The four Ts of risk management

30 Jan 2023 The Navigator

Risk management is an important skill for everyone to learn, especially young navigators. Captain Kuba Szymanski, Secretary General of Inter Manager, outlines his professional approach to risk, gained from a lifetime of maritime experience.

Today’s world seem to be very risk averse. No doubt, you have been brought up in an environment where you have heard phrases like: “Don’t do that! Be careful! Stop doing this!” over and over again. That’s all very well, but this approach is not really sustainable. Shipping has been around for many, many years and what I really like about our industry is the fact that we all learn from each other. We have all had to work our way up. It would be wrong to say that we have never made mistakes or errors during our training. However, hopefully, we have all learned a great deal from them. In the next few minutes of your reading I will try to put across the argument for actively taking risks. However, I don’t suggest doing so in the absence of any experience or forethought. This is not about risk with no questions asked! Rather, I would urge you to consider any risks you are facing in the light of the rich and diverse experience that humanity has learned by taking similar courses of action in the past, along with the inspiration you yourself have doubtless gained from your own career and team interactions.

The four ‘T’s’

There are many theories regarding risk. One that I have been using and observing during my professional life is based around four Ts.

Some people love risk. They often take a risk just as it comes, with no attempt to reduce its impact or change its outcome. This is an extremely dangerous approach. I cannot imagine any of you making your way to where you are today by following this approach, no questions asked.

Most of us prefer to temper risks by taking action to mitigate against their more worrying implications. This is what I like to do personally, and have done in probably 80% of my time at sea.

In addition, there are situations where the risk cannot be tempered and remains far too great for our appetite. In such cases, it could be preferable to terminate the activity, or transfer it to someone else who knows how to deal with it, or to another time when it less likely to cause us serious problems.

Tempering before taking

So, what helps us temper risks to make them more palatable before we take them? Here are three key areas:


Schools spend large amounts of time trying to educate us about the surrounding world: what is healthy, what is beneficial and what is excellent for us human beings. Great schools expose us to a wide range of teachings to allow us to build up our own practical knowledge.

After school, we then take a step up. We attend maritime colleges that focus on specific sea-based risks; educating us about them but now also providing tools that help us to deal with them and mitigate against unwanted outcomes. For example, when we are preparing to climb any height onboard ship, we are taught to ensure that the ladder is properly secured, conditions allow safe access, and the area is well lit – all to make sure an accident does not happen.

However, should any of these measures fail, we also gear up for the consequences of the accident. We make sure that any negative implications are minimised by wearing PPE and using a harness and securing it so it can protect us effectively, should we lose footage. These two approaches allow us to temper the risk being taken by addressing the likelihood of an accident and working to reduce the severity of any consequences arising from it.

Organisational arrangements

The organisation employing us sets out the procedures, rules, regulations, codes and best practices to use when dealing with specific risks. This is what your ship manager, your senior officers and you yourself are doing by following correct safety protocol and, maybe more importantly, by checking and cross-checking your work and that of your colleagues.


It would be really great if your company could create an atmosphere on board that empowers you to suggest improvements every time you test existing procedures, run through checklists and discover anything something amiss, or which could be done better. This would allow everyone onboard to benefit from your input and your experience of being an individual “on the shop floor.”


For me, people are the most important ingredient of risk management. Imagine a football team of people who have never played together. How likely are they to win? They may try not to lose, but that’s not the same. In my opinion, a ship’s crew is like a football team. We perform far better when we know and trust each other. Without trust, interaction between human beings can grow very restricted.

Here’s something you can do to help build trust among the team. After your watch, stay for five or ten minutes to talk to a fellow officer. Express interest in their life and try to find out what makes them tick. See what you have in common and work out how you can help each other succeed in your respective roles and responsibilities. Speak to people during coffee breaks and actively participate in discussions and social events. A well-gelled team is far more likely to look after each other than an unfamiliar one. This will translate to better performance and, in the context of risk management, a safer ship.

Terminating and transferring

So, while I urge you again not to shy away from taking risks, make sure that they are properly tempered first. Also, don’t forget that if the risk seems insurmountable, you still have two other methods to consider – terminate it or transfer it.

Termination – calling off an activity – may seem simple at first glance, but it can actually be very difficult to achieve. You can feel huge pressure from the limited time available to act, as well as from the potential reaction from peers and the worry that others might think you are a failure.

However, if the three tempering elements mentioned above – education, organisation and people – have not made you feel happy and comfortable about taking on the risk in question, then you must flag it up and express your concerns right away. This is the first signal that the risk needs to be terminated. It needn’t be terminated for ever; just perhaps until extra resources are assigned or adequate experience or training has been gained. It takes a brave individual to suggest terminating a risk and this is where real heroes can show their courage and value.

Alternatively, the best way forward may be accepting the fact that a particular risk needs to be transferred. This could mean being passed to others to perform – for example, by calling the Master. Or it could benefit from being rescheduled transferred to another, more suitable time. For example: completing hot work during dry docking; painting the ship when at anchor; or correcting charts when in port and not at sea. Again, there is no shame in this as safety must be paramount at all times.

May the four Ts keep you safe in your voyages and career.