Nautical Science HNC

Course code 006J

What is special about this course?

This course covers many different aspects of Nautical Science and forms part of the Merchant Navy Cadet Programme for students entering the industry as deck officers. The programme runs over three years, the first year is the NC Shipping and Maritime Operations.

You will be supported throughout your training by a shipping company and receive an allowance and support at college, as well as spending a portion of your time on-board ships gaining hands-on marine training. 

All cadets are employed or sponsored directly by a shipping company/ship manager, or indirectly by other organisations acting on their behalf, who provide the sea service and support throughout the programme. 

Cadets normally receive a salary or training allowance for the complete duration of the programme from the employing or sponsoring organisation, which also pays tuition and other associated costs, although specific arrangements may vary between employing and sponsoring organisations. 

It is also possible to undertake the HNC as a one-year stand-alone course for which there would be no requirement to spend time at sea. For further information please contact Shetland UHI:  

Special features

  • Highly qualified professional staff with experience afloat and ashore.
  • State of the art simulation equipment, engineering workshops and training vessels.
  • High quality support infrastructure within modern facilities.
  • Small class sizes providing opportunity for one-to-one teaching.
  • Deck officer cadets spend a total of at least 12 months on-board a Merchant Navy vessel during their 3-year cadetship.
  • Ship and local company visits are undertaken during the course to enable you to see the industry in action


We offer modern student accommodation at a number of our locations.

Entry requirements

Year 1 of the Cadet Programme:

  • You should normally have a minimum of four National 5, Standard Grade or GCSE passes at Grade C/3 or above, including English, Maths and a science-based subject
  • You will be required to undergo a medical and fitness test.
  • You must be sponsored by the industry (Merchant Navy), be resident and have had residency in the UK for at least 36 months, be a national of the UK or an EU member state, and hold a UK or EU member state passport.

Direct access to the HNC:

  • You should normally have a National Certificate in Engineering (SCQF level 6) or at least two Higher passes at Grade C or above, one of which should be Mathematics or a Physical Science. 
  • Other equivalent qualifications and/or relevant experience may also be accepted.


Year 1 - NC Shipping and Maritime Operations

Taught subjects include:

  • National Certificate (NC) in Shipping and Maritime Operations: an introduction
  • STCW Basic safety training in personal survival techniques
  • Fire prevention and firefighting
  • Elementary first aid and personal safety and social responsibilities
  • Theoretical and practical aspects of Efficient Deck Hand (EDH), Proficiency in Survival Craft and Rescue Boats (PSCRB) certificates

Seagoing experience

  • Shipboard induction, familiarisation and development of basic seamanship and seafarer skills
  • Undertake planned training as documented in the Trainee Record Book and work-based learning

Year 2 - HNC

Taught subjects include:

  • HNC Nautical Science
  • GMDSS, Medical First Aid and NARAST
  • Operational (theory)
  • Officer of the Watch examinations (SQA/MCA) 

The HNC Nautical Science mandatory units are: 

  • Chartwork and tides 
  • Navigational mathematics and science 
  • Marine meteorology: an introduction 
  • Bridge watchkeeping 
  • Marine cargo operations 
  • Ship stability: an introduction 
  • Naval architecture: ship construction 
  • Celestial navigation 
  • Nautical science: graded unit 1 

Further seagoing experience plus:

  • Understudy Officer of the Watch and complete programme of shipboard training as documented in the Trainee Record Book

Year 3 - HNC

Successful completion will result in:

  • Maritime and Coastguard Agency Officer of the Watch Qualification

Skills development and certification, including:

  • Efficient deck hand
  • Proficiency in survival craft and rescue boat
  • MCA Oral examinations for Certificate of Competency
  • NARAS operational (simulator)
  • Advanced marine fire fighting

How will I study my course?

  • Full-time
  • You will study your course by way of classroom-based lectures and tutorials, and practical (at sea) training

How long will my course last?

  • Full-time: 3 years

Where can I study my course?

  • Shetland

Start date

  • September 


For students normally domiciled in Scotland, with a term-time address in Scotland, the following fees apply:

This includes

  • EU nationals with settled or pre-settled status in the UK,
  • EEA/Swiss nationals with settled status in the UK
  • EEA/Swiss nationals with pre-settled status who are self-employed or migrant workers in the UK.
Higher National Awards (HNC, HND) 2023-24 2024-25
Full-time per year £1,285 £1,285

Rest of UK students

For students normally domiciled in the rest of the UK (England, Wales and N. Ireland, including Channel Islands and the Isle of Man) and with a term time address in Scotland, the following fees apply:

Higher National Awards (HNC, HND) 2023-24 2024-25
Full-time per year £7,110 £7,110

Fees are payable in advance each academic year unless otherwise agreed.

There are a number of funding options available to UK and EU students to help you pay for your studies and your cost of living while studying.

International students

For students who do not normally reside in the UK, including EU/EEA and Swiss nationals without settled or pre-settled status in the UK, with a term-time address in Scotland, the following fees apply:

This includes EEA/Swiss nationals with pre-settled status who are not self-employed or migrant workers in the UK.

Higher National Awards (HNC, HND) 2023-24 2024-25
Full-time per year £7,980 £8,775



UHI has a number of scholarships, bursaries, awards, and discretionary fund opportunities available to new and current students. Please use the A-Z of funds or use the filter to see which ones may be relevant to you. All students are welcome to apply.

Further information on funding your studies is also available, please see the attached link or contact the relevant UHI partner.

What can I do on completion of my course?

There are many opportunities for employment in a range of maritime-related industries for well-qualified and experienced ship’s officers.

The NC and HNC are prerequisites, together with specified sea service and ancillary short safety training courses, for the issue of the MCA Certificate of Competency. The Certificate of Competency qualifies the holder to take charge of a navigational watch on the bridge of a ship at sea.

Can I progress into further study?

  • Further studies and exams will lead to senior certificates of Chief Mate/Master or following sea service as a junior officer

  • Opportunities exist for employment ashore in a range of maritime-related industries for well qualified and experienced ship’s officers

Is there more information available online?

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Apply for Nautical Science HNC

Please contact us to discuss your application to this course.

Tel: (01595) 772000


    We are delighted that you are thinking about studying at the University of the Highlands and Islands. We operate a fair and open admissions system committed to equality of opportunity and non-discrimination. We consider all applications on merit and on the basis of ability to achieve, without discrimination on grounds of gender, age, disability, ethnicity and socio-economic background. We welcome applications from all prospective students and aim to provide appropriate and efficient services to students with disabilities.