HNC/HND Nautical Science

Higher National qualifications provide practical skills and theoretical knowledge that meet the needs of employers. The HNC in Nautical Science (SCQF level 7) develops knowledge and skills in areas such as chartwork and tides, navigational mathematics and science, marine meteorology, bridge watchkeeping, marine cargo operations, ship stability, naval architecture and celestial navigation.

The HND in Nautical Science (SCQF level 8) builds on the knowledge and skills of the HNC and also covers marine emergency response and communication, marine law and management, marine passage planning, management of bridge operations, applied marine meteorology, ship stability, marine vessels: structures and maintenance, management of vessel operations, shipmaster's business, shipboard management and marine engineering systems.

This qualification is available through colleges. Typically, an HNC takes one year to complete, and an HND takes two years.

Higher National qualifications have been developed by SQA in partnership with colleges, universities and industry — so employers recognise that they provide sound evidence of ability.

The unit-based structure supports flexibility. A unit is typically 40 hours of timetabled learning.

This HN provides progression routes to further study (see Who does this qualification suit? - Progression and employment). 

The HNC and HND Nautical Science are suitable for a wide range of candidates including:

  • school leavers
  • adult returners to education
  • individuals in employment who wish to enhance their career prospects


As with all SQA qualifications, entry is at the discretion of the centre. Examples of formal entry qualifications include:

  • National Certificate in Ship and Marine Operations (with deck options SCQF Level 6).
  • At least two Higher level (SCQF Level 6) passes, one of which should be Mathematics or a Physical Science.  Learners should have National 5 English at SCQF Level 5 or above.
  • Relevant work experience.

Different combinations of relevant National Qualifications, vocational qualifications and equivalent qualifications from other awarding bodies may also be acceptable.

Progression and employment

The HNC/HND Nautical Science aim to equip you with the skills to seek employment at operational level in: ship management, port and harbour operations, freight and transportation operations, marine insurance industry, ship broking and chartering, the wider maritime safety industry (eg safety equipment manufacturers), meteorological services, pollution prevention services.

Learners who complete the HNC award will have the opportunity to progress onto the HND.

The HN Nautical Science awards offer you a wide range of articulation routes to higher education. Depending on the HE institution, learners with HNC and HND awards can apply for entry to degree programmes. Entry to these programmes is usually dependent on a satisfactory UCAS reference and specific conditions of either HNC or HND graded units.


The HNC Nautical Science will also provide a means for deck ratings, radio officers or RN to MN conversion candidates to gain continuous professional development and lead to the award of an OOW certificate of competency when taken in conjunction with the required STCW95 short courses. If you achieve the HNC Nautical Science Group Award as a means of gaining a UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) 'Officer of the Watch' Unlimited Certificate, you will be eligible to progress to complete the full HND Nautical Science at Chief Mate Unlimited level, once you have gained the Industrial Experience specified by the MCA.

The HNC offers you a wide range of routes to higher education. Depending on the HE institution, you could gain up to 3rd year entry to degree programmes. You should check this with your centre.

If you wish to change career and work ashore you may, depending on your academic performance in the HNC, be allowed to proceed directly onto Part 2 of the HND Nautical Science.

The HNC Nautical Science is recognised by the Merchant Navy Training Board and MCA as providing the underpinning knowledge necessary to meet the requirements of STCW 95 for certification as an Officer of the Watch (OOW) in a deck capacity. The UK OOW certificate of competency is recognised by shipping companies and national administrations worldwide.


The HND will also provide a means for seafarers not holding an HND to obtain Chief Mate certification. It will also allow seafarers possessing certificates of competency issued by other national administrations to obtain either a UK Class 2 Deck Officer Certificate of Competency (COC) or, if you already hold an overseas class 2 COC, a UK Class 1 Masters COC.

If you achieve the HND, you will be eligible to apply for 2nd or 3rd year entry to marine degree programmes at higher education institutions including Strathclyde, Newcastle, Liverpool John Moores, Cardiff, Southampton and Plymouth Universities. You may also be able to progress to an MSc programme in Marine Operations at the City of London University. You should check with your centre and the institution in question.

The HND Nautical Science is recognised by the Merchant Navy Training Board and the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency as providing the underpinning knowledge required from Class 2 Deck Officer Certification. It is also recognised as a valuable academic qualification for seafarers by national administrations of most countries and all the major shipping companies across the globe.

What you’ll learn

The HNC and HND Nautical Science awards are specifically designed to equip you to enter employment in the Merchant Navy as a Deck Officer. These qualifications enable you to develop the skills required to gain employment within the wider UK maritime sector, including shore-based positions. They will develop your practical, interpersonal and social skills — important requirements for a career in the maritime sector. The HNC/HND provide you with all the underpinning knowledge that is required for obtaining a Certificate of Competency at the Operational level, ie at Officer of the Watch level as defined by the STCW 95 convention. The awards will also allow you to develop complex, vocationally-specific reading and report writing skills.

Centres with devolved authority for approval should use their own internal approval process.

Centres without devolved authority must come forward for approval and should contact SQA's Business Development Team for guidance.

Assessors and verifiers must be able to meet SQA's general requirements for technical/occupational competence as outlined in the Systems and Qualification Approval Guide.

Each individual unit specification gives detailed information on the Evidence Requirements and approaches to assessment for each unit.

HNC Nautical Science

Group Award code: GM7P 15 (96 SCQF credit points)

HNC Nautical Science at SCQF level 7 consists of 9 mandatory units (96 SCQF credit points).

HND Nautical Science

Group Award code: GM7N 16 (240 SCQF credit points)

HND Nautical Science at SCQF level 8 consists of 23 mandatory units (240 SCQF credit points).