Awareness of the Crew's Situation is Situational Awareness


I sailed with the same chief for many trips. He once told me he had never met a captain that cared about the crew’s personal life as little as I did. He told me that I only care about the crew to the extent I’m looking out for the ship.

He was right, I don’t care about the crew in the sense that I want to get to know them better, simply to be friendly. But I have a professional obligation, to the ship, to stay aware of their situation. If senior officers lack sufficient awareness of crew situation they need to go.

For example, Is the bos’n still on the bow?". Did the chief mate get a chance to eat? How come the 2 A/E didn’t come to lunch, is he still in the E/R? Or say, is the second mate stressed about the weather?

These questions shouldn’t get asked because we “care” about the individuals, they should get asked because the crew’s wellbeing and the wellbeing of the ship are tightly linked.

This is why the Dancing with the Village People guy (next post) was screwed up. He was told the crew was stressed but he didn’t care. He didn’t need to care about the crew, he needed to care about the whole rig.

BP Deepwater Horizon "Dancing to the Village People" email

This is a couple years ago but it’s the first time I seen the full "Dancing to the Village People email exchange

The Emails

On April 17, 2010, BP’s Houston-based “Wells Team Leader” for the Macondo well, John Guide, e-mailed David Sims, another Houston-based BP executive and Guide’s boss:

  • David, over the past four days there has been so many last minute changes to the operation that the WSL’s [BP’s rig-based Well Site Leaders] have finally come to their wits end. The quote is ‘flying by the seat of our pants.’ Moreover, we have made a special boat or helicopter run every day. Everybody wants to do the right thing, but, this huge level of paranoia from engineering leadership is driving chaos. This operation is not Thunderhorse. Brian [BP’s Brian Morel, a Houston-based engineer] has called me numerous times trying to make sense of all the insanity. Last night’s emergency evolved around the 30 [barrels] of cement spacer behind the top plug and how it would affect any bond logging (I do not agree with putting the spacer above the plug to begin with). This morning Brian called me and asked my advice about exploring opportunities both inside and outside of the company. What is my authority? With the separation of engineering and operations, I do not know what I can and can’t do. The operation is not going to succeed if we continue in this manner. (end)

The same day, David Sims responded to Guide’s e-mail.

  • John, I’ve got to go to dance practice in a few minutes. Let’s talk this afternoon. . . . We’ve both [been] in Brian’s position before. The same goes for him. We need to remind him that this is a great learning opportunity, it will be over soon, and that the same issues - or worse - exist anywhere else . . . I’ll be back soon and we can talk. We’re dancing to the Village People. (end)


Seems like he used all that fancy footwork to dance around the topic.


An example from when I sailed on tugs.

I was mate on a tug and container barge one time with the worse screamer I’d ever met. This captain, aka Screaming Eddie, was pushing me to the limits, we had just left St Petersburg Alaska , very busy loading and lashing the containers ourselves.

We were northbound in Frederick Sound I came up to the wheel house to take the watch and Screaming Eddie must have stepped below for a second because he came up right behind me.

It was a small wheelhouse and I was blocking the ladder to the wheelhouse but before I could move Screaming Eddie says “Get the fuck out of the way”. After just having busted my ass in St Petersburg that was too much for me. I turned to face Eddie and I calmly asked: “What did you just say to me?” In my mind I was wondering what a physical altercation in that small wheelhouse would be like.

But Eddie, for all his faults, had awareness of the crew’s situation. He’d realized I had reached my limit and I wasn’t going to take anymore of his shit. Eddie just giggled and ducked around me. I took the watch and we continued uneventfully on our way.