Information Overload


A recent incident occurred whilst docking a new large car-carrier vessel into a lock, with a professional bridge team management in place. Whilst the vessel was approaching the lock, the amount of verbal reports from the officers fore and aft and on the bridge became so detailed and relentless that the master became overwhelmed by the information he was receiving. This was in addition to him taking in visual observations during the manoeuvre and the instructions from the pilot.

The point at which this occurred was the most critical position during the manoeuvre. The bow thruster had to be stopped and reversed, also the helm put to amidships, in addition the tug had to be stopped and it’s direction of pull changed in order to lift off if required. This is a relatively common manoeuvre when entering a large modern lock and is often done under strong wind and tidal conditions, which require a fast changing stream of clear and concise instructions from the pilot to the Master, bridge team and the tugs.

I was concerned that the master appeared to freeze at this point and seemed unable to act on my instructions to stop the thruster and order the helm amidships. Needless to say I repeated my orders forcefully, and the required actions occurred.

This situation seems to be becoming more common, especially on vessels where there is a more defined bridge team in place that have obviously undergone some formal training.

I feel that the pendulum has swung too far in requiring reporting distances, headings, engine settings, helm orders, as well as wind speed and direction and other spurious information, all to be relentlessly chanted out in what are already challenging conditions.

The vessel involved was less than one year old and was fitted with a docking display giving fore and aft speed, athwartship speed, wind speed and direction.

As the pilot on this sensitive vessel, I was also using a personal pilot unit (PPU) that gave me an indication of position, track vectors and speed and was assisted by a second pilot positioned on the starboard shoulder giving me distances off & approach tendency.

To improve this, I would recommend that officers tasked with giving distances off merely give the distance without any further commentary and should not expect this to be acknowledged over the radio.

In the case of the officer and helmsman repeating orders, this should be done positively and quietly without three repetitions of the same order.

Having spoken to my colleagues, this is an issue we all have to deal with. Usually it is only an unwelcome distraction that annoys, but it has the very real possibility of causing information overload to both the pilot and master with consequent damage.

CHIRP Comment:

The quality of the leadership of the master is very important and should include a full briefing of the bridge team when the pilot arrives, prior to arrival and departure from a port and be followed up with a debrief on completion. See The Nautical Institute (NI) Publications: Bridge Team Management 2nd edition; ‘Navigator’ Issue 7, October 2014 – Bridge Resource Management.