Risk and the sea...what is an acceptable level, (if there is one)?


General guidelines don’t need to go into detail and be several pages long. This sounds like a lame excuse on his part.


The standing orders would cover general guidelines. I agree that it would be difficult to lay out specific written instructions. It would be easy however to lay out the problem on the chart.

It’s standard practice to mark with chart with such things as a line and the instructions “Call Captain” It would be simple to draw a line that if the forecast fall inside this line to call.

It would require having a concrete plan laid out that the mates could evaluate, something some captains prefer to avoid doing.


A line on the chart or a verbal course to maintain and a simple instruction: "call me if anything out of the ordinary comes up and if you’re not sure, call me anyway. That’s as basic as can be. If a master refuses to get out of his rack after leaving those instructions and getting a call, he shouldn’t be there.


Here’s the question:

how do we make those with differing opinions into the decision making process when the sea traditionally has been the epitome of top down management?

My answer is that instead of making a decision and then have the crew question or challenge that decision directly we instead make a concrete plan that can be evaluated.

For example if a pilot tell me he’s going to keep the ship is safe water I might be put in the position of having to challenge his judgment. If he instead tells me the ship will have a min 3 meter UKC for a passage that’s something I can check and monitor.

In the case of the EF they never had a plan to avoid Joaquin. They said they planned to dodge “under” the system, which is a plan to get to SJU, not a plan to avoid Joaquin.

Had the plan from the beginning been to avoid the 35 kt wind field then the mates could have pointed out the fact that the plan was not valid when the forecast was updated. Not going against the captain decision.


but regardless of night orders (or lack thereof) or go/no go boundaries on charts (or lack thereof) there was a crew who could see that there was potential peril in the plotted route and thought it was wise to deviate yet the master believed differently. The mates could see “excess risk” in proceeding per the plan but did not have power to minimize the risk by say reducing speed or altering course or both. How can subordinate members of a ship’s crew be empowered themselves to protect their ship when high risk is perceived by them? How do you give voice to those who traditionally have been expected to simply follow orders?

Personally, I wished one of the mate’s conspired with an engineer to have some form of mechanical issue come up during the night to force the ship to reduce speed. Not that such maneuverings have not been used before to work around an intractable situation where nobody loses face. I wonder how the engineers were feeling about the ship approaching a category three hurricane so rapidly?


I think the easiest way would be to point out that the captain’s understanding of the situation was wrong. That the eye had in fact crossed in front of them, they were headed for the dangerous semi-circle and the winds were not going to shift aft as planned.


My question is, why didnt the CM and 2O disobey? A CM and 2O/3O can refuse to sail because a ship is unseaworthy and hold the ship owners and Master accountable. Why when the life of the crew members, the safety of the ship and the loss of cargo all be at risk, the CM didnt do his duty?

I would be mad if someone disobeyed my orders but if a majority of my officers are seeing something I dont, then maybe I need to step back and re evaluate.


Agreed that would have been a sensible plan given the circumstances but based on recorded events in this case, I wouldn’t assume he’d have reacted any differently to a report that they’d entered a 35 kt wind field. It appears his mind was made up and nothing was going to change it.


I know that when I sailed as Chief Engineer, I told all of my assistants (and the deckhands and mates/Captain, too) that if they saw any engineering problem that they felt needed my attention when I was in bed, by all means, wake me, and anytime I got that call or knock on the door, I was up and out. I mean, why else was I on board? I acted the same whether or not I was getting OT for the call out. Didn’t matter.


I’m not making any claims that if they had done this or that etc. That’s of course unknowable.

From the point of view of “lessons learned” however, in some cases having explicit go/no-go parameters makes crew communications more efficient and can positively influence decisions makers.

This isn’t esoteric stuff, it should get taught at crew management classes.


If you read the transcripts the captain was on the bridge just before watch change at 31/2000 hrs. The C/M and the captain looked at the weather and adjusted the route. C/M and Capt were in agreement.

