Chronic Unease - Complacency- Arrogance

Interesting site here Chronic Unease is Not Enough

The last video is good. One Brain Three Minds.

In my experience the cure for an uneasy feeling something is not right is just go to work. As captain I go through the voyage plan or similar. Usually just working methodically is enough to find things that have been overlooked. Sometimes things not directly related to what is being worked on will come to mind.

Or take a hike around the ship, find all kinds of things that are not right.

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Good ol’ “chronic unease”. Can I list that on my 719k as a reason for high blood pressure??:wink:


I can’t claim that I’ve never fallen prey to complacency. It’s bitten me in the ass more than once as my confidence grew; fortunately never to the degree being discussed.
It served as a strong reminder not to fall into the trap.

Sure, it’s easy cycle between over confidence and then getting bit in the ass and becoming more careful. But I think there was arrogance here as well. The captain made two course changes and then left the bridge with no position, track or DR on the chart.

This is why I’ve never understood the race to blame TOTE and the regulatory agencies following the sinking of the El Faro. I’m not suggesting they weren’t complicit by their lack of diligence but it was on the periphery.
The fact remains that the last person standing guard ignored all the red flags in order to sleep.
When I suggested this after the sinking, I was castigated on this forum in no uncertain terms about the failures of the company and the CG by some in efforts to exonerate the master.
I understood the reaction to the condemnation of the master by other masters, brothers in arm and so on. It feels less than respectful, especially when the man is not around to defend himself.
I still see the El Faro tragedy as ultimately being the result of the same level of arrogance.

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Might be worthwhile to take a look at Nancy Levenson and the hierarchy levels of organization. I found it tough sledding at first but after reading the book it seems very useful.

In the case of TOTE one function of the DPA was to identify risk. That didn’t happen. Busy chasing after BS. As far as ABS and USCG when TOTE wanted to raise the load line they could have said no. It’s not their job to look out for TOTE’s profits.

Nothing I posted was intended to minimize the failures of those agencies. As is the case in most accidents, maritime or aviation, it was the culmination of a long string of failures.

You were saying why look at Tote or the regulatory agencies rather than just the behavior of the captain. It’s because just finding someone to blame doesn’t fix anything.

In the case of the EV you can blame the 3/M or the Capt but the most significant action was passage of OPA 90 which is a higher controlling level. In the case of TOTE again blame whoever but to fix the problem requires action at a higher level. Regulators need to start looking at compliance with SMS, ABS and USCG apparently need more oversight etc.

I never suggested any such thing. On the contrary, I wrote that “As is the case in most accidents, maritime or aviation, it was the culmination of a long string of failures”. The master was merely the last one in line and but the last few in a series of decisions, the fatal ones, rested on his shoulders.

To get back to the topic heading :slight_smile: I read the linked article and the articles that author was complaining about. I see a fair amount of sloppy writing at both levels.

The first problem I have is the use of the term “chronic,” which has the connotation of persistent or recurring. The second is the use of the term “unease,” which connotes (at least to me) a kind of free-floating anxiety. I do not find putting these together results in the concept of “wariness” as I understand it. So I guess I agree with the linked author that the phrase is useless, but not necessarily with the reasoning that go him there.

To me, wariness is situational. It combines an awareness of the potential for an adverse event, a lack of trust in the elements potentially involved that event, and an alertness to signs an event is on its way. It is, in my view, the precise opposite of complacency. It is illustrated by the old war movie cliche:

A grizzled sergeant and a new recruit are sharing a foxhole in a jungle war zone. Recruit: “Sure is quiet out there.” Sergeant: “Yeah, too quiet.”

Placed in a war zone foxhole the exchange is an exemplar of wariness. Placed in some peacetime setting it could range from comical to concerning about the sergeant’s mental health. It all depends on context.

As an aside, the Second Mind in the linked video corresponds rather neatly to the Orient step in John Boyd’s OODA Loop model.




I’ve found the term “chronic unease” is useful in conversation to get the point across. The objection is that it is not a useful term to change behavior.

A term Boyd liked was “appreciate”. A lack of chronic unease could imply a lack of appreciation for situations where problems are hidden or develop over time.

And there’s always “grok.” :slight_smile:



For 3 years back in the late 1990’s, early 2000’s I had to sail with a succession of relief First Engineers from the hall whenever I returned to work. That coupled with a rotary system that meant the 2nd and 3rd engineers usually had limited familiarity resulted in extreme chronic unease the first few weeks every time I returned to work.

The other (permanent) First was good friends with my counterpart and preferred to sail with him with no overlap.

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Just remember, no matter how complacent, uneasy or lazy you get, never loose track of your
situational awareness

An overlap between senior officers is really something that needs to be mandatory on every ship if you ask me. Someone needs to have both feet planted in the puddle while the other one is dipping his toe in. Or waste deep in shit. Which ever analogy you prefer.

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I agree completely. During the time I was getting screwed I asked (nearly implored) him to overlap but he said no. Funny how things worked out though. Eventually the company assigned another permanent First that sailed with me. My then counterpart retired and his First got the Chief’s job. It took awhile before another permanent First was hired so the shoe was on the other foot. After experiencing 2 small (in the water) oil spills due to what I considered complacency on his part and people not being familiar with the plant; he came to me and asked that the First Engineers start overlapping our schedules…I agreed as that is how it should be done. I am sorry to say I could not help thinking, “Karma motherfucker, payback’s a bitch”.


I do. I list it as “occupational anxiety”

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