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What is CPD and why it is important


The idea of a traditional career may be over – people don’t tend to stay with the same company for 45 years and get a gold clock any more. What that means is that it is more important than ever to be able to prove achievements, show skills and stress your knowledge. We are living in an age of continuing professional development (CPD) – but how does that apply at sea?



Way of the sea

The pattern of developing senior seafarers has remained relatively unchanged for the past few decades. Cadets spent time in college and then time at sea, and then gradually they went through the system, learning from more senior officers until there was no-one more senior…and they had four stripes on their shoulders.

Seafarer learning was based on observing, by copying and by completing a record book of tasks.  Once in possession of a certificate of competency then it became more informal for most, and they would focus on honing their own art in the rank they were in. Learning to become adept as an officer of the watch (OOW), but also dealing with safety, navigation, security, cargo or shipboard business.



For many years, progress was based on a combination of curiosity, competition and pressure from Masters or Chiefs. This combined with your face “fitting”, and whether the company had a promotion process, or whether tickets and time just meant leaping up a rank on your next ship.

Shipping has long lacked any real formalised or accepted route to develop as an officer. Some seafarers were forced by their company to continue learning, while others were just left to just accrue time at sea – which was assumed meant improving and developing. CPD in shipping has not been a simple one-size-fits all approach.

What is CPD

Professional Development

Professional Development

“Continuing Professional Development” refers to the process of tracking and documenting the skills, knowledge and experience gained both formally and informally as an individual works.

This builds beyond any initial training and provides a record of what is experienced, learned and then applied. The term is generally used to mean a physical folder or portfolio documenting development as a professional.

In essence the CPD process helps people manage their own development on an ongoing basis. Its function is to help record, review and reflect on what is learned when something is done – not so much just the task itself. It’s not a tick-box document recording the training you have completed. It’s broader than that.

According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) the basic principles of CPD is the use of a combination of approaches, ideas and techniques to help individuals manage their own learning and growth. The focus of CPD is firmly on results, but it is far from a fixed process, it’s a question of people setting themselves objectives for development and then charting progress towards achieving them.

The basics of CPD

A CPD scheme needs to:

  • Be a documented process
  • Be self-directed
  • Focus on learning from experience, reflective learning and review
  • Help set development goals and objectives
  • Include both formal and informal learning.

What will CPD do for you?

A CPD scheme helps reflection, review and documentation of learning and to develop and update your professional knowledge and skills. It is also very useful to:

  • Provide an overview of professional development
  • Record achievements
  • Direct career goals
  • Highlight gaps in skills, capabilities and development needs
  • Provide examples and scenarios for a CV or interview
  • Demonstrate professional standing to clients and employers
  • Aid career development or a possible career change.

What forms of CPD exist?

That is not to say that some forms of CPD do not exist in shipping, they do. From offshore, to tankers, and through to attempts by professional bodies to formalise the process. There are ongoing efforts to translate the ideals of development into the training focused world of shipping. Most are driven by charterer demands – as they look to ensure maximum safety, minimum liability.

The maritime leaders in this process are:

Tanker Officer Training Standards (TOTS)

INTERTANKO, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners, operates the Tanker Officer Training Standards (TOTS). TOTS offers a standard that ensures tanker officer competence through onboard and shore training.



The aim of the scheme is to tackle the difficulties encountered by tanker owners regarding the “officer matrix” requirements of different charterers.  The charterer requirements often had a “time in rank” and “time with company” focus, and this was potentially making it difficult even for experienced officers to comply. Instead it focuses on the development of officers, through their actual experience and training, and lays out a system of progression and attainment.

International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA)

The offshore industry is extremely safety focused, and it is vital that personnel can demonstrate their experience and the tasks they have performed. In order to achieve this IMCA produces a series of logbooks which provide the user with the means to record important events in the management, operation, and navigation of a ship.

Each logbook caters to a specific discipline with the marine, diving and offshore community.

The Nautical Institute (NI)

Professional development has always been a central remit of the Nautical Institute and the organisation has developed ‘CPD Online’, a formal programme of CPD for its members.

The system enables them to systemise their learning and development up to and beyond initial qualification. NI Member CPD portfolios may be submitted to and validated by The Nautical Institute each year and be used to assure professionalism and professional commitment.

How to start your CPD?

Everything is possible

Everything is possible

Well if you think CPD is for you – make a start. Keep a learning log and record your thoughts in whatever way suits you best. You may find it helpful to write things down in detail, for example, or to make notes on insights and learning points.

The process of writing makes you think about your experiences at the time, and makes planning and reflection much easier. You can’t review your experiences without recording them, however good your memory is.

Answering the following questions may help you to get started – Where am I now? Where do I want to be? What progress have I made?

Where am I now?

Review and reflect on any learning experiences over the previous year or over the past three months. Write your thoughts down about what you learned, what insights it gave you and what you might have done differently. Include both formal training events and informal learning. Any positive learning experiences should be recorded.

Where do I want to be?

Write down your overall career goals – where you want to be in two, five and 10 years’ time. Then write down no more than three specific and achievable shorter term objectives, including the dates by which you want to achieve them.

When should I review progress?

This step is essential! You’ll need to set a date in advance for review of the objectives you’ve set yourself. You can either do this from one review to the next or decide to review regularly – once every three, six or 12 months. Put it in your diary and do it! The cycle of continuing professional development has begun.

Your own progression

Personal Growth

Personal Growth

Fundamentally CPD is about where you want to be and how you plan to get there. Sometimes the terms “training” and “development” can be used interchangeably, and this can be confusing.

So what’s the difference? As a rule of thumb, training is formal and linear. It’s to do with learning how to do something specific, relating to skill and competence. Training can be as simple as using a computer application and as complex as getting your Masters ticket.

Development, on the other hand, is often informal and has a wider application, giving an individual the tools to do a range of things and relating to capability and competency. It involves progression from basic know-how to more advanced, mature or complex understanding.  Alternatively it can be about widening a range of transferable skills like leadership, managing projects or organising information.

These are not always clear cut concepts in shipping – and it has not yet been possible to impose a mandatory system of CPD. Whereas doctors, for instance, have “Continual Medical Education (CME)”, there is no maritime equivalent…and that is a shame. But don’t let it stop you, plan ahead, learn, record and take advantage of the real benefits that CPD can bring. Good luck.