Online exams to continue following successful pilot project

A pilot scheme to allow candidates for the Officer of the Watch (OOW) deck unlimited qualification to split the exam process into two parts is being introduced by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency this Spring.

Following on from the success of the introduction of online based oral examinations during the COVID-19 pandemic, the MCA has decided to retain this format for all oral examinations.

Picture by Christina Morillo

As part of a policy to take further advantage of online technology, the MCA will be introducing a pilot scheme in spring 2023.  This pilot scheme will split the OOW deck unlimited oral examination into two parts. part A: online monitored examination and a part B: online face to face examination.

Both parts of the OOW deck unlimited oral examination will be able to be taken online. Part A will be an ‘on demand’ examination. It will be a fully monitored examination taken under examination conditions, the monitoring includes electronic photographic ID checking and monitoring throughout the examination using the webcam of the candidate's device.

During the part A examination, the candidate will be required to correctly answer a number of questions within a set time period and must successfully pass part A before they can progress and book the part B online face to face oral examination,

Questions will be drawn from across the OOW deck unlimited oral examination syllabus and are designed to give both the candidate and the examiner confidence that the candidate has the skills and knowledge to progress and attempt part B of the examination.

The MCA continually reviews its exam processes to see if there are ways to improve it. This process should increase efficiency of this examination system.

Maritime Minister Baroness Vere said: “We’re committed to boosting skills and training opportunities for seafarers, ensuring those from a range of backgrounds and walks of life can embark on a rewarding career in our maritime sector.

“This new pilot scheme will help to take full advantage of online technology, providing a more efficient service whilst ensuring the highest standards continue to be met.”

Katy Ware, Director of UK Maritime Services said: “We were determined to make sure that the needs of seafarers remained at the forefront of what we do.

“The pandemic caused a lot of challenges for us all and this pilot scheme to help seafarers continue their exams proved a real lifeline. We have tested it to make sure it is secure and safe and after a review, it makes sense to move all parts of the Officer of the Watch exam to an online system of delivery. If this trial is successful, we will look to extend it to other exams.”

A link for the new process will be sent out to all new applicants for the Officer of the Watch Part A exam will be sent out at the end of next month.

For more information and guidance click here.


Following commencement of the pilot scheme all OOW deck unlimited notices of eligibility will include a link and the information required to access the Part A online proctored examination.

From Spring 2023 the MCA OOW deck oral examination will consist of the following elements:

Part A: Online computer based monitored examination, and

Part B: Online face-to-face oral examination

How we can ensure candidates won’t be able to cheat in the online aspect of the exam (e.g. have notes on the wall behind the webcam)?

At the introduction and ID check section of the examination the candidate has to take a 20 second video with their device webcam in which they video all walls of the room and the desk they are sitting at. This is part of the monitoring process and will be available for review. Still photographs are taken at 10 second intervals which can be reviewed on a malpractice flag - or randomly. The system monitoring looks for things out of the ordinary - other faces in the room for example, candidate leaving their seat etc

What other benefits would this bring for the MCA and the candidate (e.g. does it save money, how much staffing resource)?

Making the first part of the OOW (deck unlimited) exam being a monitored exam frees up resource from two perspectives. Firstly, it means that there doesn’t have to be an MCA surveyor invigilating the exam which allows them to do other work. Secondly, if the candidate doesn’t get through the first part of the exam, it means they cannot move onto the second part which does require resource.

This will have a positive impact on the oral examination back log as it will test that candidates have a base level of knowledge to move to the face to face examination. Under the previous system some candidates took multiple attempts to pass the examination which contributed to the backlog.

How long will the pilot go on for and will it be applied to all candidates from spring 2023?

The pilot scheme for the Officer of the Watch (OOW) (deck unlimited) will be continued and reviewed. Unless issues are identified the pilot will continue indefinitely and become standard practice.

Did we do this during the pandemic or did we pause tests all together?

At the start of the pandemic oral examinations for all grades of certificate were held face to face in the marine offices. There was no Part A and Part B for any of them. These had to e paused during the pandemic. This – inevitably – led to a backlog which the MCA has been looking to try to resolve. Oral exams in front of examiners were moved online.


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