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Maritime English

Online English Language Testing

Most ships are operated by multinational crews and shore teams. Effective communication is a mandatory requirement of the IMO STCW Convention, SOLAS, ISM Code and additional international standards to ensure the safety of crews and vessels.

Crew on all ship types require a level of English to meet the competencies of their rank, however, English may be a second or third language for seafarers and communication is often a leading factor in maritime accidents.

How we can help

We can assist companies and individuals to assess Maritime English levels for recruitment and training purposes. Designed for the shipping industry, our system is used by vessel operators in the cargo, cruise and offshore sectors worldwide.

Our system can be implemented rapidly and we can assist employers with company policies on standards of English language competency,

The Marlins English Language Tests are taken online at our Test Platform. Our tests use contemporary English testing methodology and enable employers to assess understanding of English quickly and accurately.

Through our Test Platform, companies with multiple sites can manage the purchase and distribution of tests through one central account.

Test users can practise each question type before they start the test and help information is available in multiple languages. A certificate of the user’s result can be printed out at the end of the test.

We offer 3 ways to take a Marlins test:

Approved Test Centre

At Marlins Approved Test Centres, seafarers can take tests in a physical controlled environment, receiving an “approved” certificate recognised by many flag states.

Proctored Assessment

AI proctored assessment is available for remote testing, if travel to an Approved Test Centre is not possible.


Individuals can take the test in any location: this will lead to a “standard” certificate with a disclaimer stating that testing was unsupervised.

An Introduction to Standard Maritime Communication Phrases

English is the working language of the seas and effective communication is vital in ensuring safe and successful operations at sea.

Poor communication is the root cause of accidents within the shipping industry. English may not be spoken fluently between all members of a mixed nationality crew or between ship and shore: Standard Marine Communication Phrases (SMCP) is a set of key phrases developed by the IMO to support non-native speakers of English. 

SCMP aims to improve:

  • External communication phrases used in ship to ship and ship to shore communications.
  • Internal communication phrases used on board the ship.
  • SMCP is a mandatory part of the STCW Convention. Seafarers of all nationalities must know what these phrases mean, when they should be used and how they are to be pronounced. You are required to know these phrases instinctively and immediately when needed.

Marlins’ SMCP e-learning course has been developed to bridge the language gap and make sure you are able to communicate accurately and fluently with your colleagues on board your ship, with other seafarers and with shore personnel.

The course will:

  • Give seafarers a better understanding of the language rules and conventions used in SMCP.
  • Immerse learners in a number of realistic emergency situations where they have to respond correctly.
  • Allow learners to record and re-record their responses so individuals can work on pronunciation of difficult words and phrases.

Maritime English e-learning programme for engineers

Effective communication is a mandatory requirement of the IMO STCW Convention, SOLAS, ISM Code and additional international standards to ensure the safety of crews and vessels. A breakdown in communication can have far-reaching consequences for the crew, the marine environment, the cargo, vessel and the ship operator. English is acknowledged to be the common working language of shipping internationally, however, crews have varying standards of Maritime English competence.

This new flagship programme from Marlins builds on our years of expertise as established global leaders in Maritime English assessment and training. The course also fulfils the IMO Model Course 3.17, Maritime English (General Maritime English) requirements for Maritime Engineers and is suitable for seafarers at elementary (A2) language level.

This original new course aims to develop the Maritime English level of seafarers, focussing on the specific communication needs of marine engineer officers and crew.

Through taking this course, seafarers will improve their English language and communication skills within multi-national crews, during inspections and in ship /shore communications.

Set on the “MV Marlin”, the course consists of five units, each with a different maritime theme which integrates grammar, maritime vocabulary, SMCP and pronunciation into a comprehensive self-study programme.

Marlins Maritime English specialists have devised a variety of highly creative, interactive speaking, listening and reading tasks to engage and motivate the learner throughout.

An in-built speech recording facility allows learners to compare their own speech with that of a native speaker and encourages self-directed practice.

Each unit concludes with a short revision task to reinforce the learning and provide feedback.

There are three different English Language Tests targeted at specific industries


The ICS Marlins English Language Test for Seafarers allows ship operators to demonstrate that seafarers, of any nationality, have been assessed on their ability to communicate in English – a necessity that has been given additional emphasis by the ISM Code and the revised STCW Convention.

Cruise Ship Staff

The Marlins English Language Test for Cruise Ship Staff is tailored specifically for the Cruise Industry. The test is applicable to all marine hotel positions on board cruise ships and can be taken by any nationality in any location worldwide. Test questions have particular emphasis on staff / guest interactions and customer service within a multicultural environment.

