Most of us have spent the last 18 months taking dramatic steps to protect the health of our passengers and crew. Looking back, I am astounded at how quickly the passenger vessel industry developed and implemented a host of effective measures to help combat the spread of Covid-19 aboard our vessels. These measures are now an important part of our overall safety practices and culture.

It is time for the maritime industry to critically assess its current safety measures and take the necessary steps to reach the next level. But how do we accomplish this?

My company, BB Riverboats, has decided that instituting a Safety Management System (SMS) is the best path to achieving continuous safety improvement. We are adopting the Flagship SMS developed by the Passenger Vessel Association. It’s a structured and documented system that permits our shoreside and vessel personnel to better manage safety and, at the same time, establish a culture of continuous improvement.

To help implement Flagship, we established several management teams to guide the process. The safety responsibilities of marine crew and other employees have been clearly identified. Using Flagship, we track events and measure and analyze safety trends. For example, if we identify a trip hazard, we will develop a solution that can also be tracked and measured for effectiveness.

At the same time, we have decided to continue using the Coast Guard’s Streamlined Inspection Program (SIP). The reason is simple. SIP keeps us in compliance with Coast Guard inspection regulations. In other words, SIP keeps our vessels in “regulatory readiness.” Thus, when the Coast Guard visits us for inspections, they can be confident that we are following all inspection regulations. 

So which program, SIP or Flagship, would you choose? I have chosen both.  Flagship puts the systems in place that allow us to better manage our business and foster continuous safety improvement, while SIP compliments Flagship because it addresses the inspection and regulatory side of operations.

These tools will improve safety and establish a safety culture that will allow us to rise to the next level. The time is right for all of us to analyze our safety programs. I encourage you to consider a SMS as well as SIP.

Alan Bernstein, owner of BB Riverboats in Cincinnati, is a licensed master and a former president of the Passenger Vessel Association. He can be reached at 859-292-2449 or [email protected].