Grey Matter. Too much information?

Posted by Witherbys on 30th Jun 2021

Grey Matter. Too much information?

Marine Professional 3 - 2020

Grey Matter
Too much information?

Of all the professional attributes required to fit an individual for the role of Master or Chief Engineer of a modern merchant ship – leadership, tact, decisiveness, patience, prudence – the list goes on and on – speed reading skills must be high on the priority list. Vast amounts of information, all to be read and digested, descends daily on the hapless heads of these senior officers. While it might be tempting, none can be ignored.

Much of this blizzard of words will be safety related , so you might suggest that there can be no objection to its despatch, whether in the form of directions, regulations, recommendations, notices to mariners, advice. Like one of the world’s great rivers, it flows from multiple sources; from government agencies, flag states, classification societies, coastal and port states, port authorities, the owner, the manager, the charterer, the P&I Clubs and other insurers. It means well, and in the eyes of those who despatch it, its importance cannot be denied.

If you were a bit cynical, you might suggest that an awful lot of this valuable wordage is designed not for the edification of those aboard ship, but to protect the reputations of the despatchers. And as for the poor old recipients, they know that if they do not read the stuff, it may well be held against them in the event of some regrettable incident aboard ship.

The trouble is that there is just so much wordage a sentient human being is able to digest, amid this tsunami of information. It isn’t that a ship’s senior officer has nothing else to do with his or her time as the vessel wanders around the world.

Some years ago I spend a few days aboard a gigantic ULCC as she made her way up the Channel into Rotterdam. She had been initially built by an oil company which had fitted her out with taste and style, her saloon and recreation spaces elegantly panelled, almost like a country house. However, the ambience of these spaces had been somewhat diminished by almost the entire surface of these bulkheads being covered by safety notices taped over the faux-wood panels. Thousands of words, exhortations , regulations and advice were displayed for the benefit of the crew.

I asked the Mate if anyone actually read this stuff and he looked at me as if I was mad. It was, he inferred, put there as “insurance”, to cover somebody’s backside in the event that there was some sort of accident. In such an event, the agency or individual who had directed these bills to be posted was able to say, with a clear conscience, that duty had been done and if the notice had been read and the advice followed, the accident would not have occurred.

It is a problem, collating and collecting this stuff in a form that it doesn’t drive crazy those who might actually benefit from the information. All of which brings me to a book I have been recently reading – Safety and Health at Sea, written by Arne Sagen, who has more than half a century of experience in the business of keeping ships safe. Arne has taken on board the sheer volume of safety-related information and has, in the 2nd edition of his book, managed to collect an astonishing amount of sensible information in a markedly manageable form. It is easily digested, practical information, designed specifically for practical and above all, busy people.

He rapidly shoots down those folk who might suggest that “accidents happen”, suggesting that it is both possible and practical to reduce them and make a meaningful improvement in the shape of safer ships, fewer tragedies and more constructive attitude to safety. He also brings from a long experience in maritime safety a conviction that what we call the “human element” is the real key to any improvement in the shape of both culture and individual attitudes.

The book is easily accessible, covering safety systems, tools for the improvement of safety, the improvement of health on board ship, safety and health training and how this can be “self-assessed” by crew members. There is sensible material on check lists and how to use them properly, some telling examples of human behaviour causing accidents and a guide to the most important IMO and EU regulations. You are not dismayed by this book, or overwhelmed by the number of its words. It’s worth checking out on

Learn more about Safety and Health at Sea, 2nd Edition here.