The C/M and captain both returned to the bridge at about 01/0400 hrs. At that point they did not understand the situation with the weather nor did they understand the scuttle was left open. They were confused about the position of the ship in relationship to the eye and did not understand why the ship was listing.

Shortly after arrival on the bridge at 0400 the C/M said “I don’t like this” but after that the crew was occupied trying to cope with the situation as problems arose.


From the article:
"Davidson sailed through countless storms, some of hurricane strength. He was by no means a cowboy. He was a by-the-book mariner with a reputation for being unusually competent and organized. By training and temperament he was a safety-first man. Eventually he switched to dry-cargo ships on the East Coast, and went to work for one of the big American shipping companies, Crowley Maritime.

He was a man at peace with himself. But then, in 2012, an incident rocked his career. Crowley Maritime asked him to take his ship down the Chesapeake from one port to another, and Davidson refused because a surveyor had found that the steering gear was unreliable and in need of immediate repair. For the sake of the ship, Davidson instead engaged two tugs to tow it to the destination. This cost money. It is said among merchant mariners that, yes, a captain has the authority to refuse orders he deems to be unsafe—but probably only once. Davidson went off on vacation, and when he returned was informed by Crowley that he no longer had a job


and which union “represents” the masters who serve Crowley?

oh yeah…now I remember, it’s the union which isn’t a union but instead is a racket to collect $$$ off the backs of its members with “leaders” who aren’t mariners but mafiosi

FUCKING MISERABLE CORRUPT AMO! Shame on the the “leaders” of that festering cesspool but more so, shame on the rank and file who refuse to take back their union and turn it into one that is respected in the industry and takes care of its members instead of kissing the asses of the companies. The rank and file are the ones to blame for not going out on their own “union” management demanding a real deal instead of the Dania version of the ol’ shit sandwich!


Just like with Deepwater Horizon—it was not just the events on the Macondo well that kept people from raising a concern. The May 26, 2008 near sinking and the firing of the Captain and the mechanic left an fear of speaking up from March 8 kick. It also impacted teh drill team’s ability to ask for help on teh night of April 20, 2010–when two V.P who had participared in firing walke dinto teh drill shack.

If Davidson had not refused to take his ship from one port to another when it was unsafe and ordered two tugs–and then been fired–

Does anyone think the events in 2015 might have ended differently.

Anyone can refuse to do something unsafe once.


You do it more often if necessary. I’ve walked away more than once from operations I deemed marginal. Did it advance my career. Hell no. Would I do it again. Yes. It’s an individual’s choice.


I had heard this but I believe the shipowner was ARC and the vessel was being managed by Crowley at the time.

The whole instance sounded strange the first time I’d heard it. A class surveyor deems the steering is in need of immediate repair. The Coast Guard is going to want to hear about that. The Maryland Pilots were also going to want to hear about that and more than likely refuse to sail the ship until repairs are made. There has to be something missing from this to get fired, but then again, as @c.captain said, if the “union” isn’t going to back you up, anything is possible.


I was thinking the same thing.

I lost the “follow up” on the port side steering one time. Stbd side was working fine and NFU worked on both sides. I wasn’t worried about the Coast Guard but there was no way I’m telling the pilot that everything is OK, plus I’d have to come in on one steering pump.

I called the company and told them I had to notify the CG and there was a little hesitation but not much. It was the CG that required a tug escort, not me.

It makes you wonder about how savvy Davidson was or if he was refusing to bend even a small amount.


A valid point. People who exhibit a lack of flexibility, a known psychological trait, suffer the negative effects in their professional as well as personal lives. Could it have played a role in both events?


IIRC, the Masters are management so the union can’t defend them in employment disputes. (That’s what I’ve been told by MEBA.) @Kennebec_Captain


That’s ridiculous. Does the MEBA feel the same way about their Chief Engineers?