Over the past few years, the industry has managed a significant drop in reported shipping losses and errors with improvements in ship design, maritime technology, regulation and risk management systems. Dealing with the human factor, though, is unpredictable. Human error and marine accidents seem to be strongly intertwined. From small fires to big explosions seafarers play a key role. No matter how far maritime technology goes, people are always going to be needed in this industry to keep the ship in motion.
Defining ship navigation today
avigation gives the certainty of the vessel’s position to the crew and consists of voyage practices with an emphasis on monitoring and controlling of the ship’s movement. Achieving safe navigation requires knowledge and skills. Today’s navigational systems, though lifesaving at times, do have their limitations and crew members need to be aware of them to avoid errors and accidents.
Inevitably when the navigator becomes too acquainted with these systems he starts depending on them too much and loses his focus. He must understand that the vessel’s systems and processes are subject to errors, either random or systemic, but all potentially dangerous, and it is vital to conceive the theory of error probability.
The best and more realistic concept when trying to achieve safe navigation is that of the Most Probable Position (MPP) which determines the possibility of an error in all navigational information and decides the position by assessing all available information.
Root causes of human errors in shipping
Lessons learned from past incidents show that the main causes to human and organizational errors are:
- The crew’s fatigue
- Insufficient communication
- Lack of technical knowledge or poor knowledge of the ship’s systems
- Automation faults and poor maintenance
- Uninformed decisions and following of the wrong standards and procedures
- Improper hazard management training
- Inadequate human resources management
- Wrong implementation and use of Information Systems and Technologies
- Individual cognitive errors
Tackling human error
According to the Class NK guidelines for the prevention of human error there are 3 items that play a significant role:
- Information display
- Prevention of incorrect operation
- Improvements in operability and working environment
The necessary information must consist of different sizes, colors and shapes, and be displayed, not only in manuals, but also, in working locations. Their readability should always be maintained and their sequence should be easy and naturally read by all crew members. Alarms must also have volume and brightness that can not be missed. Finally, the displaying method needs to be consistent for the whole vessel.
Regarding the incorrect operation, lost focus, cognition failure, memory error or wrong selection are only few of the causes that can lead to mistakes. Counter actions to those can be interlocking mechanisms, the installation of controllers at proper locations and physical barriers that restrict unintended access to workers. Furthermore, it would be wise to provide feedback by light, sound or voice and avoid controllers with delicate operations as much as you can.
Finally, improving operability and the working environment may include that the maximum operating force will be determined considering the physical strength of the user, the weight of heavy objects that need to be handled manually will be restricted and measures to avoid possible slippage in passageways, steps and floors will be taken.
Additionally, equipment design and installation must consider the body size of the user, guardrails should be of height that considers the center of gravity of a person and the swaying motions of the ship, while items with sharp edges and sources of possible danger must be identifiable and ensure that the crew won’t come in contact with them.
Best practices for safe ship navigation
Developing maritime technology has positively affected the shipping safety culture. Automation reinforces ship navigation systems and equips ships with navigational tools that give accurate data for the ship’s course, such as gyro and magnetic compasses, radars, ECDIS, Automatic Identification Systems and Voyage Data Recorders. Of course, that alone is not enough for achieving safe navigation and preventing possible errors.
Skills and navigation best practices:
- Don’t rely only on the Safety Management System. Navigators must know how to track the position of the ship and give an estimate of the vessel’s position during the next plot.
- Don’t rely solely on the radar. Although, the use of technology has helped a lot, well-trained crew can sometimes pick up and process a lot more info than a radar monitor. Proper visual look out is, therefore, very crucial.
- Change the vessel’s course early on to avoid collisions. Safe navigation is possible when the navigator understands the equipment and its limitations, and trusts his instincts.
- Always read the buoys
- Check if a command is executed in the right way.
- Get to know the ECDIS features, especially the safety functions and alarm settings.
- Strong communication between crew members. Mariners need to act and react in many cases on board and better interaction amongst them can help avoid human error chains.
Overall, times have changed and modern navigational assessments, now more than ever, need to evaluate how individuals and team members cope with complex situations. We must recognize that human errors are complicated and include too many different aspects. As seafarers you need to be educated, trained and develop non-technical skills that include situational awareness, decision-making, proper leadership, teamwork, stress and fatigue management.
3 ways to perform an action correctly:
- Detect information
- Understand information
- Select and implement an action