A New Look at BRM

A couple of points from an outsider:

With regard to checklists, we are bedeviled by the same logical limit that bedevils all who work in safety and security: “necessary but not sufficient.” Certain checklists are necessary, but it is the thesis of the paper (which I support) that no amount of checklists will ever be sufficient. That is not an argument for getting rid of checklists, but rather a statement of the problem that the community has to come up with an augmentation to checklists that reaches sufficiency.

With regard to the OODA loop, I regard that it is a proper model to structure discourse on the problem stated above. I would suggest more effort be spent on the first “O” (Observe) and in particular the issue of non-visual cues and their importance. One can visualize a spectrum of access to non-visual cues ranging from Capt. McLaughlin of the “Glory of the Seas” on one end and the operator of a remotely controlled vessel on the other. Standing on the open quarterdeck of his ship, McLaughlin had access to just about all cues as to its status and the state of the ocean: sounds, motion, spray, the works. The remote operator is limited to what is displayed, and in today’s world that is almost exclusively visual information.

In reading reports and comments I get the impression that the ship designers are moving more toward the remote operator end of the spectrum, “cocooning” the crew in a sterile environment. This may not be a good thing, and is an issue that IMHO is worth a systematic examination and inclusion in the report.




Well I had never hear of OODA. Once upon a time not so long ago I had never hear of BRM or closed loop communication ether.
I have just read the report or article for the first time, I am still trying to figure out the point the report is getting at.
To some extent it reminds me of me. When I am doing my grumpy old git impression. I would never have mentioned OODA or sailing ships rounding the Horn. On one of my rants about young guys nowadays.
One of my favourite rants. About BRM. BRM is not new. I was taught BRM, only we didn’t call it BRM over 40 years ago by some Grumpy Old Gits. Who were taught 40 years earlier by Even Grumpier Older Gits.
It was referred to as Good Seamanship. Or The Ordinary Practice of Good Seamen often practiced by another Grumpy Old Git frequently referred to by examiners as The Prudent Mariner.

At first I didn’t like check lists. I thought you should know your stuff. I thought I knew mine. I didn’t need them. Until I forgot something. I used to be the one guy on the Bridge until the Pilot boarded then It would be the Pilot and me most of the way. I learned quite a lot by interacting with the Pilots.
Today I do my own Pilotage.
We are expected to use BRM, Closed Loop Communication, Check List, Passage plans, VTS ECDIS AIS ARPA possibly even look out the window occasionally. Its all in the SMS, FOM and the VSM and the same old generic MSO used by everyone and his cousin. Oh and all the F’ing Check Lists.

Boxes all ticked everyone is happy.

I think the point the authors are trying to make is.

It doesn’t replace good basic fundamental practices which have been in use since before all this modern technology was developed.

Good BRM makes full use of both the old traditional techniques and the new technology including relevant checklists.

Unfortunately one or the other is often not utilised.

Within my limited operation, We have occasional problems and near misses. BRM, Complacency, Poor Communication, Not using the checklist, All play their parts. So has just plain old not looking out of the window.
Hopefully training would fix this.
Not so much, Shit still happens.
Result yet another policy, more check lists, more compulsorily settings dictated from a managerial desk ashore based on some article written by an academic seafarer or worse a committee at the IMO.

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The problem of operating ships at sea has three main elements, the ship itself, the environment and the human element.

How much sense does it make to spend a life time studying the sea, the operation of ships and ignore questions of how humans actually behave?


One thing I think that gets lost often with the use of checklists (and especially with their constant comparison to those used by aircraft pilots) is that they should be used for verification and not as a to-do list.

My company has checklists for arrival, departure and watch turnover. I emphasize to my mates to do everything they can on those lists by memory and once they believe they are done, go to the list and verify it was actually done. Using a checklist as a verification tool still forces one to actually think through what they’re doing and not simply mindlessly follow a “one size fits all” approach to a situation.

Airline pilots are not using checklists to tell them to put the landing gear down or select the proper flap setting in an approach. Rather they are used to verify that what should have already been done, is actually done. In the same sense, we shouldn’t be using them to remind us to setup a pilot ladder or clear the anchors on an arrival.

