The Designated Person Ashore (DPA) is a lot of things, and can be your direct lifeline in an emergency. Being unaware who your DPA is can result in dire consequences.

First, a little background. According to the International Maritime Organization’s International Safety Management (ISM) Code, the DPA exists “to ensure the safe operation of each ship and to provide a link between the company and those on board, every company, as appropriate, should designate a person or persons ashore having direct access to the highest level of management.”

Perhaps you think that the ISM has nothing to do with you because you operate an inland company or deal only with boats engaged in domestic voyages. Think again. The rise of Towing Safety Management Systems under Subchapter M offers just one example of the larger maritime world embracing SMS. The future of SMS is now, and this is a great thing.

Any good SMS will have a DPA. That person represents your real-time, immediate voice to management and resources ashore. “You’re on your own and good luck” no longer applies the moment you leave the pier. In a bad situation, your fate could come down to how engaged your DPA is.

This is a “no fooling” position. Day to day, a lot rides on the DPA, and the role is under considerable scrutiny from mariners to management, and even the Coast Guard. DPAs are often called on to offer sworn testimony before a Marine Board of Investigation — hard, thorough questions that will examine what role a DPA may have played in an incident.

The DPA’s name and contact information — typically phone numbers and/or email address — should be posted conspicuously on a vessel. Every mariner should know who their DPA is and how to contact that person. When do you call the DPA? The circumstances should be spelled out clearly in your SMS. Generally, the DPA is contacted to alert the highest levels of management and ask for help resolving a critical safety situation or any other urgent issue.

(The DPA is not the person to call if you think the chow is lousy, you aren’t getting good enough cell phone reception, or just need a part. The DPA isn’t the head of the routine complaint department.)

Having described the general circumstances under which you might call your DPA, I must emphasize that you should first use your chain of command. The DPA is an important part of the team, but not your only safety team member. Safety starts onboard.

As for you DPAs out there, I’m sure you understand the critical nature of your role. Management entrusts you with a lot of responsibility, and so does everyone else down to the ordinary seaman and wiper. Take it seriously.

If your attitude or the company culture is a wink and a nod of "yeah, sure, we got a DPA you can call, but if you do call, we've got 10 others standing by to take your job," then you do a grave disservice to the cause of safety. These things tend to come out in testimony.

Also, if the DPA is overloaded with too many other duties, then that must change. Too many other responsibilities can overwhelm a DPA’s effectiveness. If you have a DPA who prioritizes other work over safety, you need a new DPA. You can’t be too busy to think about safety or respond to concerns. The DPA should be able to get out to the vessels regularly and, importantly, get to know the people who operate and maintain them.

For more on this topic, refer back to my first blog for WorkBoat, and, as always, sail safe!

A collection of stories from guest authors.