Are you interested in maritime safety?

Dear maritime professionals,

could you help me with my bachelor-thesis?
I am a psychology student who does research on how maritime crews work together on ship to improve maritime safety. If you are interested in maritime safety or just need an distraction from the corona-crisis, please help me with my thesis.
How effective is your crew; of how many people consists your crew of and do you like team work? If you have 5 spare minutes, please participate in my survey.

:clipboard:Please follow this link to the survey in English:

By participating and sharing the survey with your crew, you would help me so much!
Thank you for your time! :smiley:

Best wishes and stay healthy during this times

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Hey Caroline,

Great topic, but I believe you’re asking the wrong questions. Also the answers are wildly different from one segment of the industry to another.

At a high level overall view, safety has been forced on the maritime industry by the IMO (International Maritime Organization) in the form of SMS (Saftey Management System) that the Coast Guard now requires all vessels to have.

A few things you should understand. First off and most importantly is that the maritime industry is inherently dangerous. I never joined the military because the job description is “to fight and die for your country”. I never had a problem with fighting, but dying didn’t seem to fun to me. You can never take all the dangers away from the industry, you can only mitigate some of them. Many larger companies have implemented JSA’s (Job Safety Analysis) that must be completed before the start of every job. I and most people I know hate them. Why must I waste my time (45 minute pre-evolution safety conference) going over every detail of the job that I literally do (safely) every day for months at a time? It’s a huge loss of productivity and a waste of time and money. Having a safety meeting about something that is not done often or that is very risky is a good thing (fuel transfers, crane operations, etc.). However, most big companies don’t differentiate those jobs. Some segments of the industry are known for being extremely dangerous, commercial fishing being one of them. Fishermen are known to take higher risks than any large companies would allow. But on a personal level the trust and faith you have in your fellow crew-members is much much higher on riskier vessels. You literally put you life in the hands of your coworkers every day. No faster way to gain (or lose) trust in someone. Large overly lawyered companies have way to many rules and overburdening paperwork. You literally can’t step outside without a hard hat, safety goggles, and a life vest. Smaller companies don’t have enough safeguards and work standards. Finding a happy medium should be the goal, but the crew is always told by shoreside HR and management how to “best” operate the vessel. Usually from individuals who have never worked a single day at sea. Good luck finding a real world solution for that problem.


Example here:


Hello Paul,

first of all thank you very much for participating in my survey and for this feedback!
Our research is just at the beginning and comments like that help a lot to understand how safety issues are actually handled in the maritime industry - no company official would give us insight like that.

May I explain to you our approach. We are psychologists, who do research on how people work together in risky industries or specifically the maritime industry. We know that of all accidents in the maritime industry (depending on which study you look at) 75-90% are caused by human error (e.g. wrong decision-making, bad communication etc.). So our idea is, to do research on which factors help people working on ships having a better decision-making progress, handle with stress better, communicate effectively etc. For example do smaller crews have a better communication or which other factors are contributing to that issue? We call all these aspects non-technical skills and this skills can be improved in practical trainings (different to normal security instructions). This should help to increase the safety in the maritime industry.
The questions in the survey are from questionnaires, which where also used in the aviation industry, hospital staff or the military (so all industries, which work under a lot of stress and danger).

If you have any thoughts about our approach, I`d be very interested in hearing from you again. Thank you for the input you already gave!

All the best!


Hi Caroline,

You already have the answer. The overwhelming majority of accidents are caused by human errors. Take the human out of the equation. Fully autonomous unmanned ships are coming. Then new questions arise. Is safer always better? Should I loose my livelihood for the “greater good” of safety? I would argue no, but I’m obviously biased.

Are smaller crews better? Yes, but not due to any reasons that will scale. When you have a crew of five and one of the members is really underperforming the other four must “pick up the slack”. This becomes a big problem and either the slacker must start pulling his/her own weight or be replaced with another crewmen. Small crews have very high accountability. With a crew of fifty it’s almost accepted that several of the people working will severely underperform and do so without any consequences. With larger crews/companies the 80/20 rules begin to apply. 80% of the work is completed by 20% of the personnel. The question is how to maintain the high accountability of small crews with large companies/crews. The answer is good management, however, implementation of good management practices is hardly ever executed properly. Lots of talk, lots of papaerwork, tones of credentials, and nobody walking the walk.

