In the recent past, much emphasis is being placed on Navigational Audits, now that this procedure forms a requirement of the TMSA and are becoming more and more common in other trades too, such as bulk and container carriers.

While the audit itself is extremely important, equally is the choice of surveyor and the company employed to have this carried out.

There is still a lacuna – There is currently NO INDUSTRY requirement NOR standard to audit navigational activities. A ship spends possibly 90% of its time underway at sea where navigation is the principle activity being undertaken, but unfortunately does not enjoy the same proportion of scrutiny.

It is only the Oil Majors through their TMSA initiative that make any reference to navigational audits and then these are not exactly requirements, nor do they specify frequency nor standard to be adopted.

Going further, for the world fleet, it is assumed that Navigation will be audited under the ISM Code requirements. The external auditors for the ISM DOC are normally Class Surveyors who are also normally from an Engineering background. As such they are hardly qualified to audit navigation. Ask yourself how many questions directed at Navigation were last brought up at your DOC audit?

In a similar way, the same auditors are responsible for auditing navigation during shipboard ISM SMC audits. The frequency of these audits is every two and a half years and in that time, there could have been 7 or more different Masters. A reliable finding can hardly be achieved. There is no requirement in the ISM Code for even to sail on the ships.

The vast majority of audits of navigation are limited to in port only, where the audit is based on records alone. Without intentionally trying to hide incomplete checks, ship’s officers may not be recording the true picture of what is happening and thus the audit results may be skewed.

It is thus imperative that independent Navigation audits must form part of a ship owners / managers risk assessment modality, and Constellation Marine services have the experience and wherewithal to assist prudent operators achieve the level of Navigation requirements to keep their ships and crew safe at sea.

Rarely it is understood that Navigation is a human activity – it falls squarely into the Human Element sector. One of the problems of audits is the best result a ship’s Master and crew can achieve is a score – therefore a more holistic approach to the audits are required – encouraging the ship’s Master and officers to feel professional about their own navigation.

Besides the exercise of filling up the standard adopted checklist, a more fruitful principal to adopt would be “far better a willing volunteer than a conscript”. To that end we think any shortcomings should be identified, the individuals and group (Bridge Team) shown what is wrong and why it is wrong and then allow them to put corrected practices in place. Policy or procedural “Non-Conformities” would be reported to the company for follow up. Deviations from existing shipboard procedures would be pointed out onboard and the opportunity to correct these given to the master’s and officers.

Our experience has shown we can create improvements from the bottom up rather than top down. Many officers have just never had the opportunity to see how things should be done properly or are aware of how they should be done.

Over the years, there have been numerous initiatives, both in technical developments and training. We now have sophisticated radars, ARPAs and AIS to assist in avoiding collision; we have GPS and ECDIS to provide continuous position indication and monitoring. We even have VDRs to record what is happening.

Training has been increased and now includes Bridge Team Management and even sophisticated CBT on some vessels.
But many of the navigational incidents are the result of a failure to implement basic navigational actions such as maintaining an “active” lookout, plot other vessels and determine if risk of collision exists – and take appropriate action according to the COLREGs.

Constellation Marine services believe Risk Management and auditing can be used as tools to monitor and/or improve individual skills as well as those of the whole bridge team. Improvements to existing Safety Management Systems can also be identified within an audit carried out holistically rather than mechanically.