Managing Seafarer Performance

December 7, 2017 11:17 am

Across a range shipping industry events, the need to address the human element in maritime incidents has been discussed. So, what can we do to ensure that people are helped to stay out of trouble?



Keeping people “out of trouble”, meaning reducing the likelihood of accidents happening, is of course the best bet. As the old saying goes, if you think training is expensive, wait until you count the cost of an accident.

So, pre-emptive, proactive training and preparation is vital. Ensuring seafarers have the knowledge and skills is one thing – but they have to be in a position to use them, ensuring they can make the right decisions, and to take the right actions.

One of the primary concerns about the constant problems surrounding the human element is the fact that seafarers are often under intense pressure, and that is the enemy of good decision making.

Where there are tired, stressed, put upon crews – then there are far more likely to be accidents and incidents. This is not just an equation where knowledge translates into the right result, there needs to be performance management too. Seafarers need to be provided with the right tools, but so too the right environment to use them.



 So, what is the true scale of problem today? Well, according to the very latest safety data from the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), the same old problems out at sea seem to persist.

EMSA recently released its annual overview of marine casualties and incidents, describing accidents reported by E.U. Member States. The report cited that during 2016, there were 106 reported fatalities, 957 injured, 26 ships lost and 123 investigations launched. While the number of serious casualties and incidents remained at levels similar to previous years, a limited but continuing increase of less serious accidents reported was noted.

The report also had a look back over the past five years, to explore the wider trends and developments. Over the period 2011-2016, half of the casualties were of a navigational nature, such as contacts, grounding/stranding or collision.  EMSA states that human error represented 60 percent of accidental events, and 71 percent of accidental events were linked to shipboard operations as a contributing factor.

Among occupational accidents, 40 percent were attributed to slipping, stumbling and falling. While interestingly, of all casualties, 42 percent took place in port areas. Thankfully, the number of ships lost has reportedly dropped by 50 percent since 2014, and there has been a general decrease in fatalities and injuries since 2014.



Good and bad news

Good and bad news

So, the latest figures do show some cause for optimism – there is some improvement in fatalities and injuries, which is great. We are also losing fewer ships now, as we have seen a hugely significant 50% drop in losses in a 2-year period.

However, there is no room for complacency or for patting ourselves on the back. The industry still has much work to do. The fact that seafarers are still deemed to be “responsible” for such a large proportion of accidents is a major cause for concern.

Why is this so? Why, in the face of such a robust training and certification regime, with port State controls in place, and with so many shipping companies trying to do the right thing – why are the figures so stubbornly high?

Well actually, 60% is pretty good. Which may seem an odd thing to say. Looking at figures for car driving, research suggests that 94% of accidents are attributed to human error. So, perhaps we need to appreciate that things may be bad, but they could be worse.



For some companies and organisations, the answer when it comes to reducing the human effect is to reduce the human influence. The headlong drive for autonomous ships, shows that for some the answer is to get rid of seafarers all together.

While there is some logic to that argument, there is still such a long way to go before the “unmanned” future comes to pass, that we can’t idly sit by and say that everything will be ok. We cannot wait for the 10, 15 or perhaps even 20 years to elapse before we see the global fleet managing itself.

There are years ahead of us in which seafarers are still the answer to the question of maritime safety. So, we need to act now. We need to take the right approaches, following the strategic aims of reducing accidents, with the tactical elements which will bring the results which are needed onboard ships.

Uppermost in this, as we have stated earlier, is the concept of “performance management”. As you will no doubt have seen and heard, KVH Videotel has recently launched a major new innovation to help shipping companies and seafarers alike. How, though, can that translate into saving lives, the environment and ensuring greater efficiencies at sea?



Videotel Performance Manager

Videotel Performance Manager

Our new Videotel Performance Manager solution will make massive strides for improving training and certification – but there are other steps needed too. Performance is not only what people do, but ensuring the right environment for them to do it.

So, what are the pillars of an operational environment which translates to good performance? Well, obviously fit, rested and happy seafarers have a better chance of performing well. Even one underperforming seafarer can cause a problem, so there needs to be every effort to make sure the team works, and the ship performs.

Here are KVH Videotel’s six top tips for managing seafarer performance:

  1. Find out the facts – where an employee is underperforming, don’t jump to conclusions find out what is really going on. Do they have the proper resources and training? Are there outside influences distracting them from their work? A good employer cares about its people as well as results, so find out what is going on.
  2. Encourage Communication – Talking with people, finding out what their perspectives are, these are vital elements of managing performance.
  3. Create a positive work environment – Is the work environment conducive to the results that are expected? A work culture that allows employees to voice their opinion and reinforce that their opinions are heard can mean a healthy and happy work environment. This in turn is more likely to foster safety and better results.
  4. Provide effective training – Of course, the better training people receive, the better chance they have of delivering on expectations. Don’t make the mistake of thinking training is a one-time thing. Training should be ongoing so that employees can continue to develop their skills. Ongoing training is the way to continuously improve employee performance.
  5. Acknowledge contributions – Give praise where praise is due – to keep the impetus going!
  6. Performance management – Ensuring that you monitor employee performance regularly and consistently is vitally important. Having Performance Manager in place means that problems can be spotted, and actions taken. It means that employees, managers and clients can be reassured that the right things are being done to ensure performance levels.

What are your thoughts and experiences of seafarer performance? Have you worked for companies that have innovated, or ones that have always kept doing the same things? We would love to hear your thoughts on the issue.