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Correct on all counts. Checklists are necessary, useful up to point, and easily abused by people who a) are observing at a distance and b) see them as a combination of to-do lists and remote control.

As far as BRM being nothing new, if you read the 1979 NASA report that started the CRM movement, what they were doing was documenting and codifying things that experienced pilots had been doing for decades.

It should be noted that many of the senior pilots at that NASA conference were trained and mentored by pilots who had flown transport and heavy bombers in WWII. It took 10 men to run a B17, and raids required intricate coordination within and between aircraft. (The Brits formed up 1000 bomber raids at night under radio silence.) Teamwork was life-critical, day after day.

So BRM and CRM and -manship go way back, maybe to Homer. A lot of old wine in new bottles in the safety business.




Indeed but so much non-mission critical stuff gets into the head and workspace of today’s mariner that nobody has the time to savor the old wine.

There also isn’t the time for sea-stories anymore. The crews of those 1,000 RAF planes spent a lot of time talking about near misses and they spent a lot of time laying in the rack thinking about ways not to get killed on the next mission.

That spare time has been sucked away by paperwork (on the business end) and the internet/tv/etc (on the leisure end).

Few people come up to the bridge after watch nowadays to “shoot the shit”, poker games are almost gone and coffee breaks during training classes have been shortened to cram more class time in.

We tried to keep this paper short but the full curriculum was a week long class were we brought captains into the simulator and had them run through difficult scenarios multiple times so they could test assumptions and gain new perspectives. Lots of time was given to let them talk through the problems.

Many of the captains did these things instinctively but they didn’t know why so they were unable to communicate it to junior officers.

The material is as old as time but it takes time and good mentors to learn.

Yes and a good checklist needs to be adaptable. Below every checklist I’ve done I wrote a box labeled WDTT or What’s Different This Time. I also had a private checklist in my tally book of things I tend to forget to do. I also had a list of what I had to remind certain crew members to remember.

But many companies send the same checklists to every ship in the fleet and don’t allow local changes. These checklists tend to be too generic and not useful at all.

“…the checklist takes on a life of its own”

Truer words never spoken. Recently, in another thread, somebody wrote, “they’re not interested in actually safety, but the appearance of safety.” (I believe that the “they”, in this case, was the office). Both of these statements point to a “tail wagging the dog” mindset so pervasive, that it’s slowly eroding both professional skills and the faculty of critical thinking, a.k.a., “prudent seamanship.” The article points out, quite astutely, that a “prudent seamanship” mentality once permeated society. Today, not so much :frowning_face:



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In the security business that’s called “Security Theatre.” (per Bruce Schneier) Maybe we should start using the term “Safety Theatre.” :slightly_smiling_face:




If you want to get a steady stream of visitors to the bridge serve the best coffee in town out of an expensive espresso machine that grinds it’s own beans and can produce a decent flat white from it’s own refrigerated milk. Oh and turn a deaf ear to the bleating from the black gang and when pressed refer to the better hygiene in the glass house.

I appreciate the time Konrad, Livingstone, and Merrigan put into writing this article. There are three elements in the article, BRM, checklists, and Boyd’s OODA loop. The primary subject is bridge resource management. From my perspective I see brm (navigation) as a behavior and level of awareness. However, when behaviors like brm become procedures, the purpose becomes lost in the process. What specific brm behaviors are done well and what behaviors could use improvement? As an example, I’ve heard pilots comment about the cacophony of alarms. Some ships have more than others. Is that good or bad? I dunno, you tell me. In my opinion, the wheelhouse is so polluted with electronic noise the alarms no longer identify the hazard, they become the hazard. A pilot would be in a good position to critique brm behavior since they are exposed to a variety of ships. Grant?

