10 Tips for Effective Learning Onboard

10 Tips for Effective Learning Onboard

Close your eyes for a moment and think. When you hear the phrase “onboard training”, what do you see in your mental image…?

A senior officer giving a lecture to the cadets or a group of ratings.
Or perhaps sitting in front of the computer doing the CBTs? Or watching a training video?
The senior officers say “no time” whenever we talked about onboard training. They are busy with port schedules, mounting paperwork, etc.
On the other hand, the trainees say that they have no time. They are very busy and tired. They will study when they do their CoC exams.

What you learn in schools are the generic fundamentals but what you learn onboard a ship is the specific know- how. The job you are preparing to do is onboard the ship. Therefore, you must make the best use of your time onboard. If you spend ten months onboard and you do not know how to do the Third Officer’s job or the Fourth Engineer’s job, you have wasted your time.

Here are a few easy steps to learn effectively onboard. The tips are meant for the cadets. However, they are useful for anyone who wants to learn on the job and prepare for the next step of their career.


Everyone onboard can teach you something. They are more experienced than you. What you have learned before you join the ship is preparing you to work onboard. But actual work starts now. You must always remind yourself that you do not know much about it. Be safety conscious. Do not become a liability to the team. Make yourself useful by learning the basics quickly and observing others.


The first thing to do when you join the ship is to familiarise yourself with the ship, its equipment and your emergency duties. If you do not know your surroundings, you can- not work. If you do not know how to use the equipment, you cannot work. If you do not know how to react during emergencies, you are a burden to the team and may even endanger others. As simple as that.


Keep a notebook and a pen with you all the time. Write down all the things you want to remember. Write down all the questions coming up in your head so that you will not forget to ask your superior. This is a very useful habit even when you become an officer.


Look out for the things that you do not know. Then research them. Make a list of questions you need to ask.


If you have a question that pops up in your head, do not just ask but think it over. Research it and try to get the answer from the manuals/books. If it is still not clear, then ask. If you just ask any question coming up in your head, the people have no time to answer all the silly questions. You must show that you did your homework and tried your best to get the answer. You must also wait for a good time to ask your question. When people are busy in the middle of an emergency, it is not the time to ask questions.

Here are some examples:
If you are an Engine Cadet and you hear that a purifier overhaul is planned for next week, the first thing you should do is research. Look at the manufacturer’s manual, search for information from PMS, note down the steps to be taken during overhaul, look for the tools and special tools, search for the spare parts to be used, etc.

After the completion of this research, you should have a fairly good idea about how to carry out the purifier over- haul. This is the time to ask questions to your superiors for better understanding.

During the overhaul, observe how the others carry out the job and pay special attention to the details. If any questions come up, note them down. Ask those questions when the overhaul is completed, and the people have time to attend to your curiosity.

If the Chief Officer is planning to do a tank inspection, jump at the opportunity to learn. Make sure you are part of the team. Volunteer yourself. There are a lot of things to learn if you are well prepared and make use of it. Start with the research. Recall your memory of the training you have for entry into an enclosed space. Go through the chapter from SMS and required checklists. You must learn the hazards, risk assessment, mitigating measures, the presence of toxic gases and how to measure it, O2 meter, how to use and calibrate, rescue from enclosed space, etc.

The next item for research is how to conduct the tank inspection. This information may be found in the relevant chapter of SMS and from PMS. You must know why we need to carry out a tank inspection and how often.

One more piece of research to do is the construction of the tanks. Whatever you have learned from the Ship Construction subject, you will see it there visually. Longitudinal frame, transverse frame, web frame, air hole, drain hole, etc. If you prepare well, you will learn a lot from doing the job you are assigned to do.


You should create a study schedule for yourself. You must complete your study when you complete your required sea service.

How long should your study schedule be?
For example, if you are a Deck Cadet and if you require nine months of sea service to go for the Class III CoC exam, your study schedule should be for nine months.

What to study?
The best reference is your Cadet Record Book. The book lists out everything you need to know to become an officer. The next reference is your superior officers. For a Deck Cadet, your next step is Third Officer and then Second Officer and for Engine Cadet the Fourth Engineer and Third Engineer. You must be able to do whatever they are doing. Observe them and try to help them. You will learn a lot by helping in their work.


If the Third Officer is planning to take lifeboat inventory from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., and it is your rest time, take the opportunity and forfeit your sleep for one afternoon.
This is the job you must do when you become Third Officer. The Third Officer will always welcome an additional hand. As usual, do your research about the job before you start working on this job. Then ask a lot of meaningful questions.


You must take the initiative and show your willingness to learn. Your senior onboard understands that as a new- comer, you do not fully know how to do your job. But if you are not willing to learn, nobody can teach you.


The best way to learn is to observe the experts. Pay attention to the details when your officers and ratings are doing their jobs.


Always keep your focus on your goal. There are a lot of temptations to deviate from your study schedule. Why should I help the Third Officer with his maintenance job during my rest hour? I want to sleep. I want to surf facebook. I want to watch a video, play video games, surf the internet, talk to my girlfriend, have a beer with my buddies in the evening, etc. You can do all that in moderation. But never lose sight of your goal and do not deviate from your path.

What you do with your free time will determine what you will become in the future.

Good luck with your learning journeys onboard.

Tin Maung Tun, Managing Director, Uniteam Training