Crew Resource Management (CRM) is a system that attempts to minimise errors caused by human behaviour – or the ‘human element’ as it is termed in the maritime environment. Despite the provision of well-equipped ships and expertly trained crews, accidents still occur, and according to Chauvin8 human errors account for 75% of accidents at sea. The ‘human element’ refers to the interaction between humans, and the human/machine interface.

 Crew Resource Management applies to the maritime industry and is derived from Cockpit Resource Management in the airline industry. The introduction of Cockpit Resource Management is considered to be a factor in reducing air accidents that may be attributed to human factors. CRM includes elements from separate management systems, such as Bridge Resource Management (BRM), which applies to the navigation crew; Engine Resource Management (ERM) which applies to the engine-room crew; and Maritime Resource Management (MRM), which applies to a combination of navigation and engine-room officers. CRM includes shipboard personnel that are not part of a ship’s management regime, and applies to all ships’ crews. In essence, the same principles are executed in all systems with slightly different emphases. The principles of CRM are delivered in college courses and are designed to change people’s attitudes rather than skill-sets.

 Teamwork is a central theme of CRM. Traditionally, the centre of power on ships lay with the Master or Captain. They were the decision-makers and consultation with other crew was minimal. Personnel obeyed the master’s orders even if the action was considered to be incorrect. CRM attempts to change management style and culture on ships. Crews are encouraged to become actively involved in shipboard operations, including the use of advocacy, in particular the right to speak up if they notice problems or errors developing. Accidents are rarely the results of single point failures but are rather end results of error chains. If a link in the chain is broken, the incident is avoided. Advocacy (also known as challenge and response) is a new concept in maritime management. It requires a change in leadership style and is difficult in practice, particularly in multinational crew environments where ‘power-distances’ between officers and crew can vary considerably (discussed below in Cultural Differences Section).

 Good communications are essential to foster a teamwork culture. The use of the Standard Marine Communications Phrases (SMCP) is important. Ships operate internationally with multi-lingual crews. Although English is the standard maritime language, many personnel are not fluent English speakers and have difficulty understanding instructions. This is particularly problematic in crisis management operations. For port operations, whereby ships are navigating in confined and high-density traffic waters, safe communications for ship/port interfaces are vital. The introduction of the port pilot, (a navigator with local knowledge who directs the ship in port areas), can be de-stabilising for a team as an apparent ‘outsider’ temporarily joins the team to execute a short-term mission. CRM principles must be employed in this situation to include teamwork, communications, advocacy and good management.

CRM encourages the development of good situational awareness (knowing what is going on in the environment), the detection and efficient processing of environmental data. Good mental and physical health facilitate vigilance, attention, and memory; key cognitive processes required to achieve the best results. Team members must be employed so that the operation is not controlled by the actions of one person. Loss of situational awareness can be caused by stress and fatigue, a high workload, or inexperience, and can result in serious adverse consequences for the safe operation of the vessel.

Planning is vital, whether it is routine engine maintenance or navigating a passage from port to port. All team members are briefed about the plan and changes are made if required. After the mission is completed, (for example, after the ship arrives in port), personnel are de-briefed as part of a learning and developmental process to improve operations.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) are used to assist the team during operations. Company and shipboard management develop specific procedures to address routine and emergency tasks. Unplanned deviations from the plans are identified by personnel who then use advocacy to warn the mission co-ordinator. Procedures in crises are developed by using simulated exercises either on-board ship or in college simulation laboratories. If a planned deviation from the mission is required, managers will discuss the change in mission operation with relevant personnel, assess the advice given and make a decision. After the decision is executed, actions are monitored by the team to ensure that it is compliant with the new plan.

Crew Resource Management training will become mandatory under new international shipping requirements for shipping personnel as specified in the Standards for Certification and Training for Watch-keepers Code9. At present, training courses are varied in content, delivery and duration. In summary, CRM attempts to change shipboard personnel attitudes to minimise human error by developing a teamwork culture based on modern management principles. It is a realm where the interplay between organisational and health behaviour are intimately and sometimes intricately linked.