Avoiding the Single Point of Failure in BRM


BRM or Bridge Resource Management is much more than a buzzword.  Growing out of the research and successes of Crew Resource Management (CRM) in the aviation industry, leaders in the maritime industry such as Captain Richard Beadon have taken these tenets to new levels of effectiveness.

The American Practical Navigator, better known simply as Bowditch, speaks of BRM as “the study of the resources available to the navigator and the exploitation of them in order to conduct safe and efficient voyages.”  A mouthful for sure, but boiling BRM and CRM down to the basics of risk management and human error management, we can see that one of the main goals is the elimination of the single point of failure, or in this case, error.

Looking at a variety of maritime casualty reports and in particular, the collision report of the tug Fred Bouchard, tug Seafarer and vessel Balsa 37 in 1993, we can see that errors by one person alone on each vessel contributed significantly to the resulting collisions and damages.  While it could be debated whether these errors constituted simple mistakes or were violations of procedures and rules, they were errors that were allowed to propagate.

With the advent of BRM, all crew on the bridge are encouraged, if not outright required, to speak up if they see or perceive an error.  Unfortunately, it was not so in 1993 where on the Balsa 37 in particular, the ship’s officers stood by while the pilotage and navigation were entirely in the hands of the embarked pilot.  It is all too easy for a single person to become distracted from the primary task of navigating the vessel safely from point A to point B.

It is for this reason that the concept of the bridge team developed.  Unfortunately, the practice of BRM is not as easy as the concept.  It takes time and commitment to implement a robust program and create a culture where BRM can be effective.  It takes only one captain speaking harshly to a junior officer when a problem – real or perceived – is identified to effectively shut down that officer from, possibly ever, identifying another problem.

How can we actively encourage all on the bridge that they can speak up when risk is identified?

BRM training in the classroom and simulator is certainly the first step, but cannot be the last.  Actively reiterating, training and practicing the art and science of BRM are the only ways to create that culture that will help eliminate the single point human error.  It is difficult to always be open and accepting of what might be construed as criticism while on the bridge, but in the interests of safety, patience must be exercised.

Whether it is the arrival or departure in port, the transit of a strait such as the Singapore Strait or Straits of Gibraltar, heavy traffic or reduced visibility, the bridge team composition and interaction can make a huge difference.  Any of these situations could be extremely stressful if all the duties (and potential errors) are centered on one person.  With a well trained bridge team, however, navigating these situations can actually become enjoyable.

The video below is from a 2013 meeting of Sail Training International where Andy Chase of Maine Maritime discusses the loss of the SV Bounty with regards to bridge resource management.  While from a far different part of the maritime industry, it raises and discusses many of the issues and ideas pertaining to BRM.  It’s worth the time.

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links

USCG – M/V Balsa 37, TUG Seafarer and T/B Ocean 255, and Tug Capt. Fred Bouchard and T/B No. 155 – August 1993

NTSB – SV Bounty Sinking – October 2012

TraFi Maritime : Co-operation On the Bridge

NI Navigator – October 2014 – Bridge Resource Management

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