Crises happen, but proper training can help mitigate their impact. You can’t have enough training, but you can have too little.

The crisis can occur in the wheelhouse, on deck, below decks, on the barge, or on the pier. If you’re having a really bad day, more than one crisis may occur at the same time. Sometimes the crew makes mistakes, sometimes you make mistakes, and sometimes another vessel puts you in a bad position.

Bridge Resource Management (BRM) is a system designed to effectively manage and use all available resources — human and technical — to safely complete a voyage. Every mariner who operates a boat should take a BRM course and a refresher from time to time. If you haven’t taken the course yet, I’d do so in 2017. Yes, it takes some time and money, but how much is your career and livelihood worth? This course can help you avoid an accident that could put both at risk, not to mention your life, crew and boat.

I recently finished teaching a BRM course. It made everyone in the room, including me, smarter. Here are a few reasons why a BRM is valuable:

  • BRM is a process that puts man and machine together through teamwork and proper communications.
  • BRM takes skill and leadership.
  • BRM establishes and maintains “big picture” situational awareness.
  • BRM sorts through useless information and gets you the correct information to make good decisions in time.
  • BRM exposes and identifies risks and dangers before the accident.
  • BRM recognizes and breaks the error chain that can end with an accident, or if you’re lucky, a near miss.

In my career, I’ve had a couple of close calls where I gave the very last rudder and engine orders and had to stand by quietly to see if we would escape in the nick of time. Once, the pilot lost the ship’s head in a wicked wind and current, putting us within 60 feet of the coral. Another time, a vessel cut in front of me when I was constrained in my maneuvering. It was so close the investigation reconstruction showed we avoided collision by nine feet and five seconds. The investigators determined I had just 43 seconds from the time I determined that there was a risk of collision until impact.

In those two instances, my team’s BRM training (which included ship and boat handling) saved those last five seconds and 60 feet. We all have sea stories where disaster was averted at the last moment only because we had enough training to give those final rudder and engine orders.

Don’t think for a second that it can’t happen to you. The UK Maritime & Coast Guard Agency has compiled a thorough list of “the deadly dozen” people factors affecting maritime safety. It's worth a look. Loss of situational awareness and complacency both make the list. Proper BRM training can help you combat these factors.

Sail Safe!

A collection of stories from guest authors.