July 15, 2024
So What Exactly is an ‘Assistant Engineer’?

What is it?

The concept of an Assistant Engineer was not invented for the yachting industry but has been adapted from merchant navy practice. The Assistant Engineer is someone carried in the complement of a yacht who, though not certified to be responsible for the operation and maintenance of plant, has enough knowledge to be of use to the Chief Engineer in carrying out many routine operations such as changing filters, transferring liquids, doing routine maintenance tasks, starting and stopping machinery. It is also intended that if anything were to happen to the Chief Engineer then the Assistant would have enough knowledge to get the yacht safely back in to harbour.

It is important to remember this role is only intended for yachts operating with an Unmanned Machinery Space (UMS): vessels requiring traditional watchkeeping will have to carry a minimum of two STCW qualified engineers. The person holding this position does not necessarily need to be someone who actually works full time in the Engineering Department, they could be a deck hand, the mate or someone from another department. Deck candidates take note, however, that in their case the service credited will not be counted at full rate but will be split equally between deck and engineering service.

Why did the MCA introduce this role?

The MCA considered that there was a need to enhance the Engineering Department in the smaller yachts, and it was also recognised that on the larger yachts, with UMS, operating on coastal voyages the Second Engineer was not being fully employed and could be safely replaced with an Assistant Engineer.

By using an Assistant Engineer in these positions a pathway is opened to enable holders of AEC and MEOL(Y) (see below) to gain useful experience on larger yachts on their way to gaining their Y4 qualifications.

As the Assistant Engineer can be a dual role position, a by-product of this change is a reduction in the salary bill whilst maintaining an acceptable standard of engineering expertise on board. This is important particularly on smaller yachts where no increase in actual numbers is required but engineering expertise is enhanced.

What qualification do you need to be one.?

Those who have been required by an MCA inspection to get an Assistant Engineer will know that nowhere does it say exactly what qualifications are needed for this role! This is because LY2 is relatively new and MGN 156, which would normally have this information, is too old. By calling the MCA you can find out that in fact the Approved Engine Course and the MEOL (Y) are the two key requirements depending on the engine power of the yacht and where it wants to go. Obviously general service merchant navy qualifications are also accepted,

I have suggested to the MCA that they rename the Approved Engine Course the Assistant Engineer’s Course because the existing title does not describe adequately the course content which does not just concern engines. Keeping the initials the same will also save me from having to reprint our publicity! The table below gives guidance on what qualifications could be required for the Assistant Engineer under various circumstances. Always bear in mind that these tables in LY2 and in MGNs were not handed down to the Chief Examiner on marble tablets, like Moses on the mountain. Often this is misunderstood by senior crew and managers; they are GUIDANCE and can be varied, either relaxed or toughened in particular circumstances. A good example of this has already been mentioned: a yacht requiring a permanently staffed engine room would not be allowed to run with an Assistant Engineer whatever it says on tables like the one below.

The Master of a yacht, not the Chief Examiner, is responsible for the safe manning of the vessel, so if he or she is in any doubt they should ask for an opinion from the Seafarer’s Training and Certification department of the MCA.

This table is an assimilation of LY2 and the current interpretation of engineering manning rules. Remember it is only applicable to vessels where the engine room is operated on an UMS basis.