VDR Assessments

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Loss Prevention

The Role of Voyage Data Recorders in Navigational Assessments and On-board Self-assessments

Captain Richard Meikle, Solis London, looks at how we can use VDRs as a cost effective method for navigational assessments.

I was recently invited onto the bridge of a large passenger ferry during a scheduled crossing and the master was chatting to me about the company’s safety manager who was on the ferry ahead of us. The master commented, “If he had been onboard for this crossing we would have all had to have been in ‘Audit Mode’”.

This off-the-cuff remark made me think about how we carry out navigation assessments and particularly the role of the voyage data recorder (VDR). We all heighten our performance when we know we are being observed. We do it during audits, superintendent’s visits, or indeed whenever we are trying, rightly, to show the ship’s operation at its best. However, that may not be how we routinely behave while navigating on the bridge. To ensure that bridge operations are effective, and areas for improvement identified, we need to understand how bridge teams operate during routine operations.

The VDR, fitted at the back of the bridge continuously and quietly monitoring how we usually go about our professional work, is an invaluable tool that can help us to better understand exactly how we work. The VDR can be be used by the bridge-team as an effective resource to review their own operations. This practice increases their familiarity with the routine removal of data, provides a check on the quality of the data being recorded and offers the opportunity for self-analysis and improvement.

Attitudes to the routine use of VDR, beyond accident investigation, varie greatly across the industry.  Some cruise-ship owners already transmit VDR data from their ships back to operations rooms ashore for real-time review and storage, which ensures that information is saved and fit for purpose.  However, many marine managers ignore the potential for a system that is already fitted, but perhaps without a functioning playback facility on-board, or an effective method of reviewing the data in the office to ensure that the system is working as expected.

VDR playback has many advantages when used as an auditing tool by managers ashore, either as part of a wider navigation assessment process or as a stand-alone auditing tool.

An auditor attending a deep-sea vessel could take around four or five days to witness the performance of bridge teams, whereas by using the VDR an arrival, departure or a drill can be analysed for content and behaviour within a day, or even less.

The cost of reviewing bridge team management in this way has the potential to significantly reduce audit costs, or more importantly, increase the frequency of assessments that can be carried out across the fleet. A combination of both on-board and remote VDR assessments appears to be the preferable solution.

Resistance to VDR remote assessments, mainly due to the potential for the misuse of information recovered from ‘the spy in the cab’, is understandable.

Masters, officers and company managers need to understand these concerns when establishing how VDR analysis will be used and how this process could impact on those being assessed. It is therefore essential that the assessment is transparent, documented and fully understood by everyone involved.

There are further advantages when VDR assessments are carried out by a third-party.

Personality and bias can be removed from the assessment process and an impartial assessment of both company procedures and bridge team performance made. Analysis of the assessment and recommendations for improvement can then be made to managers ashore as well as to masters and officers at sea.

The benefit of understanding how we work when not in ‘Audit Mode’ is an essential part of improving how the on-board teams operate.

Analysis of routine operations can consider the management systems in place, how these systems are being used and how improvements to either could be achieved.

When VDR is used to its potential it can become an essential part of how bridge operations are reviewed, with significantly more advantages than drawbacks.

Managers, masters and officers should consider how best to use their VDR data and playback systems to ensure that safety-critical bridge operations are effective, especially when no one is looking.

For more information on the use of VDRs for navigational assessments please contact

Richard Meikle
r.meikle@solis-marine.com.

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