Capt. Robert M. Slack

Peer Reviewed

Abstract: MODERN TECHNOLOGY and high wages combine to force-feed tremendous advances in shipping, both ocean and in land. Sophisticated instrumentation combined with extensive application of automation enable what are described by the Japanese as “Gigantic” ships to be run with fewer men than the wartime Liberties. Unfortunately, advances in human capabilities do not always keep pace with the machines. The merchant marine represents a special problem with respect to relating modern technology to the environment and the men required to operate the equipment. In shorebased industry the specialist is always available, to solve problems beyond the capacity of the operator. At sea, particularly in the advent of bad weather, the specialist may well be weeks away. Ashore, environment may, to a certain extent, be controlled. No one has yet found a way to control the sea. As crew size is reduced and ship size increased, the range of knowledge of the ship’s officers must expand. In addition to operating the far more sophisticated equipment he must cope with such matters as discipline, health, and law-matters which are handled by specialists in narrow fields ashore. There is the further danger that as more automatic features are incorporated in the equipment the operator will give less attention to retaining or improving the skills he will need when the automatics fail, as will happen from time to time. Since it is obviously impossible to train a man in one lifetime in all the specialities he will require at sea, the solution is to make him reasonably competent, and to lower specific standards in favor of increasing safety margins. To cite one example, a requirement to determine a safe passing distance by radar to an accuracy of a tenth of a mile is absurd, if the distance in question is to be in the order of three miles. By allowing an error of, say, a quarter of a mile, the time of solution can be reduced from perhaps six minutes to thiiy seconds---a time more in keeping with the demandso f modern high-speedn avigation. Seamen, being traditionally individualists and independent thinkers, tend to perpetuate past methods and to resist the adoption of new processesw hich conflict with their past experience. There is also the factor of a frequent lack of meaningful communication between shore staff and the ship. These are all inhibiting factors which adversely affect the learning process and prevent rapid and effective application of new methods to old problems. Years are required to bring a man up from his entry into the industry to command of a ship, but the need is now. A solution is to provide adequate on-the-job training to upgrade the skills of men who have already demonstrated their present ability to operate yesterday’s ships. Such training coupled with correspondence courses and consultation with managementis far more effective than sending the officers to schools ashore. There is no doubt that in certain highly specialized areas only a school can provide the equipment and instructors to teach a specific subject. The general approach, however, is what is needed now, and the experience of severals teamship companies and a few tugboat companies has been that on board training is superior for most men. Both the Coast Guard and the Maritime Administration now recognize that some new methods developed in the course of such training programs are more practical than former methods. This paper will discuss some of the requirements of such programs, and how they can be met.
Published in: NAVIGATION: Journal of the Institute of Navigation, Volume 16, Number 4
Pages: 355 - 359
Cite this article: Slack, Capt. Robert M., "YESTERDAY'S TRAINING-TOMORROW'S SHIPS", NAVIGATION: Journal of The Institute of Navigation, Vol. 16, No. 4, Winter 1969-1970, pp. 355-359.
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