N2 People Skills

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Superyacht CRM - One of Nine - Situation Awareness

While many know CRM as "Customer relationship management", the one we are concerned about here is "Crew Resource Management". 

 In our last blog post we mentioned a crew of a Superyacht that went through a real MOB incident. If you read their account of the MOB you will find many places where CRM skills show up or would have been advantageous. This blog is about one skill in CRM, that can help you understand and see the clues to human error. The idea of going through any accident or incident is to learn from them, not judge.
Why Crew Resource Management

Superyachts have evolved into vessels that require significant amount of technical knowledge to operate (run) them, and just as machinery can let you down because of poor design and-or poor operator training (trying to maneuver a jet powered tender at low speed), so to can system effectiveness be reduced by human factors and the variables that relate to them (human error).

CRM goals are to improve crew effectiveness by minimizing team preventable errors (human error), optimize crew coordination and communication, and maximize risk and loss management. It provides teams-crew a framework to process all information and formulate action plans while leaning to recognize the three levels of human error.
  • Slips
  • Mistakes
  • Errors
CRM requires that we reach beyond evaluation of individuals, to that of the entire team (crew) responsible for safety aboard. Different industries use slightly different skills in CRM, but one that is globally accepted as a founding skill is situation awareness.

In CRM terms, Situation awareness is the ability to identify, process and comprehend the critical elements (parts) of information about what is happening to the crew (team), with regards to the system.
In a dictionary,
Situation- facts, how things stand, the lay of the land, what's going on
Awareness- consciousness, recognition, realization; understanding, grasp, appreciation, knowledge, insight; familiarity; formal cognizance.
Basically knowing what is going on around you.


Even though CRM has a lot to do with team, the individual factor will always play a part. Human Nature, (inherited and Universal), Culture (group specific and learned), and personality (specific to the individual, inherited and learned), all bring weight to bear in any given situation. With these there are input factors as show in the diagram-

Situational awareness has three components: awareness, reality and perception, and these three are looked at through five input factors.
  • Environment the weather can have great bearing at sea, also Environment deals with the mental models as well.
  • Regulatory is always with us, sometimes it can feel like a spare leg we do not need, but SOP's and codes are put there for good reason.
  • Organizational is about the Yacht-crew-team culture and general policies as a team, are they tight or loose, strict or casual.
  • Group is all about the crew as they work as together in their organizational environment.
  • Individual knowledge, skills, personalities, motivation, and phsysical and emotional states.
      "under nearly full sail, travelling at 11 knots in two to three metres of swell"
    "Wearing a harness but no life jacket, I climbed up onto the boom"(PFD)
     (follow the link to read the whole MOB)

    If a crew has been sailing in winds that require a reef , they most lightly have been in some foul weather conditions with larger seas. As the true wind drops (apparent wind as well as they are on a run) it can bring a sense of calm and relief. Affecting all five input factors.

    "We have shaken out numerous reefs in a similar manner in the last four years and 50,000 miles"

    When we loose sight of the bubble of awareness, things get flattened out.  20 to 25 knots of breeze with a two-to-three-metre swell may feel small when you are on a 169' yacht, but try that in a 26ft sloop, or as a MOB,  it soon changes from an OK (perception) to a bad (reality). 

    Now let's look at the five input factors through only two components.

    • Environmental weather factors, running with the wind less feel for the need of a PFD perhaps if the sea had been 5-6m. Mental environment (mental model) no one else ever wears a PFD, we are professionals. 
    • Regulatory, got a harness so I won't  need a PFD.  
    • Organizational, no one has ever fallen in before doing this, so preparedness of a MOB may well be stalled. Confusion over when you have to wear a PFD, force 2,5,8 storm ?
    • Group, he's knows what he is doing so we don't have to worry (mental model).  Never had a MOB yet (mental model).
    • Individual, Done this in worse, never had a problem, can't be bothered to get a PFD, no one else ever wears one. I won't fall in. (mental models) I 'm a strong swimmer.
    Reality is a strong elixir. But knowing barriers that can reduce our ability to understand a situation is also important. Here are just a few:
    • Perception based one faulty information, past experiences, expectations, and our individual lenses in perception and judgment.
    • Excessive motivation, job related, maverick etc.
    • Complacency  assuming all is under control, slow day, relaxing guard and vigilance.
    • Overload, distraction, fixation.
    • Fatique is a killer of situation awareness.
    • Poor communication equals poor situational awareness.

    Even though most crews are aware of SOP's we are learning that the human brain is very good at cutting corners and staying efficient (the brain). "If you don't use it, loose it"  is now more than a piece of trivia. Training and development of superyacht crew in CRM makes economical, functional and psychological sense. Like any skill set, CRM has to be constantly maintained and developed to bear it's full bounty.

    SOP's are really a reminder to check in with reality, we all know how to lift a heavy weight (with our legs, not our back) but few of us (unless we train regularly) probably do so. So how do you know if you are not doing something correctly, check in with reality. 

    We have all been there, doing something and knowing better, getting away with something and thinking, I was lucky there! So with that said here are some clues as to loss, or diminished situational awareness.  If you or the team feel any of these, you should think Situation Awareness.
    • Unsureness or a gut feeling about something, confusion
    • No one watching or looking for possible hazards
    • Use of improper procedures
    • Departure from regulations
    • Ambiguity
    • Unresolved discrepancies
    • Fixation or preoccupation
    SOP's and deviation from them can be caused by two things and are part of being aware, errors of omission, failing to do something that should have been done (checking equipment), or errors of commission, accomplishing an action incorrectly or doing something that should not be done (e.g. knowing a risk and not taking an appropriate action).  This is a slippery slope, in that every time a deviation from SOP's is successful, it reinforces the act of getting away with it. This can lead to looking at the deviation as "normal" and end up with crew members not even recognizing that this is a deviation, because it has been done like this so many times by so many people.

    Maintaining Situation Awareness in CRM is about team. It occurs through effective communication and a combination of several other actions by the individual and crew.
    • Recognize and make sure others are aware when crew deviate from SOP's.
    • Monitor the performance of other crew members (behavioral safety).
    • Provide information in advance, don't wait to be asked if it relates to team performance.
    • Identify potential or existing problems, possible faulty equipment related to your task.
    • Understand yours and other crew member's tasks, how they contribute to overall success.
    • Communicate your course of action, don't assume others know what your course is. Share your mental model.
    • Demonstrate awareness of the task, plan ahead and communicate this to crew to share your mental model.
    • Continually asses the situation. Working and living aboard a superyacht provides a dynamic environment, so providing a need to check if crew and self are safely and effectively accomplishing the task at hand.
    • Define expectations clearly so mental models are shared.
    (All extra important when you have new crew aboard, perhaps for delivery)

      It can be easy to to loose sight of what is really going on during high stress situations. This is why it is important that we know (and develop) what behavior is effective in keeping us situationally aware.

      Situational awareness is one critical factor in our ability to respond effectively to a situation. Maintaining a high level of situational awareness will better prepare crews to respond to unexpected situations whether they have to do with MOB, a dragging anchor, a fellow crew member missing or a guest request.  It is just one of many skills in CRM

      My thanks to the Captain and crew of Meteor for allowing the whole industry to benefit from their unfortunate incident.