Navigation Assessments – What it takes to deliver

What does it take to deliver a Navigation Assessment?

In addition to Class 1 Master Mariner qualification, a thorough and in-depth knowledge of all aspects of practical and theoretical navigation (e.g. Extra Master, B.Sc., etc) and/or Command experience is also essential. From the teaching perspective, lecturing experience or formal teaching qualifications are a great advantage, and experience in mentoring and an attitude of empathy with the ship’s officer is equally important. A good understanding of human factors is also vitally important for the Navigational Assessor. He/she must also be sensitive to ethnic and cultural differences, particularly where the bridge team is made up from personnel of mixed race. Willingness to question or challenge a ‘superior’ differs widely between cultures; the Liverpudlian AB would not think to spare his officer’s feelings, and his timely comment might save the latter’s career – but there are plenty who would be too polite, overawed or even frightened to make such a challenge.

This is obviously a huge skill-set, which cannot be learnt on any course; however, the Nautical Institute’s new course for Navigation Assessors will greatly assist those who already possess the necessary knowledge and skills to carry out effective navigation assessments.

Finally, an important part of the Navigation Assessor’s job is training and advice to officers on how to prioritise the many tasks for the safety of navigation. The simple fact is that many modern ISM systems are depressingly gigantic, and many young officers simply lack the experience to distinguish the important from the trivia. The proliferation of checklists can lead to tunnel vision and getting officers to think outside the box – in this case, the borders of the checklist – can be difficult.

For example, preparing the bridge for port departure, an officer spends some time verifying the integrity self-test of the BNWAS (which probably makes a negligible contribution to safety on any well-run vessel) but fails to run the similar test on the mission-critical ECDIS or ARPA! Why? – because the latter is not on the checklist. Similarly, much time and effort is put into keeping a quite irrelevant GPS position log, but a bell book is not maintained! Why? – lack of understanding the relative value of these documents – which sometimes extends into company procedures – and perhaps also improper peer learning.

The fact is that already large ISM systems, engorged and continually patched by sometimes excessive and disproportionate corrective actions following incidents and questionable vetting / internal / external audit ‘observations’, can easily become a massive fog of ‘Information overload’ for the mariner. Masters and officers are often quite unable to explain the purpose of some Company procedures – particularly those in relation to record keeping; it’s a question they’ve never considered. With the age and experience profile of the modern mariner, questioning company procedures is no longer part of the culture; more importantly, where would you find the time, and where would you start? And if ships staff do question, the response from up the line is something along the lines of: “Yes, I can’t see the use of it either, but we must do it for the vetting/port state inspector”. So it becomes simply “monkey see, monkey do”. The result is that officers’ valuable time is often wasted in pointless and irrelevant obsolete tasks, which contribute little or nothing to navigational safety, and are solely for the benefit of out-of-touch auditors and inspection regimes.

Those of us who went to sea during or prior to the 1970’s were fortunate in learning our trade in a completely different environment, where priorities were learnt from experienced officers. Over many years, and in the absence of any significant technological or legislative changes or influences from external organisations, these priorities had been refined and honed to exactly what was relevant and necessary. What we did at sea – although not written down in any company manual – closely followed what we were taught at college, the examination syllabus – and legislation. There was a strong shared understanding of the value of things. That is not the case today.

One of the tasks of the Navigational Assessor is to help ships staff to understand and bring back that sense of perspective – common sense – into modern navigational practices.