WAYPOINT - Two-way mentoring

01 Jun 2017 The Navigator

Dr Andy Norris, an active Fellow of The Nautical Institute and the Royal Institute of Navigation, explains how mentoring across the ranks can break down the mysteries of bridge equipment and technology.

Getting to grips with bridge equipment on a vessel will naturally result in discussion between bridge staff members; much of it definitely of a mentoring nature. This is an area where appropriate reverse mentoring can be particularly effective. Newer colleagues may have learnt many useful aspects not covered when older staff undertook their training. When new technology arrives (ECDIS being a good example) the associated training for existing officers is typically crammed into a very short course, which can mean that a lot of information is not properly assimilated.

As bridge systems steadily evolve, they accommodate newer user interface concepts that must be learned. Such changes can often come more naturally to younger users, particularly when they reflect recent developments in consumer technology. Younger people have not been so highly influenced by years of using older equipment, so their expectations of user interfaces are generally more open, allowing them to adapt to different systems more quickly.

During the 2020s we are likely to see major changes on the bridge as we increasingly embrace the advantages offered by e-navigation. This is likely to continue to emphasise the value of reverse mentoring, just as the mandatory and optional fitment of ECDIS on most vessels has done during the current decade.

Familiarisation: a good start
Anybody new to the bridge, whatever their seniority, must be familiarised with every piece of bridge equipment that they will be using before undertaking a watch. This is an obvious concept and is embedded in legislative requirements. However, different companies take quite different views on the formality and detail of how this should be achieved.

Whatever the quality of that initial familiarisation, it is really only a starter. Detailed knowledge comes with the actual use of the specific system on that particular vessel under different situations. This is greatly assisted by relevant discussions with colleagues and by reading the equipment handbooks. Importantly, this learning never comes to an end.

Even quite junior staff will often be able to give highly useful knowledge to a newly arrived officer, however senior, on the detailed operation of the fitted equipment, especially any vessel-specific issues. In return, they may receive valuable comments about equipment fitted on other vessels and some useful observations about their vessel’s equipment as seen from a different point of view.

Unfortunately, today’s user manuals and their digital equivalents tend to be long and complex, which can put people off reading them in much detail. Fortunately, there will always be colleagues who are willing to put in the reading required and pass on what they discover. If that’s not you, it’s worth establishing who these people are and learning from them. However, all bridge staff should take at least an occasional look at the user manuals, whatever their experience or seniority. Not least, any useful information can then be mentored on to others.

As we get more experienced, we generally become better at determining our strengths and, more importantly, the limitations in our knowledge. Discussion with other practitioners, whatever their differences in seniority and experience, is a great way of assessing our own limitations and imparting useful knowledge to others. A two-way mentoring mindset helps everybody improve.


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