While I was in Boston last week the evaluator pointed out a few things on my STCW that I had never actually taken the time to understand.
First, at the top of the certificate where it says, for example, the "Government of the United States of America certifies No. 1234567 & 123456 have been issued to ...enter name..., who has been found duly qualified in accordance with the provisions of regulation(s) II/4, II/1, V/1, VI/2, VI/4, IV/2 & II/3 of the above convention" means that your license (First number) and your Z-Card or MMD (Second number) are endorsed specifically to those chapters of the STCW code. And since I don't particularly enjoy reading the Sanskrit of the STCW code the Coast Guard has conveniently interpreted it for me under the capacity and limitations fields.
I also learned that the license and MMD numbers on the STCW certificate must match the identification numbers on your current license and MMD. This is what port state control first checks if they are vetting the crew's credentials. Therefore it is imperative that when, for example, your license is up for renewal you have the MMD renewed at the same time. Even if your STCW is less than five years old having either an expired Z-Card or license negates the validity of your STCW. According to Boston REC this has put many a sailor out of work.
The Boston REC told me that in the past they would renew both at the same time even if the other document wasn't within a year of expiring. Not doing so would mean having to make another trip to the REC to submit another application . If instead both documents were renewed simultaneously than the STCW would be valid for the full five years. No headaches.
What if you have an endorsement added onto the STCW? Even though the issue date at the bottom of the certificate, just above your mug shot, says it was issued more recently than your MMD or license it still expires when either the MMD or license expire, whichever is first. Now that the REC's have been centralized you can actually mail the application for endorsements to the REC which will then be forwarded to the National Maritime Center, processed, and mailed home. Boston said that right now they expected my endorsement for VSO to take about ten days.
Where is all of this going? For starters I was told that the TWIC, once implemented will replace the need for redundant fingerprinting (Fingerprints aren't required for endorsements). Also the MMD, License, and STCW are supposed to be replaced by the Merchant Mariner's Credential but this will not replace the TWIC. Also, the MMC is supposed to be created in the theme of what international mariner's carry with them to work, a small book with a page for your license, a page for STCW and pages for endorsements which will be applied with stickers to the pages. A big change from the pieces of 81/2" X 11" paper we carry in three ring binders.
Of course this is all just hearsay, if you need real help from one of the forerunners in reforming RECs check out Andy Hammond's site or on the West Coast check out Maritime Licensing.