In addition, human vision is not perfect and needs to be complemented with other tools such as radar, AIS, and even listening to VHF radio traffic, notes David Patraiko FNI, Director of Projects, The Nautical Institute.

At the same time, it is very possible for navigators to become overloaded with target information, especially if there are also other tasks going on on the bridge.

It is important to identify the risk of overload in yourself and others and to have a plan B such as delegating, prioritising or calling the Master for assistance.

In this regard, the NI provides ten tips for improving and enhancing situational awareness onboard:

  1. Most important: Situational awareness is absolutely critical to navigators. You need to be aware of your environment at all times, understand it and then act correctly.
  2. All available means: Use all available means, all your senses (eyes, ears, touch, nose etc…) and all available tools (Radar, AIS, GNSS, radio, etc…)
  3. Always question: Always seek to test your understanding of the environment by cross checking. Try never to trust just one sense or tool.
  4. Share with others: Share your observations and interpretations with others in your team, never assume that they have seen something as well, or that your interpretation is the best. Ten top tips for improving and enhancing your situational awareness on board
  5. Overburdening: It is easy to become distracted and lose situational awareness on the bridge of a ship. Know how to spot it in yourself and others and have a plan to deal with it.
  6. Under burdening: It is possible to lose situational awareness when things become quiet. Find ways to keep yourself focused and alert. Unforeseen events at sea can be devastating!
  7. Fake news: Not all information is correct. Chart data can be inaccurate, AIS data can be wrong and, in this cyber age, misinformation can be given.
  8. Be aware on board: Situational awareness is just as important off the bridge. A good mariner is always alert to unexpected smells, vibrations, noises, and ship movements. Learn to trust your sixth sense and don’t ignore the sense that something just isn't right.
  9. Learn from others: Poor situational awareness is often cited in accident investigation reports. Learn from these reports, whether they are from The Nautical Institute in MARS, other industry schemes such as Maritime CHIRP, or national reports such as the UK MAIB, US NTSB or Australia’s ATSB.
  10. Mentoring: Situational awareness can be continually improved and taught to others. Work with your team to improve your skills. Experience is key to making sense of your environment and making good decisions.

Good situational awareness should be a shared activity. When working with a team, share your observations. Don’t assume that everyone has the same mental picture as you, or even that your own mental picture is correct. In many instances good situational awareness is just common sense, but it is a sense that can be refined with practice and benefits from experience and a good attitude,

..advised Mr. Patraiko.


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The Navigator Issue 23