Association Revisited: Selecting the Voluntary Towage Endorsement Assessors

Two of our VTE Assessors; Hugh Patience and David Brown, explain more about the VTE Scheme and what their role as Assessors includes.


Can you remember how you first got involved with the Voluntary Towing Endorsement Scheme?

David: I first got involved in the Voluntary Endorsement Scheme on the invitation of the WA Secretary – at the time Mark Ranson. Mark had been a colleague of mine when we worked together for Adsteam UK and Svitzer UK

What was your career previous to this involvement?

David: I had a long career in towage and had been a Tug Master for fifteen years before coming ashore into management. After I retired I was keen to help with training the next generation of seafarers engaged in the towing industry

Hugh: Mostly Ship Assist Management and Master of tugs, final roll as Marine Manager for SMS Towage Limited

What is your role currently within the VTE scheme?

David: My role is to help promote the benefits of the VTE scheme to the workboat and towage sector and carry out the assessments on behalf of the Workboat Association /  MCA

Hugh: As per David, we are both Assessors for VTE’s of all of the 3 independent sections; General Towage, Ship Assist Towage and Sea Towing.

Do you remember any of the original discussions or plans for the WA to run the VTE scheme?

Hugh: Something was needed, on the grounds of safety, to demonstrate a candidates ability to handle towage vessels, all available certification at offer at the time was either based on written or verbal examination and did not assess physical or operational capabilities.

From memory, I recall there was a period in which training record books were becoming evermore popular. Most companies were implementing structured training schemes and the TRB provided a means of recording that training. Many Operators had some form of ‘signing off’ on trainees with a practical assessment, all this experience and good practice was brought together to form the VTE Training Record Books and assessment criteria – which in term helped the formation of the VTE Scheme.

What importance does the VTE scheme have for its stakeholders?

David: I believe that the VTE scheme demonstrates to Port Authorities and Customers that the Coxswains and Tug Masters have a sound knowledge of all aspects of towage and can operate their vessel competently and safely be it in the General, Ship Assist or Coastal sectors

Hugh: A degree of comfort for both Port, Client and Operator that Marine Crew holding this endorsement are capable of safely and professionally carrying out the towage operations as described within their endorsements

What are you looking for when you go on board to complete a VTE Assessment?

David: In brief we look for a Tug or Workboat Master that is professional and competent in their role, who understands the risks in towing and the importance to work in a safe environment.

Hugh: On one hand we look at the general impression of a vessel, on the other we are looking closely at the Company support and training scheme. Checking qualifications and then checking through record books with a view to getting a feel for who has signed-off on the Training Record Book and who has the company oversight. (Making sure that they have not been signed off because they are mates or for easing commercial pressure for example).

After the paperwork is complete, we take a general tour of the vessel to assess the candidates knowledge of their vessel and its equipment along with its use. We get underway and carry out manoeuvres in line with assessment criteria and then talk though those manoeuvres – including any specific items that it was not possible to do on the day.

Has there been any highlights or experiences that really shine out related to the VTE scheme?

David: The highlight for me is to see the candidates get their reward in successfully achieving the VTE, it gives them something that recognises their skill and competency and underpins their MCA maritime qualification

Hugh: A vast majority of assessments have been carried out by well practiced Masters, the usual feedback is “why do I have to do this!” However a large section of these candidates have said afterwards that they really enjoyed the experience and had even learned from it.

On the contrary I also like seeing new-starters in the industry doing well, many candidates have been successful in achieving their VTEs and they had a really good understanding of towage and the industry, this is highlighted by the TRB and assessment criteria which are written and structured from a vast array of industry and operating experience.

Can you tell us about your other nautical training activities outside of the VTE scheme?

David: I have carried out training for a number of customers including Svitzer UK, HR Wallingford / Thames Tideway project and the Milford Haven Port Authority using state of the art simulators, this is something I really enjoy.

Hugh: Like David we are both also involved in the End Point Assessment process of Workboat Apprentices and I also get to perform Tug training in both simulators and physically on board the vessels.

Association Revisited: Selecting the Voluntary Towage Endorsement Assessors