Fundamental Principles of Bridge Resource Management

Which leg are we supposed to amputate?
Is there still an aircraft on the runway?
What is the position and forecast track of that hurricane?

What these questions have in common is for the people involved it’s important to get the answer right.

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Would the method and procedure to determining the correct answer also be common?

Decision matrices and process development is valid in all areas expertise. Accidents, irrespective of industry, are usually the result of the swiss-cheese holes lining up (assuming no gross negligence).

The folks in the airplane world that came up with the rules and procedures are smart, well paid, and fly. Chief pilots that develop and continuously improve processes get paid well to work in the office, but they also keep up their craft by flying out in the fleet regularly and in simulators. This allows real perspective to counter the egghead ideas that come from cubicle geniuses. Checklists aren’t 100 pages long, procedures are understandable and realistic, and “make work” is minimized. Everything is there for a reason, and if it seem unnecessary, it’s questioned and potentially removed.

Contrast this to most marine “procedures”. I’ve seen 10 pages of round sheets that are supposed to be filled out daily. On a ship that has a historian that records nearly all the parameters. Arrival/departure procedures that are pages long. Capt/Chief standing orders that are a novel. Noon reports that take hours to prepare and are sent to the office, “just because that’s how it’s always been done”. Hell, I’ve seen a BELL BOOK kept on the bridge by hand even though the engine is bridge control/automated and all the commands are recorded automatically by computers!!!

This is the difference why Engine/Bridge resources management will never be successful at doing anything useful. And it most definitely won’t improve safety like CRM did for the airlines. Flying on a USA airliner is one of the safest things somebody can do, statistically. Now, we don’t have as many passengers moving on ships as airplanes, but we do have significantly more crew members injured or killed each year.

The shipping companies have plenty of former engineers and mates in the office. But many of them were A)not very good at sea, so they retreated to the office or B)quickly forget what it is like to actually work at sea and C)likely make much less money than those at sea do (meaning, smart people don’t want to retreat to the office). So when the former sea-going office monkey send hundreds of useless emails and create stupid new programs, they have no idea what crew on board must do to implement these programs. Maybe they need to do like the chief pilots and regularly spend time out in the fleet and suffer the stupidity of their terrible office creations?

When people making $80,000 make million dollar decisions, you’re likely gonna get some garbage.


Unless I misunderstand the question the answer is no, obviously not. But what the methods and procedures should share in common across all three domains is critical information should be cross-checked rather then relying on a single person.

Each of your questions point to a potential problem or risk. Good management uses multiple points of view to mitigate the risks.

The difference however is that you won’t find a commercial printer/copier/scanner in surgery or in the cockpit.

I think this is a two way street, I have observed plenty of the crew’s unwillingness to change/implement industry best practices which are totally reasonable request. Sure, the Office folk also don’t always know what’s going on, it appears to be a game of telephone from someone who understands the the system, to the ship, and everyone in the chain only has a vague idea of what’s going on.

Prime example: ECDIS. Most ships I’ve been on it’s only the 2nd mate who actually knows how to do anything with the machine, and if we’re lucky they also understand how it’s supposed to be set up. The folks in the office likely stopped sailing before ECDIS was primary, or like you said, they were not very good and went shore side, so they don’t understand what the 2nd mate is going on about, and so the policy doesn’t even make sense.

And then there are Captains who also don’t understand what’s going on, and then either though stubbornness, inability, or in nearing retirement do not learn the system, and order the 2nd mate to just set it up “the way it’s always been” or “make it so it never alarms” which I’ve seen from not even using ENCs, to minimizing safety frames and alarm parameters.

The reason Bridge resource management and Cockpit resource management is an apples to oranges comparison is standardization. A 777 is a 777, a slow speed diesel Handymax tanker is… any number of things, even in the same class. The airline office has their work cut out for them writing procedure and checklist, where as there are so many more variables in shipping. You could have a great deck officer go shoreside and write your policy, and still have a 3rd mate scratching her head saying “why do we need 12 vials of Morphine when we have a crew of 11” but the captain who wrote the procedure had been on a ship with a crew of 70.

I think you and I would agree that the answer is to have ship specific procedure and policy originate from onboard, but there is a significant amount of danger to letting the inmates run the asylum. because, you know, “set it up the way it’s always been” which is not always the safest.

I really like companies whose policy just points to industry publication like the ICS BPG, this makes things the neatest, given those are generally written by folks who know what they are doing, and it can get updated to industry best practice without someone fouling up the DMS/SMS.

You guys are conflating a few different things that happen in the aviation world. Checklists and procedures predate CRM by a long time. CRM is about not ignoring the flight engineer when he tells you are about to run out of fuel as much as it is about procedures.
Also note pretty much everyone rides on airplanes, the general public couldn’t care less if a freight dog dies wrecking an old Aztec or DC-3 as long they didn’t do it by hitting their house. They care about what happens on airplanes they ride on, not the rest and they REALLY care very little about cargo ships that they will never ever set foot on.


Yes, I once had a new third mate point out a problem in a weather route I’d missed. It’s likely he detected my annoyance at his smugness but I did have the route changed.

I didn’t need a memo or procedure from the office to avoid heavy weather.

A captain has to set expectations and maintain discipline but still be approachable if an error has been made or something has been missed.