These days a single alarm goes off in the engine room and a vertical illuminated panel of about 5 different indicators instantly identifies if it is the telephone, engine malfunction or whatever. The engineer goes to the control room and with one button silences the alarm or multiple alarms and the display shows each alarm line by line and the alarm is logged. How bloody simple is that!
I’m reminded of an incident when with a machinery breakdown there were so many alarms ringing on the bridge the pilot went onto the bridge wings and shut the door to try and converse with a tug before the ship went aground going up the Elbe.
I had on one occasion a malfunctioning wrong way alarm on the engine room telegraph. The alarm was buried deep in the console and after a very long 30 minutes was finally silenced by a combined effort of 2/M, C/Eng, and electrician. I am thankful it occurred on ocean passage and not during pilotage.

George I agree with most of the comments I’ve read here. It appears to me we’ve all had very similar experiences at sea and ashore. The original intent of BRM/CRM was spot on. Codify the lessons learned from the older generations; what was effective, what worked and as important what did not work. Behavior and awareness are key; part of human element. Yes when BRM becomes a list of what to do’s, procedural, the original purpose is displaced. That goes on long enough and BRM is eventually nothing more than paperwork. What is done well varies greatly from bridge to bridge, company to company. Most professional mariners do their best to practice BRM as written, as required. But as Capt Tony Hogg told me years ago on the MV Sea Lion is; 'Livingstone you can only get five gallons of crap into a five gallon bucket." Except Tony didn’t say ‘crap’. The professional mariner trying to practice BRM as written are overwhelmed by a tidal wave of electronic demands, communications, questions, alterations, exceptions, compliance…it has no end. It’s ludicrous. Apparently many shoreside stake holders believe professional mariners have 48 hour days not 24. We miraculously have twice as many hours in a day to do their bidding. Leaving plenty of time, in their minds, for us to also do our jobs on the ship. Which segues into John’s valid argument about resource management shoreside not just ship side. Full circle I believe mariners do their best attempting to execute BRM but are hog tied by the tsunami of communications/informations flooding the ships computers. That needs to change. As John said mariners need to push back.

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The OODA loop is fractal

There is more than one loop operating at one time and in an organization such as a bridge team individuals will have different loops with different tempos.

Say for example the ship is preparing to enter port and is planning on picking up a pilot. The chief mate is conning the ship and sees visually a ship crossing close ahead. The mate orients to the COLREGS, checks the navigation for deep water and decides to alter course to starboard.

The third mate on watch is at the ARPA and sees by radar plot that the ship has a too close CPA.

In a well functioning bridge team the C/M and mate on watch (a third loop) will also at this point communicate to confirm there is no mismatch between the two individuals observations.

The captain however, may orient not only by COLREGS and navigation but also (fourth loop) by the ship’s voyage plan. The captain has observed that the ship is ahead of schedule and ask the C/M to check to see if a reduction in speed will allow the other ship to cross safely ahead.

Was nice to work on a DP semi as there were 3 equals on the bridge, 2 working one resting and one changed every 6 hours.
All alarms came to us including the engines rooms. There wasnt any engine crew sitting at consoles, all working. All engines start stop etc controlled via us the DPO’s
Worked well.

Life is fractal.




Looking at this incident: Visual Navigation Implicated in Container Ship Grounding

Three crew members on the Bridge; the pilot, the captain and the Chief mate.

From gCaptain: BRM is a process to use all of your available resources during critical operations.

The ship had available the GPS system which cost taxpayers billions of dollars, an ECDIS which is tens of thousands of dollars but it wasn’t being used. Had the C/M glanced at the ECDIS he would have seen the ship was too far off track.

Here is Boyd’s OODA loop from Wikipedia:


So the C/M should have observed the ECDIS and then oriented with respect to the ship’s planned track. His action would be to tell the pilot the ship was left of track.

For the pilot the information from the C/M would have been an observation in the form of “Outside information” which presumably he would use the new information that the GPS held the ship right of track to orient himself.

I agree 100% with the fractal comment.

We debated posting the ooda loop photo in the paper but decided against it. Why? Because the large majority of mariners we tested with treated it linearly.

I believe BRM is mostly well intended and helpful but it’s number on flaw is encouraging linear processing. We haven’t figured out a good way to teach mariners to think nonlinearly.

sounds like an asian airline BRM, captian is boss dont question him, hence they crash a lot.