18 January 2010

Do you understand me?

A look at how and why clear communications are so important in all areas of industry.


Author: Captain Len Holder

When asked “What is the key to safety and efficiency in shipping?” I searched the Videotel website with the word “Communications” and revealed that there are 40 training programmes, 11 news Items and at least one web link which feature communication in one or more context.

Formal Messages: Radio Communications

Knowing the correct STCW Radio Communications procedures is a good one, but that is just the start. How many times have you listened to a conversation on the radio and realised that, through differences in pronunciation, culture or accent, you know that the two people involved are not communicating.

This highlights:

- The need to improve language skills
- The need for inter-cultural communication skills – do the same words mean the same to different people? I remember overhearing an irresponsible and illegal conversation off the USA, where two friends on different ships discussed the health of their families and various other items of home news. One then said “I had better stop talking, our ships are getting close,” The other said “Don’t go now, as we pass close, we need to stay in touch!” The first then said “I have to go, from the radio console I cannot see out of the bridge window!” That raises a lot of questions:

• Are bridges designed with communications in mind?
• Do we ignore other tasks while we talk on radio?
• Should radio discipline be more rigidly enforced, and if so, how?

Security and Environmental Protection

The training programmes in the series on piracy, prevention of drug trafficking and environmental response and clean up all highlight the need for good communications. We must make sure that the right information gets to the right people and that communications channels are not clogged with unnecessary messages. Preparing messages to be sent should include the steps:

1. Is this message necessary?
2. Does it contain all the data the recipient needs?
3. Can I make it shorter and clearer?
4. Do other recipients really need to be copied in?

Search and Rescue

Search and rescue operations today often involve the use of new technology, which is not always fully understood by the users. It cannot be emphasised enough that if an operation does not happen often and is likely to involve very serious consequences, we need to practice, practice, practice… Drills are not a waste of time!

Dealing with Passengers

Some passengers are easy to deal with, others are sometimes difficult. There is a right way to approach them both, keep them happy and provide the best service that we can. Companies whose staff are properly trained in customer care tend to be popular and attract fare paying passengers for voyage after voyage.

Dealing with Tugs and Shore Personnel

Many people who work in ports have been to sea in the early part of their careers and understand what goes on, on board. Today, with changes in the industry, a lot of things which used to be “common sense” amongst former seafarers are a mystery to landlubbers and misunderstandings arise. There is only one way to avoid this confusion, that is step by step training, helping the shore staff to climb the steep learning curve which we, as seafarers, took years to absorb. Bunkering is an operation which can go right or go wrong, depending on the exchange of relevant data. Helicopter operation is another area which needs special care. If things do go disastrously wrong and you are involved in a major incident, dealing with the media is another area in which a bit of training in advance will pay off.

Vessel Resource Management

The International Maritime Organization Standards of Training and Watchkeeping Committee has realised the importance of human factors and teamwork on board and will require Vessel Resource Management to become part of seafarers’ training in the future. This is not just a bridge procedure; it involves everyone on board and ashore.

Cargowork and Lifting

Training for tanker operations, cargo work and anything involving lifting should pay particular attention to signals, messages and responses. A lot of accidents begin with a misunderstanding.

The Future

These are a few examples – there are many more! Modern communications are not only a subject to be learned, they are also a pathway for learning. The future of maritime training is likely to use more distance-learning techniques bringing trainees and trainers into closer touch. Why not take a look at our STCW catalogue and make better communications your top aim for 2010?