NMC announces testing changes, eliminates walk-in exams

The U.S. Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center (NMC) has announced changes for test procedures at its Regional Examination Centers (RECs), the biggest of which will be the elimination of walk-in exams without prior registration.

The center, based in Martinsburg, W.Va., announced the changes in January, saying they were “an effort to provide consistent, quality customer service to all mariners.”

Beginning April 6, all licensing tests at RECs must be scheduled at least two business days in advance. After receiving a letter from the NMC indicating approval to take a test, mariners can schedule an appointment by using the “Schedule Exam/REC Appointment” link on the Examinations page of the NMC website. They can also call the NMC Contact Center at 1-888-IASKNMC (427-5662), or reach out by online chat.

All RECs will have two examination periods daily: a 3.5-hour morning session and a 3.5-hour afternoon session separated by at least a half-hour break.

Applicants who finish a module early may take additional modules during a session, but they will not be given additional time to complete the extra modules. Requests for additional modules during a session can be coordinated with the REC staff at the time of examination.

“Based on audits of our internal processes, we found differences in how Regional Exam Centers and Monitoring Units (MUs) were carrying out mariner examination operations,” Capt. Kirsten Martin, commanding officer of the National Maritime Center, told Professional Mariner. “To ensure we maintained our high level of customer service, and also to provide for a consistent customer experience and for more efficient operations at our locations, we implemented the changes.”

Previously, the NMC website advertised a three-day scheduling requirement for examinations, Martin said. “However, some RECs/MUs serviced walk-ins and others did not,” she said. “Of those that did not, some were due to security restrictions in place at the base or government facility where they are located.”

Martin said the change “reduces that scheduling time to two days and eliminates walk-ins. Also, for better recordkeeping and examination-room flow management, the NMC is now fully utilizing the web-based Exam Scheduling application. This will allow our locations to know exactly (who) will be testing each day, allow staff to be fully prepared for (other) incoming customers, and allow us to provide the best testing experience for each and every mariner.”

According to Martin, it was impossible to determine how many mariners might walk in for testing on any given day. “There is a lengthy examination prep process, and unplanned arrivals threw an unknown variable into exam room operations,” she said. “Further, most federal and state testing facilities use application scheduling software, and this change aligns Coast Guard operations with other entities responsible for certification of those individuals working in the transportation sector.”

The Coast Guard considered standardizing REC operating hours at all locations but chose not to due to variations in local traffic patterns, employee staffing schedules and building access hours. The centers will be open 30 minutes prior to the start of examinations, and mariners should arrive early to complete registration.

“The change to two distinct time blocks (3.5-hour a.m. and p.m. sessions) was instituted to normalize examination room hours by providing a consistent testing block at each REC/MU,” Martin said.

There will be no changes to first-class pilot examinations at this time. “We have a longer-term goal to work with our maritime industry stakeholders and local Coast Guard sectors to standardize the process for administering pilotage examinations,” she said. “We have and will continue to update various NMC, REC and MU webpages as needed.”

Martin said the NMC welcomes mariner and industry feedback about the changes. Comments can be emailed to iasknmc@uscg.mil with the subject title “Exam Process Change Comments.”

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