Pilots and Bridge Team – A band that rocks!

Pilots and Bridge Team – A band that rocks!

A real-life incident

A container ship picked up a pilot while inbound to a port in darkness. The Master, OOW, and helmsman were on the bridge. The pilot showed the bridge team the planned route on his portable pilot unit (PPU).

The ship’s passage plan was displayed on the vessel’s ECDIS. It was similar to the pilot’s route and intention to keep the ship in the center of the narrow center., but there were subtle differences in the radius of the turns.

Soon after the inbound trip began, the pilot checked the settings on the PPU and found an unwanted 18-meter offset to starboard. He was unable to remove the offset, so he decided to stop using the PPU to monitor the ship’s progress and instead con the ship visually, using the ship’s radar as an aid. He did not tell the rest of the bridge team that he had stopped using the PPU. Soon, harbour tugs were in attendance and secured fore and aft.

Image Credits:

By this point, the ship was already to the port of the planned track. Despite this, the pilot gave a succession of large helm orders to port (between 20° and 35° rudder angle). As the vessel responded to the port rudder, the deviation to the left of the planned track increased, activating the off-track alert on the ECDIS. The alarm was acknowledged but the information was not passed on to the other members of the bridge team.

The vessel gradually slowed as it made the turn to port, deviating even further to the left side of the channel. Now, at a speed of 2.5 knots, the bridge team felt the ship heel over to starboard. At that point, the Master asked the pilot why the engine was still on dead slow ahead. The pilot ordered the engines to increase too slow ahead. However, the ship continued to lose speed and soon stopped altogether. The bridge team now realized the vessel was aground. With the help of the tugs and the vessel’s engine, the container ship was brought off the bank and back into the channel, continuing the voyage to the berth without further incident.

Article credits: Marine insight

Here we are again, the Bridge Team was not sufficiently paying attention, the bridge team and the Pilot lost situational awareness, the Bridge team and the Pilot were not communicating effectively and so on.

How many times have you read articles, reports and posts related to incidents and accidents about vessels under pilotage where similar statements were made by the public opinion, if not by the investigation reports?

It is often easy to judge with the luxury of hindsight and it is often difficult to refrain ourselves from making such judgements as trying to find answers and scapegoats to such events are deeply ingrained in our nature.

Luckily, investigators are starting to adopt different approaches, trying to understand why it made sense for a mariner to make that decision in that given circumstance and focusing as well, on how things usually go right, to find out why occasionally things go wrong. Although this will require efforts and a wider acceptance from the entire maritime industry, it is a paradigm shift that will have a positive implication in the future.

But what Bridge teams can do to ensure that what is making sense to them at a given moment is the right thing to do and, be certain that positive outcomes are experienced over time?
Individually, we will always be confronted with our cognitive limitations yet, being educated about heuristics and biases along with other human element aspects to understand how we process information, think and make decisions, can help us gaining awareness of self and the others and use this as foundation for improving communication and coordination amongst team members.

Bridge Resource Management is a key ingredient to successful operations, yet it might only add a bitter taste if there is no understanding of the ‘Why’ behind its core principles and techniques. Additionally, it should be applied consistently to help bridge teams to trap errors in due time, but also adapting to different dynamics and complexities to promote resiliency, so to avoid major negative consequences.

Certainly, every mariner has so far received or will receive under different names a training that focuses on Bridge Resource Management. But why some mariners are still finding difficult to apply these principles and techniques whilst in operation, especially when the vessel is under pilotage?

Although there isn`t a single answer to that, trainings providers should take responsibility and be committed in finding more effective ways to help Masters, Officers and Crew finding applicability of the notions, principles and techniques in their operational context.

Since operations with a Pilot on board are regarded as highly critical, more emphasis should be put during existing trainings about this aspect offering tailor made scenarios that help to understand how cohesiveness with bridge teams and pilots can be achieved and ensuring they play as a band, rather than one man band, when engaged in such operations.

Notwithstanding the majority of Masters, Officers and Pilots are individually highly proficient and competent people, if they are not educated correctly on how to interact and coordinate with one another, events can always unfold unpredictably and negatively, without realizing that until something happens.

Moreover, besides focusing on the human element, BRM course syllabi could integrate technical aspects in the same or complementary trainings, as they are one of the resources that bridge teams should make use of to safely navigate the vessel. If we want people to speak up, they should also possess the knowledge and competencies to be able to understand when to raise concerns that could save the day.

Trainings for the Masters and Officers, focusing on Piloting operations could be conducted using real Pilots to increase realism and to benefit both parties.
As recommended by the IMO resolution A. 960 developed in conjunction with the IMPA it is vital for the Pilots along with Masters and Officers to be trained on Bridge Resource Management principles and best practices.

Credits: MAIIF/IMPA Joint Education Project

But how can we achieve safe navigation through shared tasks between Pilots and Bridge Teams?
For this purpose and to enhance safety of navigation whilst under Pilotage, Simwave will integrate safe navigation in pilotage waters within their BRM trainings to all the organisations that take this educational and operational matter as top priority.

For Pilot associations, since BRM trainings offered to Masters, Officers and Crew are not always suited for them, we have developed a BRM-P training that aims at addressing strategies and techniques to establish and maintain the best, mutually supportive working relationship with the bridge team where cohesiveness and effective coordination will result in safe berthing and unberthing.

Playing in a one-man band can be daunting and boring, So let`s Rock together!


David Frassetto