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This is very true. And by no means am I implying that those working on the ship always know best. In many cases, those on the ship are the least qualified to implement any type of process or decision making–as you said inmates running the asylum.

These two quotes are just highlighting boomer issues that will eventually fade away. We all will have a better life once the current crop is gone and the capt and chief can actually type quickly and know how to use a computer. Again, airline pilots had to evolve and get with the new system and pass simulator training or be without a job if they couldn’t remain competent on new technology. Many senior officers at sea got a big pass and were allowed to remain incompetent.

Airlines fly many different types of planes. A 777 isn’t a 767 isn’t an a320 isn’t an a340. Yet the general procedures amongst all the planes is going to be similar. Yes, specific procedures will be different. But shipping essentially has ZERO procedures. Checklist aren’t there to drill down to the exact button to push, they exist to formalize the process of decision making and create a robust repeatable system of executing tasks.

Saying all airplanes are the same and every ship is different is just a cop out intellectually lazy argument. Most ships are chaos with random excel spreadsheets created by the office that are so complicated and useless that they are beyond helpful to create repeatable order in regular tasks. And that is what BRM/ERM is striving to achieve. But this will never happen because we all are forced to sit through 3 days of death-by-powerpoint and sea stories in a BRM/ERM class, and then the topic is never discussed again.

Detroit in the 70’s sounded just like everybody here…we can’t, it’s not possible, blah blah Demming is an asshole his methods can’t work here. So he goes to Japan, they embrace improvement and getting better day-by-day and Japan automakers kick Detroit’s ass to this day. Demming was an outsider. He was a statistician, not a manufacturing expert. Keep saying “it won’t work here” and spend more effort making excuses than trying to move forward with improvements…that’s how most people think. Low info, and results in same old same old.

You guys have probably all seen this, but just in case here’s a link to the 1979 document that, AFAIK, started the movement:




One of us is missing something here because there are a shipload of procedures, not jusy comming out of the office, that folks just arent reading. Like the ICS bridge Procedure guide and Engine Room Procedures guide. I asked the engineers onboard if they needed the new edition of the EPG, and they hadnt even heard of it.

And then thats also like half the battle with OCIMF and SIRE vettings, is following operational procedures. In fact there is a whole library you have to carry for SIRE, but chances are no one ever reads them… because why would you? Youre either working, sleeping, or on vacation.

A library of procedures is essentially zero procedures. Because they are useless. Kind of like having thousands of pages of old log book readings taken daily in the engine room in stored in file cabinets. While the “data is there”, it is not accessible and is useless…so it really doesn’t exist at all. If I can’t pull data up on a screen and quickly view a trend of 12months in 30 seconds, the data doesn’t exist to me.

If these volumes of procedures are expected to be learned and followed, then the companies need to give time in a mariner’s daily work schedule to study (and enforce this) or pay them to go to class and learn/practice (pay for class and give full salary, like the airlines do for their pilots).

Well, its not really different from company procedures. Id actuality argue its easier to navigate than most DMSs that Ive come across. If a helicopter is 30 minutes out its just as quick to walk to the shelf, grab the helicopter procedure binder and refrence the checklists in the back of that book, rather than spend 10 minutes trying to type the right keyword into NS5.

The BPG actuality is really well laid out with forms and checklists everything from a pilot card to emergency checklists, to wheelhouse posters. I made copies of all the emergency checklists to pull out with the hotsheets at every drill. Works pretty well.

But I dont know how consolidated you can make it when your day can range from storm avoidance, to medical evacuations, to tank washing, to emergency antenna building. The reference material is nice to have. Its not like we do our job in a pressuized aluminum tube at 500 knots moments away from a firey death, generaly there is some time to read up on an evolution that we dont do every day.


I am going to guess there’s one, maybe two people in this conversation that still sail. Anyone here working on an ATB?

My point wasn’t to compare one set of procedures to another and say one is better or worse. I’m speaking conceptually that if something is too long and complicated, it is useless. And holy hell NS5/SMS bullshit systems are the perfect example of overcomplicated uselessness.

Procedures and systems must be designed to work for the lowest common denominator. It all must work with average and below average workers. Anything else is a failure.

An ideal system would be that a new 2nd mate or 2ae to a company that has shipping experience (maybe not on the same type of vessel) can come aboard and be handed a small binder of position expectations, daily tasks, and key info needed to do his job. He should be able to read up on the stuff in a few hours and at least be semi-useful and hit the ground running because being a 2nd should be fairly similar on all vessels.

Ok, so maybe it won’t happen for a new-to-the-company 2nd…but what about a 2nd that is coming from another ship in the same company fleet? He should easily be able to jump right in. But in reality, many ships of exact same class in the same company do things completely differently. But they all follow the same SMS/NS5/etc…so again, the entire system completely fails to do what it was originally created to do.

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From the paper at Earl’s link.

“Vessel Manager” is not an accurate description of the captain’s role but the part about using “some delicacy regarding the self-images of crew members” is correct.

Perhaps the master should be allowed to be master and give the title of Captain to say, the Chief Engineer. It would give the master more time to focus on managing bridge resources.

Remember the ORANGE part is as important as the purple part. Mates and copilots only speak up to the extent that they think the company actually gives a shit and pilots/captains get formal and “on the down-low” feedback as to how much the company actually wants them doing about all this.

Does the Sandy Hook pilot participate in creating the passage plan in the ECDIS?