The Offshore Service Vessel Dynamic Positioning Authority

By Aaron Smith, Executive Director, OSVDPA
Tuesday, April 08, 2014

In a recent study, two groups were shown the same painting; one group was told it was painted in 1905, the other was told 2005. Not surprisingly, the first group reported liking the painting more than the second, proving the human brain almost automatically equates longevity with quality. 
But does longevity always equal quality?  Of course not, but our natural inclination is to respect that which has been around and to be uncomfortable with change. I admit it; I fear change as much as the next person. However, in certain circumstances we must take a breath and recognize the status quo can no longer be our only option. Nowhere in the maritime community is the need for well-crafted options more evident than the certification of dynamic positioning operators (DPOs).
For this reason, we recently announced the formation of the Offshore Service Vessel Dynamic Positioning Authority, the OSVDPA. Our organization seeks to provide an alternative method of certifying DPO’s that is more relevant to the offshore service vessel industry. I’m confident you’ll see that the change the Authority is proposing is nothing to fear. 
It’s no secret the current DPO certification system wasn’t written for supply vessels. After all, the system predates the use of DP aboard supply vessels or similar vessels serving the offshore energy industry. But the current system never adapted to incorporate these vessels, and because of this, the system has no way of supplying a sufficient number of well-qualified DPOs for the existing fleet, let alone the increased demand caused by the proliferation of DP supply vessels or the requirements for an increased number of DPOs aboard each vessel.
Instead of addressing this problem, the current system continues to discourage those without STCW licenses from becoming certified, blocking off the hawse pipe and preventing some of the most skilled mariners in the industry from becoming certified DPO’s. Similarly, mariners serving aboard vessels with unclassed DP systems are currently cut off from receiving training in the safest way to use DP systems.
These prohibitions do nothing to improve the safety of the maritime industry. In fact, they hinder safety. The fact is that professional mariners without STCW credentials are controlling DP vessels, and some of those vessels—more than 100 in the Gulf of Mexico alone—do not have classed DP systems. Thus, it is incumbent upon the industry to provide certification systems to train these mariners in the safe operation of DP.      
Moreover, while much of the maritime industry has adopted competency based certifications, the industry standard for DPO certification continues to be based on measuring time served on a DP vessel. The OSVDPA agrees that a DPO requires real-world experience prior to certification. However, we also believe that sea-time alone is not proof of proficiency. 
Before describing how the OSVDPA will address these problems, let me describe what we won’t do. First and foremost, the OSVDPA will not reduce standards. The Authority’s Board of Directors is comprised of some of the safest vessel operators, the best training centers, and most respected DP manufacturers. To a person, Board members understand that a good safety record is vital to our industry’s reputation. As such, the OSVDPA Board refuses to take any action which will degrade the safety of our people, our vessels, the environment or our customers.
Due to this commitment, the OSVDPA’s certification system will follow the recognized guidance laid out by the IMO, IMCA, and other foundational documents, thereby ensuring our standards meet the expectations of the maritime industry. Additionally, the Authority will not create employment restrictions or divide the DP industry. Instead, the OSVDPA seeks a system where certified DPOs and prospective DPOs can transfer between certification systems and industries, provided each adheres to the same high standards.
OSVDPA has collaborated with the DNV classification society and industry stakeholders to craft a set of recommended practices for all DPO certification systems. When this document is produced, the OSVDPA will take steps to ensure our certification system meets all practical requirements contained therein.    
Going forward, the OSVDPA will continue to invite comments and even criticism of our system. The Authority’s primary mission is to improve safety and we’ll work with anyone who shares this mission. As we move forward, the Authority will strive to craft a certification system based on the following principles: 

  • Our system will be built on a defined list of competencies, ensuring prospective DPOs know what they are expected to learn, training centers know what they are expected to teach, and employers know what to expect from OSVDPA-certified DPOs. The OSVDPA believes such a foundation to be vital to any certification program.  In fact, the OSVDPA working group spent much of the past year crafting this list, which the Authority expects to release for public review in the near future. 
  • The OSVDPA certification system will assess prospective DPOs against this list. Under our system, prospective DPOs will be assessed at each stage of their training; failure to pass will mean a failure to advance. The capstone of our training system will be a final assessment ensuring the prospective DPO is competent not just in DP ‘buttonology’ but in the real-world operation of a vessel. 
  • While the OSVDPA system is assessment based, we also understand the importance of experiential learning.  Thus, the OSVDPA system will include a sea-time requirement.  Specifically, the Authority’s sea-time requirement will track not only the time spent aboard a DP vessel—as dictated by the current system—but also time at the actual DP controls. By ensuring prospective DPOs have gained both on-board and hands-on experience, the OSVDPA is confident our DPOs will provide the level of safety demanded by our industry. 
  • By including both assessments and sea-time requirements in our certification system the OSVDPA believes it has blended the best of the currently available DPO certification systems into one program.  Such a combination will make the OSVDPA-certified DPOs experienced and safe operators for their current employer and the entire industry.

The OSVDPA understands no one likes change for the sake of change. However, the Authority wholeheartedly believes we can provide a viable alternative to existing DPO certification methods that will be inclusive of mariners, gauged properly to service vessels, and will ensure greater operational safety. The OSVDPA looks forward to working with the maritime industry as we finalize our certification system.

(As published in the April 2014 edition of Marine News -

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