New Zealand updates rules on seafarer medical and eyesight requirements

New Zealand’s regulatory agency for shipping, Maritime NZ, recently mandated new rules that require seafarers applying for national (non-STCW) certificates to prove their medical fitness and eyesight meets required standards.

New Zealand’s seafarer certification framework, SeaCert, originally introduced requirements for medical fitness from 1 April 2014. Previously, medical examinations were not required for seafarers applying for, or renewing national certificates of competency or proficiency, or for those wanting to use a ring-fenced certificate unless applicants were either aged under 18 and working on vessels operating outside restricted limits or aged over 65 years.

The update to the rules now aligns medical fitness and eyesight standards for national certificates more closely with existing STCW requirements. This will result in many more seafarers having to undergo periodical medical examinations conducted by New Zealand-registered GPs. Seafarers applying for new deck certificates must also have their eyesight and colour vision tested by a registered optometrist. However, for those seafarers seeking new national engineering certificates, no colour vision standards exist, and testing is not required.

During the medical examination, a seafarer must describe their expected work duties and the operations of the vessel they will be working on, so that the medical examiner can make a fair assessment of their fitness for duties. The medical practitioner will consider the operating area of the vessel that the seafarer will be working on when they assess their medical fitness. For example, a seafarer may be assessed as fit for duties on a vessel operating in restricted limits, but not considered fit for duties on vessels voyaging further from shore. This discretion might, for example, be applied in the case of a seafarer with a known medical condition or a seafarer who relies on a medication and needs to work in an operating area that is close to shore-based medical facilities. Then, once issued by the medical practitioner, a certificate of medical fitness is valid for two years unless otherwise specified.

In September this year, Maritime NZ also reminded some 7,200 seafarers with ring-fenced ‘tickets’ that they likewise need a medical certificate to keep working.