Offshore Workers

The Marlins English Language Test for Offshore Workers is set within the context of the oil and gas industry. However, it focuses on the ability to understand English as opposed to testing specialised technical skills. It is suitable for all nationalities and positions regardless of whether they are based offshore or onshore.


All our tests are taken online at the Marlins Test Platform. You can register your account for free today, and purchase tests online using any major credit / card. The tests will be available immediately in your online account. For help using the Test Platform please see our support page.

Test of Spoken English

Get in touch with us to find out how you can use TOSE as part of your recruitment program.

The Marlins Test Of Spoken English (TOSE) provides the oral assessor with a standardised interview format for assessing the speaking and listening skills of all ranks and nationality of seafarers.

Used as a stand-alone product, it provides a thorough assessment of the seafarer’s ability to understand and speak English.

Used in conjunction with online test it provides you with a complete profile of the seafarer’s language proficiency.

Key Features of the Marlins Test of Spoken English:

Provides the interviewer with a standardised interview protocol for assessing the speaking and listening skills of seafarers.
Offers extensive guidelines and criteria on how to grade the seafarer’s speaking and listening abilities.
Offers a standardised means of recording and interpreting test results.
Results can be used to support the outcome of the ICS Marlins Test.
Providing a complete language profile for the employer.
Results can be used to highlight specific skill areas which require training.

As with our online test, we provide a Test of Spoken English for Seafarers, Cruise Ship Staff and Offshore Workers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do seafarers need to learn English?

STCW95 stipulated that, among other requirements, Officers of the Watch need a level of English ‘adequate to communicate with other ships and coast stations and multilingual crews’. This vague definition highlights the difficulty in pinpointing exactly what is expected. Communicating in a foreign language is a complex process. It requires linguistic knowledge and a wide range of skills. Rote learning of simple phrases will not suffice in circumstances such as emergencies and inspections. A much broader and deeper ability to communicate effectively is required. At Marlins we teach the essential combination of knowledge and skills which enables seafarers to approach every situation with more confidence. Confidence breeds fluency and a willingness to continue to build upon existing knowledge.

What kind of English do seafarers need to learn?

We’ve been looking at the issue of English language communication among seafarers since 1994. We’ve spent a lot of time in crewing sites around the world, speaking with owners, managers and seafarers, visiting companies, colleges and ships, as well as creating a dialogue with industry regulators. In short, we’ve tried to look at crewing and seafaring in its entirety. This contact has taught us that most seafarers already possess an understanding of technical English relating to their area of work. However, this alone is insufficient. Technical vocabulary is useless without a ‘common core’ of English combined with the ability to communicate. At Marlins, we believe that seafarers, like all specialists, also need a broad-based knowledge and understanding of the underlying principles of English. Given sufficient training and practice, seafarers can vastly improve the communicative skills that they need to bring to the workplace. There is much talk of seafarers, or indeed anyone, panicking in their own language. The more seafarers can understand and use ‘everyday’ English, the more chance they will have of communicating effectively in situations which by their very nature are unforeseeable.

How do I know who needs English language training?

The problem will probably be smaller than you think. In our experience, after assessment, around 20-25% of a company’s non-native English speaking crews will need some tuition. Your first step is to identify who they are. The Marlins Test is a good starting point, combined with brief interviews with all those who perform unsatisfactorily in the test. Once identified, your company can explore the most cost-effective way of implementing a solution.

How much time is needed?

From 120 hours to a lifetime, depending on the individual seafarer’s requirements. Because language learning is an ongoing process, we usually advise companies to initiate an eighteen month training period, during which time the onus lies with the seafarer to implement his own study. This may be an unsatisfactory answer for companies who only employ seafarers for single contracts. Equally, it might seem unsatisfactory in terms of cost for companies with permanent staff on the books. Unfortunately, there are no quick fix solutions to language learning, however, we can help your company set up an English language training programme which allows seafarers access to appropriate material at sea and effective support on shore.

Is the solution expensive?

At Marlins we are realistic enough to understand that while many companies want to improve their seafarers’ skills, training budgets are often under pressure. We tailor solutions to fit every requirement. We can advise you on ways to offset training costs, having found that many seafarers want to learn English for social as well as professional reasons. We maintain that English language training is a long-term commitment from both company and individual learner. With our experience we can ensure that the best possible support is given to your sea staff where and when it is needed most and at a price which is acceptable.

How do I start?

The Marlins Audit is a quick and easy way to get a snapshot of the English language training needs of your company. We offer the audit at cost (detailed billing will be supplied). You will receive a thorough report with recommendations for implementing a cost-effective training solution. Contact us right now for more information.