Australian Alphabet Soup: Cracking the Code

22 September 2008 By Di Thompson

New to Australia? Trying to sort through the confusion of the Australian Maritime Ticketing System? If so, you'd better be in the mood for alphabet soup.

Anyone green to the Australian marine industry will practically need a degree in acronyms to navigate through the complexities of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) licensing system.

The often mind-numbing letter and number designations for "official" agencies and regulatory bodies can leave you swimming in a confusing cocktail of titles and regulations.

A simple attempt to unravel the meanings of USL, AMSA, IMO, MED 1, 2 and 3 can drive you batty. There's also TOMSA, AYF, FOW and other regulatory bodies – providing plenty of confusion to go around!

You'll find most of these meanings in the legislation and regulation acts pertaining to the Transport Operations (Marine Safety) Organisation 1994 and Regulation 1995 (Australia) in the Small Ships Manual or online at

Some of the peculiarities of the system are simply delicious. Sign up for a "certificate of competency" qualification and you'll notice that every module is prefixed by a code that represents nothing at all about the content of the learning competency. These particular codes are updated every two years, even though the module content remains the same. Nobody knows exactly why.

But that's another "Hot Topic" altogether.

For the purpose of this piece, it's all about the licences, tickets, certificates of competency or marine qualifications that are issued in booklet form, not unlike your passport, with plenty of pages for updating qualifying seatime revalidation and endorsements.

USL code are state tickets, generally recognized by all states in Australia, including the Northern Territory. However, the state authorities all have different requirements when it comes to using your license to operate professionally.

If you were to obtain your ticket in QLD and decided to work in NSW, the Waterways Authority would require that you have your license endorsed for use in that state. In QLD, it's called Maritime Safety or MSQ. You will then need to fill out an application form for "Marine Certification."

But your regulatory adventure does not stop there. Next, you will be required to supply two additional mug shots, a copy of your First Aid certificate, and if that is not enough to make you think twice about heading south of the border, you'll also need to have another medical and vision test, as well as fork out A$35 for all your trouble.

Then they will book you in for a local knowledge oral exam, another additional cost.

AMSA is the code that covers the Commonwealth. This is the endorsement required to operate worldwide. You might have a Master Class 3 QLD; however, unless you are covered by AMSA, your

ticket will not be recognized by any ship anywhere else in the world.

Head down to Tasmania to the Australian Maritime College and check out their Diploma of Applied Science.

Check in for a pregnancy term, hand over $15,000 and obtain your Officer of the Watch ticket. This qualification is compliant with the essentially recognized STCW95 and is a standard requirement of the IMO.

Before you drain your bank account and relinquish three quarters of a year, be sure that you have the AMSA appropriate sea time. Check this out before you proceed with your training as it is subject to regular updates. AMSA has strict guidelines when it comes to submitting the required documents.

Statutory declarations forms are not recognized so don’t waste your time there. Only employer company letterhead documents will be accepted with qualifying sea time and these are checked out thoroughly by the authorities at the Authority.

It gets better!

Once you have all of this down and more, you are on your way to the best jobs in the yachting industry.

Remember: In the Australian marine industry, only the strong – and the incredibly patient – survive.