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Digital Certificates for Crew: Are we there yet?

Appropriately qualified seafarers are vital to the safe and secure functioning of the maritime sector. Manning and certification requirements can be complex and there is a mountain of data related solely to seafarer qualifications.

Taking some realistic, but rounded figures:

Paper: the decades old approach

Signed paper certificates issued by Maritime Authorities and approved training providers have been the traditional means of documenting compliance with IMO requirements for decades.

The result is millions of seafarers having physical possession of millions of paper certificates. If each of those certificates were stacked up, the pile would reach a height of 2km (not even taking account of heavy weight gsm stipulations from some Maritime Authorities...).

Paper versions need to be available for inspection. This has an impact on the seafarer, shipping company, Recognised Organisation and Flag State with risks of non-compliance and Port State Control detentions because a traditional paper certificate has been damaged or lost, or issued but not yet onboard the ship.

Having real time and automatic verification of a paper certificate is challenging to say the least.

So what’s the hype about digital certificates?

Truly digital certificates (ie issued in compliance with the IMO guidance from 2016) can revolutionalise this process by creating verifiable, reliable, secure certificates, with the ability to continuously confirm authenticity and validity.

The aims of the IMO to reduce administrative burden on Administrations, Port State Control Officials, ships crews and other stakeholders caused by reliance on traditional paper certificates is to be celebrated. Individual proof of concepts such as the Danish Maritime Authority’s collaboration with the Mumbai Maersk in 2019 showing how digital certificates could work in practice, and the Isle of Man’s introduction of digital signatures for certain certificates in 2020 show that this is the future.

Reliable digital data gives many exciting opportunities to draw insights, forecast peaks of expiring qualifications or skills gaps and direct resources where necessary.

Sounds great. Why is this not happening at pace?

The IMO provided guidelines in 2016 on digital certificates and encouraged maritime stakeholders to accept electronic certificates that meet the criteria. Unilateral decisions and implementation by Flag States is a vital step but no strides in digital transformation will happen without international co-operation between Flag States. Legislation is likely to be required to be passed in each jurisdiction, and reciprocal arrangements between Flag States agreed.

How do we envisage digital certificates will be rolled out?

We anticipate that once Flag States have passed the necessary legislation to enable digital certificates to be relied upon, they will be initially rolled out on a domestic voyage basis.

It will only take two Flag States with similar ideals and a common route between them to begin the process of cross jurisdictional reliance. Accordingly collaboration between Flag States and forward thinking vessel operators willing to drive digital transformation will be vital. We are already aware of a ferry company with great ambitions in this arena.

Are there any practical considerations?

We envisage that over the course of their career, each seafarer will receive numerous digital certificates issued from various providers.

Already there are a number of exciting tech solutions on the market to issue digital certificates such as Navozyme, Mintra and IDsure that we are looking forward to working with. In order to avoid data sitting in siloes, data from each of those providers will need to be aggregated for ease of verification.

This is where the Crewdentials individual wallet comes in. The software behind the wallet can take care of verifying each certificate with the issuer and pull the results together for the user, along with other aspects of career related data that come with each seafarer. Providing the data in one place for the seafarer and stakeholders will also mean qualifications are less likely to expire with no-one noticing.

We also expect there will be some Flag States that trail years behind the leaders, resulting in a transition period of over 10 years where certificates continue to be issued in paper form and legacy certificates continue to circulate prior to expiry.

In the meantime, what can we do to improve accuracy and compliance?

Whilst most of this article and the pilots have focused on the role of digital certificates being accepted in Port State Control inspections it is important to highlight that there are multiple other stakeholders that need to collect and verify qualification data. Having digital data is incredibly valuable to them. This includes DoC holders, crewing managers, manning agencies, recruiters, training providers and Flag States. Even without full adoption of digitally issued certificates there are significant and important improvements that can be made to compliance and efficiency by digitising the data currently held in paper certificates.

Crewdentials’ machine reading technology (built into both the individual crew wallet and the business interface) creates reliable digital data and identifies key data points. Adding some AI and algorithms based on systemised maritime knowledge means that processes such as expiry reminders, verification with issuers and role based qualification compliance can be digitalised and largely automated. Reducing risk, improving compliance, efficiencies and data standards.

If you would like to get in touch and hear how we are digitising data and digitalising the resulting processes, please reach out on or visit

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Ellen Armsden is the Co-founder & Legal and Operations Lead of Crewdentials.

Crewdentials is a part of our Batch 1 Sustainability Program.

To find out more about our Sustainability Program, click here.

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