As discussed in ‘Papering over the cracks’ in issue 69 of The Crew Report (click here to download), the International Safety Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention, otherwise known as the ISM Code, is complex and necessitates improved understanding on the part of both captains and managers. With this in mind, Watkins Superyachts’ managing director, Adrian McCourt, holds regular training days for Watkins Superyachts employees and invited The Crew Report along to attend one of these workshops. As well as the many lessons for managers, including the beginnings of ISM and Lord Justice Sheen’s description of “a disease of sloppiness” in management, surrounding the loss of the Herald of Free Enterprise and 197 passengers, the day also provided a number of important and useful insights for crewmembers.

Adrian McCourt looks at the accidents of tangent industries

ISM dictates that management must define and document the responsibility for the operation of the ship, other than the owner, and this, of course, will be the captain. The captain will have overriding authority; “The yacht captain can override the manager if it’s a safety matter. And why shouldn’t he? That’s why he’s there,” postulated McCourt. In addition, the Safety Management System (SMS) on board must contain a clear statement emphasising the master’s authority. However, questions will always continue to arise when it comes to an on-board safety culture, and it is the ISM and its SMS that, if implemented correctly, should allow for ongoing improvements. "The idea of a Safety Management System is to provide a vehicle for all staff to challenge processes and practices which they feel may not be the best interest of safety on board and indeed to apply this to the managers and the DPA [Designated Person Ashore]," added McCourt.

"The yacht captain can override the manager if it’s a safety matter. And why shouldn’t he? That’s why he’s there.”

McCourt is a strong advocate for teaching crew through tangent industries and their incident and accident history, largely because, in the words of McCourt, “Most yachties know about most yacht accidents.” During the workshop, McCourt drew on the lessons learned from the Saudi Lockheed L1001 Tristar 200, a passenger aircraft accident that resulted in the 301 fatalities. If we want to keep informing and educating crew, we need to come up with new ways of making crew think about their safety culture on board. What McCourt denotes as ISM’s “continuous loop of improvement” isn’t restricted on board – this notion can be applied to learning, too. It is imperative, added McCourt, that a no-blame culture exists within the "continuous loop of improvement"; if a yacht cannot comply with the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006 (MLC) hours of work and rest requirements, for example, management must be notified - without doing so, a solution cannot be found.

McCourt also highlighted the variations within ISM audit findings and the three types of non-conformities: a major non-conformity, which identifies an immediate threat to the safety of personnel or the ship or a serious risk to the environment; a minor non-conformity, which identifies the non-fulfillment of a specified requirement; and an observation – a statement or fact for which action is recommended as part of the “continuous loop of improvement”. McCourt revealed that a major non-conformity will stop an ISM audit and a certificate will be taken away if the non-conformity cannot be resolved. “Once the non-conformity becomes a multiple, you have an inherent failure in management and a disease of sloppiness”, added McCourt.

ISM can seem complex, but taking the time to look at the history of the Code and the details of its application in workshops such as these can turn an initially complicated Code into an effective way of improving a yacht’s safety culture. And while learning from accidents is always beneficial, with more crew and managers taking the time to understand ISM, perhaps we can hope for fewer accidents occurring in the first place.