Quadruple Bogeys

Viking Sky in distress
A cruise ship Viking Sky drifts towards land after an engine failure, Hustadvika, Norway March 23, 2019. Frank Einar Vatne/NTB Scanpix/via REUTERS

By Captain George Livingstone – Last month during the third round of The Players Championship, I watched Tiger Woods miss two shots in the water on the 17th hole, ultimately making a quadruple bogey. It was a first in his 23 year professional career, including 80 PGA Tour wins (2nd all-time most) and 40 European Tour wins (3rd all-time most). It was a mistake in the magnitude of the first order. My first thought, how can that happen? My second thought? As bad as that was, what he does next will matter more.

No matter how good, professionals make mistakes over a career, even the best. The mistake itself may be bad, but one’s actions following will make or break it. In this case, Tiger collected himself and went on to birdie the next hole. The next day, in soggy, cold conditions, he went on to shoot an excellent 3-under 69 round, substantially mitigating the prior day’s disaster on the 17th hole. I wonder what his colleagues were thinking as he was making that quadruple bogey. Did they see in his mistake the potential of their own? And what was Tiger thinking? How did he pull himself together and turn it around in front of a national audience and his colleagues, continuing for the entire next day’s round?

At the command level in the maritime industry, I have observed a mixed bag regarding those questions. We can be very critical of each other at times. Maybe it’s human nature, much easier to see the mistakes in others. Perhaps it’s ego-based self-preservation or something in our DNA? Whatever the case, one must guard against self-deception in a business that will have you on the national news following an incident. Like it or not, we need to be professionally accountable, objective and transparent. Individually, always focus first on own job performance and then outward with the goal of bettering the organization and profession.

There are several things in play:

  • We are all capable of making mistakes
  • Recognizing the mistake in real time is of paramount importance
  • What we do following the mistake may be more critical than the mistake
  • Successfully mitigating any serious mistake in this business requires fortitude
  • Be at least as observant of your own mistakes as you are of others’
  • If you hope for professional empathy (objectivity) after mistakes, then demonstrate it first

From a personal viewpoint, I have been lucky not to have made many mistakes over my professional maritime career. I don’t lose any sleep at night over piloting challenges I may face, whatever or wherever they may come from. I concentrate on what I can control and don’t worry about those things I can’t. Still, I have enough mistakes under my belt to give me pause, including a recent mistake that required the bridge team, training and skill to mitigate. I happily exchanged embarrassment for the alternative.

We are in the business of moving the largest floating objects on the planet under very demanding, and at times, appalling conditions. Not just once or twice or even a thousand times; every single time, every day, year after year. There is little margin for error and no room for protecting those who don’t wish to step up to the professional challenges regarding protecting lands and waters we work within and on.

The best maritime professionals take full responsibility for their actions on the water, there are no excuses. Having said that, we shouldn’t be ashamed of our Quadruple Bogeys when taking action to temper a serious situation, as the alternative may result in an accident. We earn our collective keep, to the greater benefit of all, by looking mistakes squarely in the eye and acting to mitigate them. Just like Tiger, facing near disaster, absorbing the mortification, collecting himself and finishing like a professional.

Captain George Livingstone is a San Francisco Bar Pilot, co-author of ‘Tug Use Offshore’, contributing author of ‘IMPA On Pilotage’ and a regular contributor to gCaptain.

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