As cruise ships grow in size and sophistication and international regulatory requirements reach into more areas of operation, the typical bridge has expanded too – both in dimensions and the equipment considered necessary for safe passage. Dedicated training facilities now ensure officers and other crew members are properly prepared for the challenges of modern navigation. But how does what they are learning differ from traditional navigator training– and in the midst of massive technology investment, what sort of education is in place to take account of the human factor on the bridge?
Relationships among different ranks on the bridge have been revolutionised in recent years by new approaches that focus more on teamwork, says Hans Hederstrom, managing director of Carnival Corporation & plc’s Centre for Simulator Maritime Training (CSMART) facility in the Netherlands and designer of the architecture underpinning it. “Traditionally the captain was in front of the bridge team directing and taking all decisions, and was the most skilled navigator and ship handler,” says Hederstrom. “Very few people dared to question him. The bridge officer might think: ‘Well, I wouldn’t have done it that way but he is the captain and he must know something I don’t know’. But this was not always the case. That is one thing that we have changed in our training programmes.”
The result of this new way of thinking is a different placement of people on the bridge. “The captain is no longer the lone person in front but is a manager and leader of the bridge team operation,” explains Hederstrom. “Now the officers are driving the ship and the captain is in the role of operations director, overseeing and supervising the operation and capable of speaking up if something is going outside of what is planned. This was not the case in the old days, when the captain was close to God and the officers were very much just passive bystanders waiting for their time to come.”
Captain Nick Antalis spent many years as a Royal Caribbean International cruise ship captain before becoming port captain for parent company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Royal Caribbean undertakes bridge and safety training at two US facilities, the STAR Center and the more recently established Resolve Marine Academy in Florida. “We can create simulations of different weather conditions and monitor the reactions of all bridge members,” says Antalis. “All officers go through this training with different scenarios and it is very interesting to see how they react. Everything has to be as realistic as possible because we need to see how closely they work together, how they share information in a crisis. We build different scenarios and let them resolve issues.”
Like Carnival, Royal Caribbean trains bridge personnel in how to share perceptions and knowledge rather than placing all responsibility with the captain. “We have always trained our officers to act as a team on the bridge,” says Antalis. “Officers have the right to go back to the captain and say: ‘We don’t think that decision is right’. Through constant communication, we try to eliminate human error. A one-person decision is not as safe as if every member of bridge team agrees. The team on the bridge works together, double-checking each other’s decisions.”
Carnival has implemented the best practices used in other safety-critical environments, such as the airline industry, says Hederstrom. “We continuously work with them to learn from their groundbreaking work. We also persistently exceed what’s required by the regulators. From January 2016 we will be the first in the world to introduce annual proficiency training and assessment of all officers (for all the Carnival brands) in the same way as the airlines do with all their pilots annually.”
UK-based P&O Cruises and Cunard Cruise Line have benefited from the CSMART facility, says Mike McCartain, director of marine and safety at Carnival UK. “They teach all of our watchkeepers – from third officers to captains and commodores of the fleet. For at least a week a year our bridge officers are taken through navigation and bridge resource management courses as well as specific marine skills and equipment courses. That is how we move people from thinking as individuals to working as a team.
“All those things come together with bridge resource management so that our conduct of navigations is even more efficient and safe. What’s very interesting is that we mix our officers from other corporate lines together in the facility and on the bridge so they can learn and understand cultural differences of working together in an efficient and safe way, and that facility allows them to observe not only individuals conducting their business but also how we bring together all individuals as a team and make the team better. It makes them very aware of what their strengths and weaknesses are so when they work with other people they are self-aware.”
Advances in cruise ship navigation in recent years include the now-mandatory use of electronic displays to supplement paper charts. Mark Broster established ECDIS Ltd four years ago to train seafarers in the use of Electronic Chart Display and Information Systems (ECDIS), which have been required on new passenger ships since July 2012 and on existing passenger ships since July this year. All of Broster’s training staff are ‘paper navigators’ – traditionally trained navigators who have made the transition to modern methods in keeping with the new requirements of the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping (STCW) Convention. In addition to over 100 major international shipping companies, the company serves several passenger ship lines as well as ro-pax ferry companies.
On the contemporary bridge, “it’s the digital immigrant generation – probably anybody born before 1990 – versus the digital native,” says Broster. “It’s interesting to see that we have such a mixed bag of people on courses here – ranging from 18 to 80 – and the older people are not necessarily more experienced.”
Broster says that for all the benefits new technological capabilities bring, it is crucial to remind trainees that technology can’t replace time-honoured good practices. “The principles of navigation haven’t changed but there are bigger integrated bridges now, especially in the cruise industry – 50m bridges that have 300 computers on them. By adding another machine in the corner, you’ve now given the team more buttons to push, but there is always still the need to remember to look out of the window.”
This article appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read the full article, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.