As I wrote in last month's blog, communication can literally make or break you. To communicate effectively requires a common language and vocabulary.

Not surprisingly, English is the officially designated worldwide language for maritime (and aviation) communications. However, being fluent in English is not a guarantee that you will understand or be understood. Attempts have been made, such as the International Maritime Organization’s guide to Standard Maritime Communication Phrases (SMCP), to tame our unruly language. Success, however, can be elusive.

English comes in many flavors or dialects. In the broadest regional sense, what kind of English is being spoken: American, Canadian or British English? Or is it an Australasian variety? Then, broken down further into the local vernacular, is it New York City or New Orleans, Newfoundland or the Yukon, Cockney or the West Midlands? It’s all nominally the same and yet different enough that it can easily be mutually unintelligible, on purpose or unintentionally. Let’s face it, wherever we’re from and whatever our education, none of us speak proper Queen’s English. Besides, that would be a wee bit posh for the likes of us.

So, each in our own ways — national, regional and local — we mangle the mother tongue as we will and go about our business. Different sectors of maritime operations also have their own specialized vocabularies, or slang, and cross-pollination can happen. However, the important characteristics of effective communication are generally universal, and at the top of my own list of desirable attributes is clarity and conciseness.

You want to do everything possible to minimize the odds that your spoken intentions or instructions are misunderstood, while simultaneously using as few words as possible to do it. And the information flows best when everyone else is doing likewise. It’s always a balancing act between ensuring full comprehension, time and economy of speech.

When multiple parties are involved (bridge personnel, deckhands, and assist tugs) in especially time-sensitive and dynamic operations (close quarters maneuvering, such as docking and undocking), it is of the utmost concern. Sometimes, less is more.