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13th June 2017

Practice isn’t enough

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Practice makes perfect! Ok, “perfect” might be unrealistic, but practice can certainly make “better”. Unfortunately, it’s not enough.

Practice will help you improve what you are doing, but it may not lead you to find the best way of doing it. What you’re doing might be working, but is there a better way? Coaches teach sprinters to run faster by training them on technique and posture, not just by making them practice a lot.

It’s often intimidating to ask for coaching, but this is exactly what shipping companies need to do. No company’s procedure is perfect (most are a long way from it) and while the procedure may be good enough to pass vetting and inspection, without outside advice, procedures are never likely to truly impress.

Management consultancies charge a fortune for this sort of coaching, and while this can be useful, it’s not what I’m referring to. In the maritime industry, excellent exercise consultancy is widely available and often free of charge. Swedish P&I Club runs excellent emergency response exercises for its members at no charge. Exercises are included in QI contracts and suppliers, such as lube suppliers, will often provide technical consultancy free of charge to clients. And, as you might expect since I’m writing this, Navigate Response provides training, coaching and consultancy to all of our clients at no additional charge.

The only barrier to advice and coaching is the impetus to ask for it.

But that’s only half the battle. Even with great coaching and extensive practice, you will only ever be as good as the quality of your practice routine.

With our clients, we participate in a lot of drills and exercises – many of them US mandated QI exercises – and most of them not at all realistic. I accept that some exercises are about going through the actions and like a sprinter training on a treadmill this has its place, but if it is the only practice our sprinter ever gets, she won’t be very fast.

Most of the big industrial companies in the world recognise the importance of realistic practice – we work with oil and gas majors, government agencies, and beyond our sector with NGO’s and retailers, but shipping companies are often reluctant.

Ironically as the number of major incidents in our industry goes down, the importance of realistic practice goes up. If a company has a major incident once a year, maybe drills are a bit superfluous, but if it’s been ten years (and I hope it has) then realistic practice is essential.

Highly realistic exercises can be organised very affordably – we provide this service to many of our clients, and there are other outstanding providers – but two issues often get in the way.

  1. Time: To which I say, don’t do an extra drill, just make some of the drills you’re already doing actually count.
  2. Fear: No company wants to be embarrassed by a potentially poor performance in an exercise and the more challenging the exercise the more likely the participants are to perform imperfectly.

But in our experience, charterers and other stakeholders are impressed by seeing such imperfections – they know that a company that talks about its mistakes (and successes) in an exercise is much more likely to perform well when it actually matters.

Let’s stop being complacent and doing only what is required by regulators and vetting departments, let’s take advantage of everything at our disposal and make sure we’re training well. Drills should be memorable, useful, and they should be fun!

Dustin Eno
COO & Crisis Response Manager

T: +44 (0)20 3326 8467
E: dustin.eno@navigateresponse.com

Twitter: @dustineno

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