by sharing our experiences. Please add your comments below, and sign up for my blog so that you will receive e-mail notification of new posts. I promise that they will only come out once or twice per month - so I’ll not be filling your inbox!

Blog Notifications: For the latest maritime training articles, visit our company blog here. You can receive notifications of new articles on our company blog by following the blog.

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