Best of luck to you, you’re gonna need it.

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The approach the OP is studying is exactly correct. I’ve 40 years experience at sea and have worked with crews from 4 to over 140.

The difference between a small crew and a big one is very apparent when working at sea.

I am most familiar with a crew size of about 20. The accountability problem is solved when the stove-piping, in-group / out-group and the finger-pointing, blame-game problem is solved.

Mariners are trained to solve technical problems only. The key is as the OP suggests, non-technical problems cannot be solved using a technical approach.

Running a PCTC with a union crew on a round-the-world run is one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever had. I did it by applying what I knew about working with small crews. I won a safety award three years in the row and the other ship captains complained and the company stopped giving them out. True story.


Sometimes I think we deserve to be wiped out.

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Anyone genuinely interested in marine safety should visit the website of Dr Nippin Anand here:


Dr Nippin Anand nails it as far as the problems with Safety Management Systems.

For ship level - this book is excellent. Just finished it a couple weeks ago. Plan to read his other book.

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) In the decade and a half we have been writing about maritime incidents, gCaptain has reviewed thousands of groundings, fires, explosions, oil spills, sinkings, drownings, collisions, and allisions. One common thread connects each of these incidents. The human factor. In his new book Leadership Is Language , The Hidden Power of What You Say and What You Don’t “, former submarine commander Captain L David Marquet (USN Ret) dives deep into one of the most thoroughly investigated marine disasters, the sinking of the El Faro, and surfaces with new ideas on leadership and language.

In 2015 the American containership El Faro and her crew met a tragic fate. With their loss, writes Marquet, they left us with a tremendously valuable learning tool: the transcript of their conversations on board. By studying these conversations, and using the science of human understanding, the author considers how they may have played out differently.

“Every person on board surely believed they were doing what was in their best interest of their mission and their team” writes Marquet. “However, it was their ingrained patterns of language, drawing on an outdated playbook, that turned their best intentions into a disastrous situation.”

Can preventing incidents be as simple as changing the language we use to communicate aboard ship? Yes and no. According to Marquet teams function well when individual crew members have the authority, autonomy, and opportunity to prove themselves. This comes only when you challenge the role of Captain as the unquestionable authority aboard ship by embracing curiosity, truth, and an open mindset.

In recent years many books and countless TED talks have praised the merits of servant leadership, mindfulness, and flat organizational methods are all the rage but require a leap of faith. Very few of the new methods provide the keys to unlocking the techniques they want you to espouse. Practically none provide a look into how a captain can balance “touchy feely” leadership with the need to be curt and direct when a helmsman turns hard left in the Singapore Straight after she ordered hard right.

The brilliance of Marquet’s book is his fundamental understanding of this dichotomy. As a nuclear ballistic missile submarine commander he held the keys to start World War III and understood that seconds matter when facing and enemy sub. Marquette is not Stephan Covey, nor is he an uber successful CEO like Ray Dalio, Sheryl Sandberg, or Andy Grove. He understands the importance of the last 10 seconds as did Coach Wooden and Bill Campbell but he also recognizes that some leaders do not have the luxury of dusting themselves off after a loss. Some leaders, captains, sink with all hands after their first mistake.

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Here’s a quick precis.


I look forward to reading the book…clearly Leadership training in the military is very different from commercial / merchant fleets.

I am currently working on a thesis on this subject and would really value your input and those of other seafarers, by completing this very quick and anonymous survey.

Thanks !!

Worth noting fishermen and pirates usually work on shares, so they have a very direct financial incentive to take risks that seem insane to the rest of us.

  • I have had a couple ex Alaska fishermen as crew and they serve well to add courage to the n00bs, unless the boat is actually on fire they think everything is easy compared to their old job :smiley: