Look out! Accidents and their causes

01 Oct 2019 The Navigator

Captain David Nichol, Senior Loss Prevention Executive from the UK P&I Club, casts a spotlight on several common accidents and examines their likely causes, linking back to previous issues of The Navigator for further help and advice

A modern ship’s bridge is equipped with an impressive array of integrated, state-of-the-art navigational and communications equipment, designed to enhance navigational safety. Nevertheless, ship collisions, groundings and other navigation related accidents, sometimes involving loss of life or damage to the marine environment, unfortunately continue to occur.

Various factors around human error, including complacency, commercial pressure, fatigue and even an overload of information, play their part. The need to follow correct and thorough safety procedures around navigation is as important as ever. It is the experience of the UK P&I Club that the following fundamental issues persist:

Look out for your lookout
Despite advances in shipboard navigation technology, the basic principle of keeping a safe navigational watch, as set out in SOLAS and STCW regulations, remains as important as ever. Too many accidents are caused by watchkeepers simply negelecting to look out of the window regularly, or to use radar properly. Find out more: Navigator issue 19, Lookout

Situational awareness

Situational awareness means knowing what is going on around the ship at all times, enhancing the ability of the OOW to quickly recognise any ambiguities in the navigational situation and to take action before a hazardous situation develops.
Find out more: Navigator issue 6, Radar


ECDIS made simple
Unfortunately, ECDIS is not always used properly or to its full potential. In particular, continuously overlaying the display with radar imagery, AIS and other navigational input may clutter the display and cause difficulty in processing or recognising information. Too much information is as dangerous as too little, so it is important to maintain the distinct functions of the chart, radar and other aids to navigation.
Find out more: Navigator issue 5, ECDIS

Over reliance on GPS
GPS is an invaluable aid to navigation. However, the exclusive use of GPS in coastal or confined waters may not always be appropriate and is often a contributory factor in ship groundings. Full use of radar ranges and bearings, visual bearings and transits should also be made as a primary means of fixing the vessel’s position.
Find out more: Navigator issue 4, Positioning

Bridge Resource Management
Sometimes, the presence of the Master on the bridge has resulted in confusion as to who has responsibility for the navigation of the vessel. The guiding principle is that OOWs must continue to execute their duties normally until the Master positively declares that they have the conn. Junior officers should be confident to express doubts or ask questions without fear of being reprimanded
Find out more: Navigator issue 7, Bridge Resource Management

Dangerous distractions
Superfluous or persistent bridge system alarms are distracting – and may result in the alarms being inappropriately disabled, so they do not sound when they are needed! Keep distractions to a minimum, including music and videos, and even any duties not essential to keeping a safe navigational watch. OOWs should not do any other tasks that would compromise their core duties.
Find out more: Navigator issue 2, Collision Avoidance

Fatigue causes failures​​​​​​​
A fatigued or overworked watch-keeper is likely to make mistakes or fall asleep on duty with potentially serious consequences. Where practical compliance with STCW is not possible due to the demands of the trading pattern of the vessel, appropriate additional crew should be engaged.
Find out more: Navigator issue 8, Communication​​​​​​​

Commercial pressure​​​​​​​
Sometimes Masters, under real or perceived pressure to arrive at a port in time to make a tide or preserve the vessel’s itinerary, have taken unacceptable risks by cutting corners or not proceeding at a safe speed in areas of high traffic density or restricted visibility. The safe navigation of the ship must always be the clear priority.
Find out more: Navigator issue 20, Navigation Assessments

Complacency costs​​​​​​​
A familiar routine and low levels of stimulation may induce boredom and a lack of attention to detail in navigational duties. This will erode the ability of the OOW to recognise or react to a changing situation. This can be a particular problem on regular liner services.
Find out more: Navigator issue 13, Error Management​​​​​​​