Tuesday 17th Jul, 2018

SPECIAL REPORT: Pilotage

Photo: Ian Ackerman
Photo: Ian Ackerman

DOWN south, along the verdant banks of Tasmania’s River Tamar, the folks at AMC Search are working on a fundamental re-think of the way pilots are trained.

The pilot training program is expanding on just working on parking ships into the non-technical side of the profession.

AMC Search general manager simulations Matt Best said with the technical side down pat, he’s looking at expanding in collaboration with Associate Professor Ben Brooks, Research Fellow at AMC’s National Centre for Ports and Shipping.

“We’re looking at social dynamics and the fundamentals of cognition; things that have been touched on in resource management courses, but we’re drilling down more into the science of it all,” he said.

“I’ve worked quite closely with Professor Ben Brooks from AMC and we’ve revamped our marine pilot training course. We’re getting away from the traditional, ‘okay this is what you need to do’, looking more at ‘this is why we need to do it this way’, and this is how we as humans operate, and this is how we sometimes don’t operate.”

An emerging issue is the fact that human brains don’t operate as well as we get older, and people suffer a degree of cognitive decline.

“This is one of the discussion points we throw into our course, especially because pilots have traditionally been of an older generation, and this has the potential to become an issue,” Mr Best said.

“Pilots are at the advantage to a certain extent because part of their job requires them to be pretty aware of their surroundings and responding to situations and maintaining situational awareness, so their brain is more active than it would be in a lot of other roles, but it still is becoming an issue.”

What is a team?

Another new addition to the pilot training course is a change in how a pilot’s team is defined.
Mr Best said the fundamental tenant of bridge resource management is that the pilot gets onto
the bridge, he forms a team and he establishes the culture of the bridge to get the ship through the port safely.

“It’s questionable what impact the pilot could have on a team in a five, 10 minute master-pilot exchange. So, if he walks onto a ship that has a dysfunctional culture, can he really fix that within a one hour’s pilotage?” Mr Best asked.

The answer? Generally no.

“This is another thing that the pilots need to contend with, and they need to say ‘well, this is what I’ve got to work with and I need to make the best use of what’s available to me’,” he said.

“It’s highly impractical for a pilot to turnaround to a master and say, ‘Captain, I don’t quite like the culture of your bridge, can you take your ship away and come back when everyone gets along a little bit better’.”

So, the answer is to redefine what a pilot’s bridge team. Mr Best acknowledged his colleague Professor Brooks again as a significant collaborator in this innovation.

“Instead looking at the pilot’s team being the pilot, master, officer of the watch, helmsman, etc, we’re suggesting the pilot’s team is in fact all of the port assets as well: the tugs, the VTS, linesmen on the wharf; anyone who actually belongs to the port,” he said.

“Then, you’ve also got the ship’s team: the master, chief officer, the crew, forward and aft for mooring, the guys down in the engine room, and the pilot’s key role is to get his pilots team to interact as best as possible with the master’s ship team.”

This way of looking at the pilot’s team can help a pilot if the bridge team is not as highly functioning as he’d like. If the ship’s team has limitations, he can strengthen them with his own port team.

VTS demystified

Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) is another area the AMS Search folks are zeroing in on for improved training.

Mr Best said there is often misunderstanding between VTS operators, pilots and authorities.

“From our experience with VTS training, there’s either a tendency to overestimate the authority of VTS, or underestimate the role that VTS plays,” he said.

“At its core, VTS is an information source and the VTS has the potential to expand the pilots’ awareness of what’s happening, drawing their attention to things they may have not been aware of, things that have come about in a short amount of time.”

Mr Best said a section on VTS has been included in the pilot training program to give a yardstick of common ground.

“We go over the level of authority that VTS operators have, with scenarios in which they can exercise that authority, but they’re not someone looking over the pilots’ shoulder with a big stick to hit them over their knuckles at the slightest variation – this is often the misconception.”

He went on to say that VTS operators have some degree of oversight where vessels are behaving in a manner that isn’t standard, they can either provide information or ask a question.

“But, VTS is certainly not there to second-guess the pilots or to watch them with an eagle-eye,” he said.

Human factors tools

The simulator at AMC Search is an important part of pilot training at the institution, and a series of human factors tools has been added to its functions.

“We’ve long been able to provide physical plots of the simulations runs, the passage of the vessel, how they use their engine, but what we’ve developed in the past six months or so is a series of human factors tools, which through the completion, at the end of each run, the participants can measure their own internal performance,” Mr Best said.

Participants can measure how they felt their work level was, how their situational awareness was, and their stress levels, information that is then captured in a database.

“We’ve got the option that we can provide people when they conduct simulations, they can always get their plots of the technical aspect of pilotage. But there is the potential to say: this is how the ship performed, and this is how the person performed,” Mr Best said.

“It adds an additional layer, to our training.”

By measuring these human factors, trainers and trainees can monitor progress through the program.

“It’s just another avenue for improvement,” Mr Best said.

“If there is somebody who, let’s say, has a certain response to a stimuli in a certain situation, they freeze or they’re not as responsive, we can say, how do we develop this? This is a trait that they’ve exhibited consistently, what tools we can put in place to enable them to better cope?”

From the print edition November 30, 2017

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