In last month's blog, I wrote that it’s always a balancing act between ensuring full comprehension, time and economy of speech.

Continuing on that thought, an area of communication that I periodically revisit with my crew, especially when we have a newcomer or temporary replacement, is the specific vocabulary used and how to use it. This is done in the hope of delivering the maximum amount of useful information quickly and clearly to crewmembers.

A good example is calling in distances while docking a barge or coming alongside a ship. In general, crew visibility is usually pretty good, so we don’t really need distances until we’re getting close. The closer you are to a dock or ship the more you need it and the more important accuracy becomes.

“Close,” of course, is always a relative and variable term.

When we’re a barge-length away, even an error of 50', while not desirable, usually doesn’t matter much or at all. At that range the intervals would be 50' anyway. If someone can nail the distance to within plus or minus 20' at that range then they’re doing very well. But once the range narrows to 50' or less, then intervals drop to five feet and accuracy requirements go up. At 10' and under intervals drop to one foot and must be dead-on to be of value. That’s when time is also of the essence.

All mariners know from training and practice that feet is used as the measure so there’s no need to keep repeating it over and over. Eliminate all that isn’t needed and keep the flow going with regular short breaks to allow questions or feedback.

For example, “40 bow, 30 stern, closing moderate and flattening out. (pause) 30 bow, 25 stern, still closing. (pause) 20 flat, closing slow and steady” provides you with useful information, without all of the typical extraneous filler words. It allows the operator to visualize exactly what is happening so that the right steps to execute the maneuver can be taken in time.

How important is this? It’s like looking through freshly cleaned binoculars instead of a pair caked with grime.