The aviation industry is a good example of putting resilience into practice. The aviation industry is much safer than it was 30 years ago because of its specialised resilience training. The maritime industry is significantly safer also, but still has some way to go to match the achievements of the aviation industry.

Capt Vandenborn considers seafarers to have reduced levels of expertise compared with the past. This has been caused by reduced manning, rapid promotions, and general decline of numbers of seafarers available in the industry. Although seafarers undergo a great deal of training, and Capt. Vandenborn is not in favour of adding more audits or assessments, the way that they are trained needs to change.

Maritime organizations should attempt to improve their organizational resilience and examples of how to do this are:

  • Enhanced training regimes focused on realism
  • Emphasis on experience as a means to attain expertise
  • Making changes to how an organisation functions which are known to improve resilience

The difference between being merely competent and being expert is that in an emergency you will instinctively know what to do without having to think about it. Like a grandmaster in chess, you see the overall picture instead of the individual components. This can only be achieved by experience and training. Expertise is affected by a number of factors, including:

  • Quality of training (variations between STCW accredited institutions)
  • Experience (accelerated promotions)
  • Team efficiency (aggressive captains may stifle initiative)



Drills onboard ships

Capt Vandenborn said that he really would like drills on board ships to be more realistic. Of course, that does not mean starting a fire in order to have a realistic fire drill, but to ensure that crew are actually practicing going into confined spaces wearing fire suits and not just put them on and off in the safety of the fire station. Similarly, when seafarers are sent for firefighting refresher training ashore, making sure that the training school is giving them realistic training.

Furthermore, it is important to prepare emergency rosters based on the actual experience of people, not just on rank. It is always the master in overall command, then it is always the chief mate who is in the primary attack team, it is always the second mate who is in the back-up team or in the boundary cooling team. This is of course easier to do, but it might not be the best person for each job. Maybe the bosun could be considered. This would help to avoid routine drills becoming routine.

Important training elements are:

  • Full use of equipment required in real incident
  • Use of smoke or other means to replicate real conditions
  • Junior officers required to step up into senior roles
  • Conditions should be difficult to promote problem solving and thinking under pressure
  • Casualties should form part of the exercise

Abandon ship drills are potentially very hazardous and sadly enough lifeboats appear to have taken more lives than they have saved. Hardware differences between lifeboats and davits do not make it any easier for seafarers. Capt Vandenborn said that when carrying out ship risk reviews, surveyors frequently find drill reports to be copy/pasted. Seafarers do not always understand that this is for their own safety and not just for the sake of compliance.

Important elements for lifeboat training are:

  • Slow time walk through pre-exercise
  • Promoting a shared mental model
  • Emphasis on the safe sequence of events
  • Empowerment of participants to report deviations from the plan/sequence

Some organizations have wall mounted models of release gear inside accommodation as training aids. The launching of a lifeboat should take place with fewest number of embarked personnel as possible

With regard to navigation drills, simulators can help because you can do more scenario based training without any risk of mishaps, but even on board of ships crew can have more realistic drills. Navigational officers can be trained what to do in case of ECDIS malfunctions, if the GPS is off-track or if the gyro is giving the wrong heading. All equipment and emergency modes need to be exercised, procedures should be practiced until instinctual while junior officers should be trained to allow them to step up into senior roles.

A last point on organizational resilience. It is not just the seafarer that needs to be resilient or needs to be expert on board a ship, it is the organization as well. A company needs to have the right and efficient processes in place. Fatigue is not just an issue from a seafarer’s perspective, but equally ashore.

In conclusion, in order to improve the resilience of seafarers and have less risk for incidents, there is need for better and more realistic training, development of ‘expertise’ and changes to an organisation’s resilience.


Above article is an edited version of Captain Υves Vandenborn’s presentation during the last SAFETY4SEA Conference

View his video presentation herebelow:

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.

Capt Yves Vandenborn, AFNI, Director of Loss Prevention, The Standard Club  

Yves Vandenborn is a master mariner and sailed with Exmar Nv. Belgium on chemical/product, LNG and LPG tankers. Since coming ashore in 2003, Yves has worked as a marine superintendent with a Singapore/Indonesian shipowner. He set up the ISM system and assisted the company in obtaining TMSA level 2 rating and Oil Major approval for the fleet. Yves worked as an independent marine surveyor from 2006 until 2010 undertaking numerous P&I condition surveys, oil major SIRE pre-vettings, TMSA audits, pre-purchase surveys, bulk carrier hatch cover ultra-sonic tests, etc. Yves joined Charles Taylor in February 2010 as an in-house marine surveyor for the Singapore office of The Standard Club. In July 2013 he took over as Director of Loss Prevention for The Standard Club. As the director he is responsible for the risk assessment programme for the club’s membership worldwide. He is further responsible for the loss prevention initiatives, the club’s loss prevention publications and technical advice to the membership, as well as to the underwriting and claims departments.