Started in April 2019 and led by Solent University, the ‘Effective Crew Project’ examined the implementation of either a stable or a fluid crewing strategy on board merchant vessels. Dr. Kate Pike, Associate Professor Emeritus, Warsash Maritime Science and Engineering of Solent University and one of the researchers of the project, shares its key findings, highlighting the importance of team stability for enhanced safety performance onboard. Namely, according to the project, the benefits of a stable crewing are many; not only it results to improved vessel maintenance and knowledge of specific equipment on board but also stable crews are shown to develop a greater sense of ownership and responsibility.
SAFETY4SEA: Could you tell us a few words about the Effective Crew Project?
Dr. Kate Pike: The Effective Crew Project was a two-year research project, led by Solent University, from 2016 – 2018. The project was established to examine the benefits and challenges of stable crewing. It focused on the top four senior officers staying together for more than one voyage, as opposed to a fluid working pattern where seafarers only spend one voyage together and then move on to a different vessel with different people. Research from other industries (such as health care and aviation) have shown that team stability can have significant beneficial impacts, but despite this, little data has been collected about stable crewing within the maritime industry, and the Effective Crew Project was the first of its kind.
S4S: What are the key findings of the study?
Dr.K.P.: The research showed clear benefits from stable crewing in terms of well-being, safety and long-term financial benefits. Stable crewing helps work relationships to build, which can lead to a greater sense of ownership, familiarity and trust, and an increased capacity for on the job learning and mentoring. In turn, this can lead to higher retention rates. Stable crewing has been shown to increase familiarity and accountability, leading to improved crew and vessel safety. There are also long-term financial savings to be made through shorter hand over times, reduced training and recruitment costs and improved inspection results.
S4S: Does the project acknowledge any areas of attention for crew members onboard?
Dr.K.P.: The research showed that there was an optimum time to keep stable teams together. Participants were asked about this in the industry survey that was circulated. The general response was that between two to three years was the optimum time for stable teams to stay together. It was found that if this time period was exceeded, there was the potential for officers and crew to become complacent, with un-healthy or entrenched behaviors going un-challenged. Many survey respondents highlighted the need for a ‘fresh pair of eyes’ on the job, following a certain period of crew stability. The importance of good leadership was also recognised, and if this was not supportive of an on-board culture that promoted the well-being and safety of the crew and vessel, then these could be compromised, putting lives at risk.
S4S: Is there anything you would like to see operators do better with regards to their awareness on selecting a crewing strategy?
Dr.K.P.: Although the research highlighted some clear, measurable benefits of stable crewing it is important to recognise that each shipping company is unique and will have their own set of conditions to consider when planning the best crewing strategy. These need to be determined based on specific requirements such as vessel type, fleet size and trading patterns. Despite the crewing strategy implemented, poor leadership can negatively impact on the crew wellbeing and safety and ultimately on the budget. On-going support, leadership training and development for the senior officers both from the ship and shore side, were recommended by the research.
S4S: If you had to pinpoint one defining challenge for shipping over the next 10 years, what would it be?
Dr.K.P.: With advances in shipping autonomation and ever-changing technologies, uncertainty surrounding the future of crewing is one of the defining challenges that the industry will have to contend with. If ethical and sustainable advancement within shipping is to be obtained, it is vital that the highest levels of on-board team working are understood and achieved. This will support working practices that are safe, flexible, resilient and sustainable and which support the best outcomes for the crew.
S4S: What is your key message to the young seamen with respect to their career and life at sea?
Dr.K.P.: Be ambitious and keep learning. Always remember the people that help you along the way and make sure that you give back to others whenever you can. You will always remember a good leader – try to be one yourself one day.
- 91 questionnaires
- 25 maritime Interviews
- 4 other industry interviews
- 2 case-studies
- Input from the Effective Crew Conference (2019)
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Reducing staff turn-over through maintaining stable crews offers opportunity to develop stronger mentoring relationships on board, build trust and extend support networks.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
About Dr Kate Pike, Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Solent University
Dr Kate Pike is an Associate Professor and Senior Research Fellow at Solent University, Southampton, UK. Kate is an experienced maritime researcher focusing on the human side of shipping, particularly seafarer’s welfare, gender issues, management and leadership, crewing strategies, sustainability and safety culture. Kate’s research is predominantly industry linked and supports seafarer’s welfare and safety, which are vital to the success of the cadets which are trained within the University at Warsash Maritime Academy. Kate is currently leading the Effective Crew Project, sponsored by Lloyds Register Foundation and the TK Foundation, and the Mentoring Seafarers’ Project which is sponsored by the ITF Seafarers’ Trust.