From Rich Madden - Graded Assertiveness: Captain, I Have a Concern…

Rich Madden at gCaptain:Graded Assertiveness: Captain, I Have a Concern

This article uses “The Five Step Assertive Statement Process”

From the post:

The five steps are :

  1. Start with the person’s formal title (i.e. Captain / Mr. Pilot). Starting with anything else can diminish the importance of the message.
  2. State, “I have a concern.” This is a trigger statement. In the aviation industry, by policy, this is statement that requires the captain acknowledge and consider the concerns of the crew member. Shipping companies might consider adding such a policy to their safety management system (SMS).
  3. State your concern and provide details.
  4. Suggest an alternate plan.
  5. Seek permission to implement the alternate plan.

The article is also on Rich Madden’s site; Madden Maritime

This was discussed on this forum wrt the loss of the El Faro at this thread: Mitigated Speech - Mitigated speech is the opposite of using an assertive process.

One of NTSB’s recommendation was that mariners be trained in assertive communication process.


It’s not relevant to this post, the bridge team has little control over how the pilot does his job but I was told many years ago (by a pilot) to always give helm commands both verbally and by pointing. At some point almost everyone is going to give a wrong helm command, but you will never point the wrong way.

If the conning officer points to port but orders starboard rudder the helmsman will catch the error. If nothing else the uncertainty can be heard in the helmsman’s response.


Re: pointing.

Many, many years ago I used to hitch rides with private pilots to various airports in the LA area. Lots of these guys were WWII and Korean War vets with beaucoup hours. Part of my pitch was that I would provide a second set of eyeballs coming into the heavily trafficked LA basin.

One of these old guys (to me, then) briefed me as we approached the area. He said “If you see traffic, just point and say ‘airplane’.”

Great procedure. No chatter, minimum opportunity for confusion or error. Just a one-bit message and a vector.




I am and have been a pointer for many years for precicly those reasons.
You need to encourage people to talk to you, express their concerns and thank them for it.

One day it will save your ass.
It’s saved mine more than once.

I was taught to speak up almost 40 years ago by a crusty old man who had learned it 40 years before he taught me. Don’t know who taught him but I expect it was some crusty old bastard who learned it from some other crusty old bastard.

I always have. I can’t say it’s always been appreciated. Occasionally I have had to eat crow.
Decades ago I Yelled “WTF” quite assertively “our draft is 26 6” at a Pilot in the St Laurence once, when he gave a helm order. He calmly suggested I checked the chart again. We had gone from metric to fathoms. I felt pretty stupid.
He just laughed and congratulated me on knowing WTF I was.

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I have worked with some wonderful skippers this trip (the one I’m working with right now is the 5th one, so far). There’s one who’s more difficult. Maybe impossible. Kind of legendary difficult guy. When I ‘have a concern,’ he will sometimes shout me down. It takes a big effort to try to get my message understood, and I don’t always manage. I do my best to remain calm and not take it personally. Crewmates like me and don’t like to see me treated that way, and they themselves don’t like to be treated this way, and they sometimes do take it personally. If he shouts at me in front of them, sometimes they will try to defend me: which doesn’t help; or come bitch to me about him behind his back. Of course I have to try to bolster the respect that the crew has for him, I say: he’s doing his job, he has our interests at heart, etc. Its such an awkward position to be in. At least I’m polishing my assertiveness skills. Maybe we need guys like this to train this skill.

No-go areas drawn on the chart, that’s the lesson I learned.

I was approaching the pilot station in a U.S. river port in the Southeast one windy night and the pilot canceled. I checked the chart real quick, plenty of water to stbd to make a U-turn out to sea but back to looking out the window I’m thinking it doesn’t make sense that it would be deep water, so I take another look at the chart. I’m drawing 8 meters and depths are shown as “15”, I was used to BA charts with meters but this is U.S. chart in feet. So 15 feet, not meters.

Of course with ECDIS it can be left in meters and the depth contours are set for the ship’s draft.

I think we have all been there with the legendary guy or someone just like him at some point in our time. Some of us may even be legendary ourselves.
I cant say I have always handled those occasions well. Something I have learned. I can only control myself. I can’t control someone else. I can do what I’m required to do.
What do you do in those circumstances , You do the best you can. It’s all that can be expected.

We all have the right to be treated with respect. Unfortunately it’s an industry where it doesn’t always happen. Mutual respect is a critical part of a good bridge teams comunication.
I am fortunate I work in a union environment. Even so it’s a significant problem.


I’d like to be respected and I usually am, but more important is having the technical issues respected or at least understood. I suppose one makes the other one more likely, though.

What I’ve noticed is that insecurity can lead to shouting, shouting can lead to people loosing respect for the guy that’s loosing his shit, loss of respect can lead to him feeling insecure… snowball snowball snowball. If you encounter someone with a small snowball, its possible to melt it with gentle suggestions, informative statements, and I’ve had good luck with carefully drawn, attractive diagrams prepared ahead of time. If you encounter someone with a giant snowball… do your duty, but try to keep your head down, I guess. I wish I had a magic bullet for that situation.

Careful, pretty drawings, though: best kind.

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A couple years back I got a new chief. The first time he had to give me bad news about trouble in the engine room I could see he was a little uncertain about how to approach me with the news.

Once I figured out what was going on I asked him, "Chief, if you have a bad trip will I have a good trip? Chief thinks a second then says, “No, If I have a bad trip, you’re going to have a bad trip too”. So I ask him "what if I have a bad trip, do you think you will have a good trip? Chief looks at me for a second and says, “No, if you have a bad trip I’m going to have a bad trip”.

Captain and chief should cooperate out of self-interest if nothing else.


I was fairly lucky in my sailing career. Most of the captains that I sailed with when I was CE were fairly reasonable, save one. I agree that the captain and chief should cooperate. I would always let the Old Man know what I was doing, and more importantly, why. The one that I referenced previously was a bipolar psychopath. . . who was in over his head most of the time. . . one minute he would be screaming so much that veins would bulge on his forehead. . .and the next he would be my best friend. . . I recall one incident, during cargo discharge, he decided it would be a good time to try and free up that crossover valve on the barge. . . I think that we invented the “plus” octane grade of gasoline on that voyage. . . .oops. . … but he got the valve to open. . . .without letting the mates know. . . .

Your day always comes. I sailed for an interesting character once, a billionaire who styled himself as the “old school navy captain” type of character. It was so bad that when calling out bearings during a zero visibility approach, I had to phrase it as careful suggestions. Matters came to a head when I refused to fire the main because he wanted to leave with insufficient fuel margins. I thought my time on board was up, but as it turned out corrupt officials at our intended re-fueling location tried to charge us ten times the going rate, which took the pressure off me for a few months. He even brought the crew together for a talk about the importance of listening to suggestions…